What can lead carpenters do on the jobsite to help their workers produce their best? And what can the company do to help their leads accomplish this? We asked three experienced trainers in the National Association of the Remodeling Industry's lead carpenter program, all of whom run or have run their own construction businesses. They agree that, besides hiring good people, the best guarantees of high-quality work are well-defined systems and procedures. To create those systems, they suggest:
Take time to plan. This will bring the most immediate and measurable payoffs. "A lot of guys want to jump right into the work, but it's important to get well organized before picking up the tools," says Dennis Gehman of Gehman Design Remodeling in Harleysville, Pa. In his own company, he makes his lead carpenters read through the plans, specs, and schedule before starting a job.
He also sets up a pre-construction meeting with the lead carpenter, the designer, the estimator, and other key people. "This saves a lot of duplication of effort," he says. "For instance, the estimator may have thought of an easy way to reroute the plumbing."
Planning should continue once work starts. Tim Faller, a contractor and owner of Field Training Services, a Westerly, R.I., firm that provides training in good jobsite management, recommends taking time each afternoon to determine what tools, materials, and workers you will need in the coming days. "I recommend a half hour at the end of every day," he advises.
When the job is winding down, pre-completion meetings will help you identify what needs to be finished before the crew moves on. This eliminates having to send someone back to complete a post-construction punch list. "The punch list can become an excuse to avoid making sure everything is top notch before the crew leaves," warns Shawn McCadden, a former contractor and construction educator based in Groton, Mass.
Get the crew on board. Of course, plans work best if the crew understand them. Do you want the deck framed by Tuesday and the decking on by Thursday? Ask them for suggestions about how to make it happen. Faller suggests having a short jobsite meeting Monday morning to review the weekly and daily goals.
Carry a notebook. It's not unusual for a lead to write materials lists on scraps of lumber and then lose the scraps. Or to stop multiple times during the day to make calls. Faller avoids these time-killers on the job by carrying a notebook to jot down materials required and calls that need to be made. Then he batches the calls and orders at the end of the day.
Get a binder. Keep a binder on the site with the schedule, plans and specs, purchase orders, trade quotes, and other relevant paperwork. This will help the lead quickly solve problems and answer questions, and get workers back on the job.
Keep it clean. Taking 10 minutes at the end of each day to clean up and organize the jobsite makes it easier to start fresh in the morning. It also tells everyone that you care about quality. "If the job is a mess, the carpenters will start to take less care in their work," Gehman notes. "It's a subconscious thing." Site organization includes stacking materials where they won't have to be moved before being used, and having a storage area for tools so they're easy to find.
Fix the company. There's a lot the company can do to support its remodelers. For instance, studying the plans and specs ahead of time will be most productive for the lead if those documents are accurate and detailed. "If the guy who sold the job still has all the details, he will have to micromanage the carpenter. It's very inefficient," says McCadden. He also advises having estimating systems that spell out things like labor-hour goals and the sequence of tasks, as well as where and when to buy needed products.
He finds it helpful for company owners to take lead carpenter training, since this will help them understand what the people on the jobsite need. "My advice is for the business owner to take the training first, to learn what you need to support your lead carpenters," McCadden says.
Of course, no one does all of the above perfectly, but any one of them will make jobs go more smoothly. Even adopting one can help. "Small changes can make a big difference," says Faller. He suggests making one of your goals to implement a number of these suggestions one at a time over the year, giving each time to become a habit before moving on to the next. If you adopt two-thirds of these suggestions, your efficiency will have increased greatly.