In the first article in this series, I pointed out that builders must have systems to monitor the entire construction process. A key system is one that monitors work performed in the field.  Because trade contractors do most jobsite work, managing them effectively can directly improve your profitability. Time is money, and money matters.

Site management systems must address three things: workmanship, scheduling, and jobsite behavior. Addressing the workmanship of individual trades, although extensive, is not particularly complex. Standard specifications can be created for each trade, and work can be inspected using checklists to confirm that workmanship meets your requirements.

Scheduling and behavior pose a more complex management challenge.

Starting and finishing on time—and completely—is critical to profitability. Late delivery slows the entire process; imperfect and incomplete work creates problems downstream—defects, delays, and downtime. It is critical that trades start and finish jobs on time. Conversely, builders must make sure that projects are ready for the trades to do their work at the predetermined time.

Use chargebacks to discover where the problems are. Chargeback systems give builders a method to track and manage both their trade contractors and their own team, identifying good and bad performers. Trade contractors should be charged a fee when they don’t meet their schedules, don’t show up when promised, and/or cause delays because of incomplete or deficient work. Conversely, they should be paid a trip charge when they arrive on time and the project isn’t ready for them.

One trade contractor may be a consistent problem on many projects with different supervisors. When they use chargebacks for these problems, management quickly knows  where the problem lies. Likewise, a single superintendent who causes delays with trade contractors by not being ready when they arrive can be identified by trip charges paid out on his or her projects. When trades and job supervisors trade favors back and forth in the field for missing schedules, not having sites ready for work, and installation defects, management is deprived of critical information.

The cream rises to the top, and vice-versa. When chargebacks and trip charges are consistently imposed, poor performers among a company’s trades and employees are identified quickly. Corrective actions or team member substitutions can save both time and money for the company.

The point of a system such as this is not to make money or save money. It is to identify trouble spots. When you implement a system like this, you may discover that the costs balance overall—chargebacks both ways may end up being a net-zero cost to your bottom line—but it will identify problems with both people and processes, allowing you to reshuffle your personnel deck with retraining or substitutions to improve your overall process.

—Carl Seville (www.skcollaborative.com) is recovering from a 25-year career in construction and remodeling. He now writes and teaches about, consults on, and certifies green single- and multifamily buildings. His blog, The Green Building Curmudgeon, can be found on GreenBuildingAdvisor.com.