Logically speaking, finish out should be the easiest and fastest stage of a project because you are dealing with finished products that are simply being installed.
If only that were the case.
In reality, the finish out of a building project is often the most difficult and the most time consuming.
A lengthy finish out leaves you confused and the owner upset. The end of a project is where we gain our clients trust. It’s where we show them that we value their project and can handle future works. The end experience can make an otherwise great project turn into a poor project very quickly.
A while back, I was planning on buying a used vehicle (new to me that was only a couple years old and had low miles. Everything looked great and I ultimately purchased the car. After a month, several issues popped up like oil leaks, suspension issues, and a funny little knocking sound.
After several thousand dollars, we finally got it running right, but the whole experience of buying a new car was ruined for me. What was good in the beginning was horrible at the end.
Funny thing is, the end is all we ever seem to remember.
It’s the same with owners. Owners don’t really care about how fast you got the building dried in after they have watched their project sit nearly idle for a month while you were waiting on the finish out crews.
Owners want to finish strong and quickly because the daily cost of construction loans at the finish out point of the project are at their highest. Owners are on edge and want to move into their building to start recouping expenses.
According to this stat (and several statistics like it), the majority of a company's sales come from repeat customers. So, if you leave a sour taste in the owner's mouth from a poor finish out, then chances are their next project may not come your way.
what can we do about it?
It’s clear that lengthy finish outs have their consequences. The real question is, what can we do about it?
Just like with any problem, the first step is identifying exactly why the problem is happening. Then decide what you can do about it.
There are 5 main reasons project finish outs take so much time:
Poor scheduling by subcontractors.
Failure to finish as you go.
Not identifying the potential pitfalls.
Using products and materials that are difficult to assemble and install.
Inexperienced contractors without the resources to finish strong.
Poor Scheduling by Subcontractors
As a subcontractor myself in the cabinet space, I know both sides of dealing with subcontractors. There are many reasons why subs cannot hit schedules. These reasons usually stem from either lack of manpower, lack of communication from the contractor, not enough time to finish tasks, and the list goes on forever.
As a contractor, you have to be proactive with your subs. You have to ask the type of questions that will let you know what their situation is before they even step foot on the job.
Try this on the next sub you are thinking about scheduling:
- Ask the foreman to visit the job, walk through the important milestones, and estimate how long they will need to achieve them.
- Next, walk the site or a portion of it and ask the sub, "What do you need to make your job easier to perform?"
If a contractor's success ultimately depends on subs performance, take action so you become a master facilitator for your project. Do this with all subs throughout the job and before you know it, you will have a well oiled machine.
Failure to Finish as You Go
You probably won’t have to think back far to remember an instance where a subcontractor said, “I’m Finished”, only to find out that their version of “finished” was much different than yours.
Let’s run through a quick example.
Your trim carpenter has a full crew and has been moving at a good pace. As he gets caught up to the other trades, the trim carpenter starts noticing more units with debris, extra left over materials, and things that are not complete for the job to continue at its current pace.
As a superintendent, you know the writing is on the wall and what’s coming next. Your trim carpenter is about to pull off of your job and leave you hanging high and dry because he doesn’t put up with your inefficiencies. As you scramble to keep the them onsite for just a few more days, you create a little chaos and the trim crew has to leave some items undone because they have been jumping around the project.
This is a typical scenario that happens on several, if not most, construction sites.
If you take a systems approach to finish out strong, and finish as you go, the effects on your projects will be monumental.
All of a sudden your schedule will just work. It will work because for the first time your schedule will be accurate. You will no longer have to scratch and claw to finish on time or late.
This can happen, but controlling your schedule happens early in the project, not at the end when it’s crunch time. You can’t become a master scheduler at the end of a project. Schedules are built on a foundation just like the building you are working on. Always start with a systems approach to planning before your projects begin.
With a strong finish out plan, you are building the foundation of finish out success.
Not Identifying Potential Pitfalls
Think ahead. It’s as simple as that. Start with the end in mind. Make sure all contractors know that your goal is to have a zero punchlist.
So how do we do that?
I think some examples from when I was a superintendent will illustrate it best.
To be honest, the key was consistent contact with upcoming trades and continued facilitating of the contractors on the job. I started my weekly meeting with, “What can I do to make your job easier to accomplish?”
Every week I would get feedback, and as long as I acted on that feedback, they pushed forward as promised. The system has built on accountability. If a contractor tells you what they need to be successful and you opt not to help, you are putting the success of your project at risk. Do that a few too many times and you will not have control of your job anymore.
I remember my second project for a packaging plant expansion. I was implementing my systems approach to facilitating the job. Part of that process was to brush up on the products that were going into the finished product.
When I made it to the door hardware, I noticed that is was a very odd type of door hardware that I had not seen before. As I dug deeper, I found that the doors were just standard commercial doors with standard drilling patterns. I called the door manufacturer and they had missed that little detail. They had not started manufacturing yet so it was an easy fix.
Had I not investigated, we would have been down to the very end of the job and had a huge problem on our hands. Instead, we caught it early and prevented a huge disaster.
Most construction projects these days specify what we are to use for all the products. Sometimes we just do not have a choice as to what we are going to install.
Even so, as you are digging into your product submittals, just ask yourself, “Is there an alternative to this product that would be equal in quality, but save time on the installation?”
A great example of this would be tile or even certain appliances. If you can research a tile that will have the same look but be faster to lay, then you may be the hero for the job.
Another example may be that to improve job site logistics and reduce storage space you opt for a Ready to Assemble cabinet that will be assembled in the unit.
Inefficient products gets a spot in the top 5 because almost every job is stunted by them. If you can identify them early, you can either replace them with an approved equal or you can at least properly schedule installation.
We have all had an inexperienced sub on the job at some point. I have been that sub on more than one occasion. Learn how to turn a negative into a positive.
Inexperience does not necessarily mean incapable. However, if you do not find out until later in the project about their inexperience, you are at part to blame if they fail.
As a master facilitator, you have to ask the questions that will give you the answers you need to assess that subcontractors experience levels.
How many of these types of projects have you completed?
How long will it take you to finish one room, one floor, one window, etc?
What is your current manpower situation?
On a scale of one to ten, where would you rate your experience on a project like this one?
Just remember inexperience does not mean incapable. More often than not, it means hungry and driven to succeed. Be a master facilitator and help the inexperienced contractors through as much as you possibly can.
Finish Stronger, Better & With Zero Punch list
Finishing strong is an option for all of us, but we have to start with being aware of what exactly is slowing us down. Equipped with these solutions, you can finish stronger, better, and with zero punch list.
Use these solutions to plan as a master facilitator. In terms of making the extra effort to plan, there’s nothing to lose and everything to gain. A timely finish out, a happy owner, and future projects depend on it.
To learn more tips about about good closeout procedure, read this article.
What about you? Do you want to increase the efficiency of your finish-out process? Don’t know where to start? Found something that works? Leave any questions or comments in the box below and we will be sure to reply.