Words: Corey Adams
It is that time of year again. If you are like me, you already are in full swing, and work is flowing. The biggest concern right now is how to fit it all in. Some of the promises we made 2 months ago are starting to creep up on us, with no effective way to deliver. Time is tight for most contractors right now. How we approach scheduling is where we can gain some time back.
Scheduling was one of my biggest challenges over the years. In the springtime we were chomping at the bit to get as much work booked as possible. Even to the point of over promising on a few deadlines over the years. It seemed like every spring the heavens would open up and flood our schedule with work before we could manage to adjust what we were telling potential clients. And that was our first mistake.
Giving potential clients a date on the schedule is not only difficult, but in my opinion wrong. They are potential clients, not signed contracts. Years ago, we had a little setback when doing this, and it changed my mind forever.
Sometime in the early 2000s, we had promised a few clients that we could get to the project within a month. It was a standard spring for us. We had a few jobs lined up, but nothing that was taking us out over a few weeks. We were telling everyone at initial consultation we were a month out. The problem? We sold 5 projects in a week’s time and the month backlog turned into 10 weeks. Uh oh was an understatement. We had to push clients, reallocate resources, and generally just did bad business for about 6 weeks before we caught up. We even lost one of the sold jobs due to time constraints. It was a bad look for our company, and we didn’t enjoy the weekly conversations with signed clients. We decided right then to change a few things.
First, we do not give exact dates, or deadlines to potential clients. We will give them an idea of our current backlog, and always explain that weather is the determining factor. A rough estimate worked well. We also made sure to mention other bids out as well. It was generic, but it worked. “We are backed up about 8 weeks right now, but that depends on the weather cooperating, and other projects we have bid out at the moment.”
Second, I started leaving empty days in the schedule. Yes, I do this still today. If you are a smaller company, especially an owner/operator, you need some fluff in your schedule. I would leave 2-3 days a month in fluff, usually at the end of a week, to get back to ground zero. If we do not, we end up spending our entire weekend cleaning up a job, unloading trucks, loading trucks, or setting up the next job. The time an owner spends outside of the job site can be endless if you let it. By applying a couple days fluff in our schedule we also had those days to take care of hiccups on a project, or handle shop work, maintenance, or anything else that gets lost in the hustle of a full season.
Finally, I learned to subscribe to the under promise, over deliver theology. If I told a client 8 weeks, 9 out of 10 times we would be there in 6. It made their day. They were so thrilled that we beat the schedule, they almost always mentioned quickness in their reviews; and that is a good thing. I know more than one contractor that has left money on the table due to over promising on schedule, and I am one of them.
I know it seems elementary, but scheduling is a huge part of the construction business. Setting and delivering on expectations is not just about quality and price. It is about the entire customer experience. We have all heard the phrase on time, on quality, and on budget.
Scheduling your work correctly, and more importantly accurately communicating your schedule to potential clients is key. They want to know your availability, and it is ok. Just be smart about how you tell them, what you tell them, and delivering on what you have told them.
Managing expectations is a focal point of estimating and client communications. It is time you added scheduling to those managed expectations.