What’s Your Blueprint? Planning Is the Key

Norb Slowikowski / November 2017

In my work with construction companies, I keep hearing some version of the following message: “We’ve got so many jobs to do and things are moving so fast that we don’t have time to plan.” In the same breath, I’ll hear, “Once we have a plan, so many changes occur while the job is progressing that the plan becomes useless and obsolete.”

Well, I know one thing for sure: If you don’t take the time to plan, you will have to find the time later to do the work over again because it did not meet the customer’s quality standards. This is when you start hemorrhaging money due to the cost of rework.

Saying you don’t have time to plan is a cop-out. Planning is an essential management skill, and if companies don’t have a plan, they don’t have direction. Without direction, chaos occurs.

You can’t plan for everything, but you should have a blueprint—a guide to keep everything moving in the right direction. The plan might have to be tweaked along the way, but with good feedback, that won’t be a problem. You can’t control everything on a project, but there are aspects of the job that you can supervise to great effect: manpower, equipment, materials, information from the office, labor budget, production goals on the job site, etc.

To initiate the planning process, there needs to be a pre-job planning meeting that involves all of the key players in the construction process. The project manager should schedule this meeting and invite the following people to attend: foreman, estimator, superintendent, safety manager and the warehouse coordinator.

The project manager should use a pre-job planning meeting checklist to review all of the items pertinent to the job. The items on the checklist are as follows:
    1. Scope of work, estimate, plans and specs.
    2. Review contract, submittals.
    3. Crew size for job start-up.
    4. Safety requirements.
    5. Special equipment.
    6. Electrical access and special requirements.
    7. Water access and special requirements.
    8. Dump access (debris removal).
    9. Storage and placement of materials.
    10. Material delivery to job site.
    11. Customer’s requirements for change orders.
    12. Customer’s requirements for T&M work.
    13. Job site walk through with all players and customers.
    14. Review customer’s job schedule.
    15. Changes to initial scope of work.
    16. Quality standards, tolerance, level of finish.
    17. Potential on-site problems.

The meeting may be held in the office or at the job site. When the pre-job planning meeting is over, the project manager will complete a “pre-job planning meeting action execution worksheet” to document the action items. This worksheet would include the following information:
    1. Job name and job number
    2. Job start date and estimated completion date.
    3. Date prepared.
    4. Action items.
    5. To whom assigned.
    6. Date due.
    7. Date completed.

The project manager will follow up with the individuals who were assigned an action item to ensure that all actions are carried out on time. The worksheet will be distributed to all attendees within two days of completion of the meeting.

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

  • You should have identified the job-site 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.

In the end, it’s all pretty simple. Good planning will almost always end in good results. Lack of planning garners poor results. The pre-job planning meeting should become a “must do” in every organization because it will help to achieve optimum productivity on the job site. Ultimately, it will make the difference in producing quality work on or ahead of schedule while helping improve the bottom line. That’s a plan worth enacting.

Norb Slowikowski is president of Slowikowski & Associates, Inc., Darien, Ill. To contact him, email norbslow2@gmail.com.