It All Starts With Planning, Part 1

Norb Slowikowski

February 2007

Managing the job site is a team activity. To use a sports metaphor, the job site is like a football field. You can have the best quarterback of all time leading the way but if the wide receivers can’t catch the ball, the team is going nowhere. It’s much the same with the project manager, superintendent and their "teammates.”

Experience and skill as a project manager and as a superintendent is clearly important, but it is not the entire answer to success. To complete a major project, there needs to be a team of managers and workers in place who know what their roles are and how to accomplish the task at hand. In this regard, it is essential that the foreman knows who to turn to for assistance.

The first step is to form a planning team consisting of a foreman, superintendent, project manager and any other staff people who are relevant to the project.

The PM should lead the team through a review of the project, identifying objectives to be accomplished during each major phase of the work. A major key here is to listen carefully to everyone’s ideas while encouraging further participation. If you have selected your team well, then the solutions should be right in front of you. So, simply listen to those solutions. If this meeting is conducted properly, you can save time and energy that will only lead to more profits down the road.

As your team develops a game plan, be sure someone accurately records it. Remember to distribute the meeting minutes to all members before the next meeting. Spend a little time at each session reviewing ideas from the last meeting; keep the good and discard the points that no longer make sense.

When the team feels good about the project plan, hold a major review process about all that has been decided—a dress rehearsal, if you will, of the building of the project. Keep an eye out for omissions or weaknesses that can impede progress in the operation. This process of streamlining will keep everyone on task with what is truly essential to moving forward. Distribute the plan to everyone who will be involved. Then, as the work advances, make everyone adhere to the plan. The key here is follow-up.

All in all, the planning sessions should resolve some key issues about the project:

• You should have identified the jobsite staff, the general superintendent, other superintendents, project engineers, support staff, etc.

• You should have assigned major project responsibilities. Remember: Responsibilities are not always defined by titles or job descriptions.

• You should have identified all long lead-time materials and services and arranged for timely procurement. Sort materials if necessary, and make sure they get to the job site when needed.

• You should have created your progress schedule, if not in ultimate detail, at least in general form.

• One important item often overlooked in the planning stages is the flow of men, materials and equipment around the job site. A few minutes lost each day can greatly impair a tight schedule, especially if the time is lost by not maintaining a steady work flow.

• You should have planned for safety. Preliminary planning should recognize potential safety hazards. If your planning has been thorough, progress should occur without too many problems. However, be attentive to warning signs so you can make adjustments as necessary.

A major part of any planning session is spotting these warning signs. It is always better to take care of problems sooner rather than later. Stopping in mid-operation to take care of a problem only leads to wasted time and money. With this in mind, you should be aware of the following warning signs:

• Poor or negative attitudes of jobsite personnel can indicate confusion with or misunderstanding of the project game plan.

• A faltering project start may mean there has been poor communication of the game plan to jobsite personnel, suppliers or subcontractors. If this is the case, review the plan with them and get their input.

• A failure to meet scheduled activity completion dates may mean those responsible for the plan’s execution aren’t following up. There is no substitute for constant and intense attention to detail. Review submittal logs, clarification requests and correspondence to see if information is flowing freely to all involved.

• Constant failure of jobsite staff to complete work activities at or near predicted unit costs can mean your budget numbers were wrong or there were labor inefficiencies.

Although no plan is perfect, it certainly makes sense to use the team approach in preparing your jobsite plan. Input from varied parties will give you a better chance to cover all your bases. The diverse talents of the team members put you in a better position to increase productivity and profitability on each and every project.

Remember: The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

About the Author
Norb Slowikowski is president of Slowikowski & Associates, Inc., Darien, Ill.