In my experience, customer communication (or lack thereof) is the number one complaint when working with contractors. This makes sense, because as “Contractors,” the very nature of what we do is sell jobs using the resources and business acumen we have developed and then have someone else do the work for us. This process can leave the customer feeling a bit shafted, especially if you were the salesperson and now an entirely different group of construction folks is tearing up their house. So how do you fix this?
The answer is simple. Project Managers can play an intermediate role that helps to supervise the work, bridge any communication barriers, and manage the day-to-day requirements of the jobs sold. The PM serves as the “face” of the company, someone consistent that the customer can see every day. That’s why it’s critical that you manage your PMs to be part of the solution and not part of the problem.
I’ve put together a 6-point checklist you can use to make sure your Project Managers are providing effective communication to your customer and helping your business grow. This is not intended to be an exhaustive list, but rather one which can provide some guidelines to get you started:
Start with the right person
Project management is not babysitting, it’s a skilled position. A great PM is a person who has a two-fold skillset: the ability to interact and communicate effectively with your customers and crews along with a comprehensive understanding of the type of construction you do. A qualified Project Manager is NOT your brother-in-law who is out of work and needs a job but who has never stepped foot on a construction site. Typically, it’s a person who has worked on crews for several years and has demonstrated the ability to manage teams, job processes, and customers.
Set expectations for the position
This sounds simple enough because it is. Develop a clear expectation of the roles and responsibilities of this position before you hire your candidate. Are they responsible for things like getting more materials and performing quality walkthroughs? What time do they need to be on job sites? Define the details, the schedules, and the do’s and don’ts of the job, and then let your candidates know these during your interviewing process. This position should be what YOU NEED IT TO BE and not necessarily a “cookie-cutter” construction project manager job.
Involve your PMs in your Pre-Construction Meetings
Anyone in sales knows the frustration of turning the customer’s vision into a proposal, selling them on your version of their “vision” and then, ultimately, having them be disappointed because production had their own version of that vision. This dilemma has many sides to it, but one common solution is to hold pre-construction meetings with production and sales. This allows the customer to meet with the person who will be the daily manager of the job. More importantly, it will allow your project manager to hear the customer’s wants, needs, and expectations.
Require daily logs
Another way to avoid communication problems is to require daily job progress reports. These reports get filled out and sent at the close of business every day on every job. I’ve had a lot of success with this program. First, it records daily progress so that my Field Managers know the status of every job that’s happening and they can easily see scheduling delays or issues. It also creates a written record of events and customer conversations which can be very helpful if there is a disagreement or issue that pops up later on a job. At a minimum though, it forces your PMs to create a job status on each job they are assigned to.
Hold weekly production meetings
Depending on the size of your organization, the number of jobs you are running, and the amount of PMs you have, production meetings can be a very effective way to get detailed job status updates. This is also an opportunity for your PMs to sharpen their communication skills by presenting in front of people and articulating their results. It’s a way of training them to make sure they are effectively communicating both the needs of the customer and the reality of the job status.
Spot check their work
As an effective leader, it’s important to remember the credo, “you get what you inspect, not what you expect.” Bringing on staff to execute your jobs is not a small task in a construction company. It requires trust, planning, and investment, and there will always be bumps in the road. Spend time onsite, inspect the work, and make sure the PM is seeing things the way you see things. The sooner you can get aligned with your PM, the sooner you can start selling multiple jobs and scaling your business.
Communication is the key to any good relationship, especially the one between you and your customer. The Project Manager is the embodiment of your company to your customer – he’s the face of the company – so it’s critical that this person communicates effectively and manages the crew efficiently. If you need more tips on how to make this happen, give us a call.