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Tales of terror

Survival in this business depends upon attention to every detail and learning from past experiences
David Getts

David Getts

Any coach will tell you that having a game plan is critical for success and victory. Running a business is no different. Although no plan is perfect, not having a plan at all will guarantee failure. Developing good organizational skills is crucial in carrying out your business plan. And as the three tales below reveal, you must not only be prepared as you manage your projects but also flexible as those plans change.

Out of left field

Our first subject is a white collar, middle-aged single mother of two. My company has performed several jobs for her over the course of four years. As an attorney, she is very concise and organized, which generally makes jobs easier to manage. Her understanding of the importance of Change Order approvals and design-build material choices made her a dream client to work for.

Because of our previous rapport and successful project completion, I let my guard down on a large kitchen remodel we contracted to do. Every one of my normal business procedures (which were employed on her previous projects) were put into place. Although she was very familiar with the standard contract terms, she elected to challenge certain portions mid-stream in the project. Even though I have a contingency plan to deal with opposing client behavior, what I didn’t plan for was her personal attack on my character simply because she didn’t like the contract language she had already agreed upon. Regardless of the cause her unprofessional behavior was directed back on track with a good contract and pre-organized response.

Lesson learned: Expect the unexpected so you can re-organize your game plan when the focus gets changed.

A hands-on customer

A few years back I did a project for a general contractor who was referred to me by a designer I’ve known for over 20 years. She warned me that his practices were a bit off, but relying on the overconfidence in my ability to manage I dismissed the warning.

Like all projects, our contract covers boilerplate issues such as payment, schedule and change orders. The intangibles that this contractor brought to the table were somewhat odd such as wanting to help install the cabinetry, something he was clearly paying us to do. His overeager enthusiasm to learn the art of cabinetmaking and woodworking installation forced me to enforce ad-lib policies about our work practices. The last thing I wanted was to be held responsible for something he did when it came to the work we were contracted to perform.

I informed the contractor that he was welcome to watch, but not participate. Discouraged by my abrupt rules, he insisted on working so close to us that a sheet of his plywood knocked over a cabinet of ours causing $1,000 in damage. To make matters worse, he charged the homeowner for his blunder and left us in the middle of how payment was going to be received for damage we needed to repair.

Lesson learned: Never rely on past experience, intuition or over confidence to be a substitute for a well-organized job management plan.

HR to the rescue

And finally, our last tale is about a bathroom remodel that caught us completely off guard. It involved a person whom we never met, nor who was even part of the contract.

As the house was being prepped on day one, the homeowner’s mentally unstable adult daughter approached my employee thinking he was her doctor. After informing her that he was there doing work on the house, the woman became uncorked into a meltdown tirade that required both the fire department and social services to unravel. She was taken from the premises to the hospital, only to return the following day resulting in a second meltdown.

Having lost several hours of production time and not wanting to be in the middle of a personal matter, our human resource manager informed the client we would not return if the unstable daughter was in the house. The reluctant homeowner committed her daughter to a ward for the duration of the project.

Lesson learned: Although we had no such plan in place to deal with a specific issue like this, the quick thinking of our human resource personnel recognized it as a hostile work environment. Good organization provides fertile ground for on-the-fly decisions. This is especially important for dangerous situations that employees or subcontractors should not be subject to.

Back to basics

There are several things you can do to accomplish better organization in your business practice, but I only want to focus on one: communication.

I think if you master the art of communication, it will cover all the bases needed to better manage and plan your projects. All trade skill businesses share the need to run multiple jobs at the same time. Depending on the size of your company, this can take many different forms. Larger companies may have several big projects running concurrently to keep the labor force busy, whereas a smaller operation may have just one large and a few small projects going at the same time.

Regardless of size, all companies that fabricate custom products need to have multiple jobs at various stages of conception, design, fabrication and installation. It’s the only way to keep the fabrication process fluid and the cash flow steady.

When building is your business, it is imperative that you learn how to manage and organize this multi-phase approach. If you don’t, things will fall through the cracks. This translates to undue pressure on suppliers, frustrated employees, unhappy clients and additional stress on you the manager.

Don’t overthink it. The communication process should be basic. You can start by implementing a few simple things; having a standard operating procedure, tailoring an organizational style that uniquely suits you, and a tenacious follow-through.

Be prepared

When things go wrong (when, not if), you need something to fall back on. Make sure your company has a set of Standard Operating Procedures for everything. Although you cannot plan for every situation, a good SOP policy manual will enable you to enact a plan when things go awry. Never adopt the attitude that things will just work out. The only way they can work out in your favor is when you plan ahead.

You can’t organize a business if you are not organized yourself. Getting organized is going to be different for everyone. Whether you make a list, use a calendar, take photos, use a tablet or recorder, be diligent about it. The busier you get, the easier it is to forget something. And, if you find that your management style is slipping, examine the practices you do in your personal life. More often than not, the best managers of people and projects are self-disciplined and know how to organize and manage their own personal affairs, even when no one is watching or paying attention.

Charge things like a bull

See every task as a red flag that needs immediate attention. Like the old saying, “never put off for tomorrow what you can do today”. People who procrastinate have a much higher percentage of letting things slip through the cracks than those who address issues as soon as they come up.

To some, charging like a bull may appear to be over-the-top behavior, bordering on OCD obsession. However, in order to stay organized, you must make things manageable. Too many items on your plate and you won’t be able to finish the course. Although you must learn to manage one day at a time, a good manager looks to the future to lessen the load ahead. It’s a balancing act that takes time and attention to achieve.

Remember, you’ll never get everything right the first time. 

This article originally appeared in the October 2017 issue.

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