From Renee on March 2nd, 2009 in General Remodel
Remodeling delays…they’re up there among a homeowner’s worst fears. Jeff Vasek, President of GroVak Inc., knows a lot about why delays can happen and how to avoid them. Here’s more in Jeff’s own words, informed by decades of experience in the industry.
Yep, we’ve all heard the horror stories about home improvement projects that drag on and on. About the contractor who said that the project would be done in two months, and six months later you still didn’t have a bathroom, or a kitchen, or a family room. These delays are frustrating, expensive, and one of the main reasons why homeowners hesitate to undertake remodeling projects.
Wouldn’t it be nice if your contractor told you what he (or she, of course) was going to do, and how long it would take? Then he managed the project so that it stuck to that timeline?
Pipe dream? Unattainable? We don’t think so.
But well-managed projects don’t happen by accident. Both you and your contractor have responsibilities. You have to work together as a team to ensure the timely completion of your project.
So What’s the Problem?
There are many excellent general contractors out there. They know their stuff, and they know how to complete your project in a timely manner.
That being said, why does it seem that remodeling jobs (at least, the ones you hear about) seem to take so long? There are two major problem areas that contribute to delayed projects: poor project management skill and poor communication skills.
Poor Project Management
Most general contractors get their project management skill through on-the-job experience. They know that it takes 2 weeks for windows to arrive, or that it takes 5 days for the tiler to complete his work. And they think far enough ahead to discover that the plumbing subcontractor they plan to use is on a big job in the next town over, and won’t be able to get to your project for 8 days.
But not all general contractors have that skill. It’s not an easy one to learn. Oft times the contractor won’t think to order the windows until the framing is completed, and the project sits for two weeks. Or he calls the electrician the day after the plumber finishes, only to discover that the electrician isn’t available for three weeks. And what happens when the plumbing fixture arrives damaged? Or the light fixtures are on back order and won’t arrive for 6 weeks? (These things happen more often than you think!)
If you asked general contractors what they’re good at, or what is important in their job, few of them would say, “communicating with the client.” Good communication skill—written and verbal—doesn’t come naturally for most of us; we have to work at it. Contractors may have difficulty organizing their thoughts into coherent communications. They may be good at doing, but not as good at explaining.
For a variety of reasons the contractor may not think it necessary or be comfortable with the idea of providing you with status updates, or letting you know what his schedule is. This often leads to one-way communication—you trying to get in touch with him and (perhaps) not getting return phone calls.
A Couple of Other Challenges
Of course, most general contractors typically make their money through volume—working on multiple projects simultaneously. So they’re juggling your project with others, and they can only be in one place at a time. This makes poor project management and communications skills more noticeable and more frustrating.
Delays in the schedule are not always the contractor’s fault, either. Some homeowners have difficulty making decisions, or change their mind mid-way through the project. There are hundreds of decisions and choices that have to be made in the course of a major remodeling project, and every day of delay in picking out a tile, or deciding on doorknobs could result in multi-day delays.
Some of these problems can be avoided—others have to be managed around.
How Should the Contractor Work?
Ideally, your contractor should have the skill and ability to manage the project, along with the skill to effectively communicate the progress and pitfalls of the project.
A project schedule can help address both of these needs. If used properly it becomes a tool that helps the contractor (and you) stay on schedule, and helps you communicate with each other regarding the status of the project.
The project schedule could be a sophisticated PERT chart, or a spreadsheet, or a hand written document. But it should be a roadmap for him and for you showing what’s going to get done when.
The schedule should show when tasks are going to start and finish, and how long things will take. It should indicate when materials have to be ordered, and when in the project you have to make decisions in order to keep the project running smoothly.
The schedule should identify the critical path—the set of tasks that will take the longest amount of time over the course of the project. The contractor should pay close attention to these tasks, making sure that they get priority over the others.
This isn’t to say that the project schedule is set in concrete. Far from it, because stuff does happen! The contractor should be nimble and flexible and be able to modify the schedule as needed. If the kitchen cabinets are delayed 3 weeks he should be able to swap things around on schedule so that other tasks get completed in the interim. Most important is that the project schedule should be a “living” document, and should get revisited and revised on a weekly basis.
The contractor should plan pro-actively on your project. He should have his sub-contractors lined up to come in, one after another. He should know how long it takes for materials to be delivered, and order them far enough in advance so that they don’t delay the project. He should know the interdependencies of the projects so that everything is ready for each sub-contractor when that sub arrives on the job.
By using the project schedule as a communications tool, the contractor becomes a far more effective communicator. He can issue updates to the schedule as things change, and point out to you when decisions have to be made and materials have to be delivered.
He should also provide you with regular project updates like a weekly status report. The status report should indicate what has happened in the past week, what will happen in the coming week, what issues have arisen, and which ones have been put to bed. The status report should indicate what action items you have, and your deadline for completing them. Email is an excellent communications medium if you and your contractor are comfortable using computers.
Finally, your contractor should be accessible. You should know when he’s going to be on your project, and when he’s not. If he’s not, what else (or who else) is happening on your project. And you should always be able to contact your contractor within a reasonable time period.
-Guest post by Jeff Vasek of GroVak, Inc. Want to know what YOUR role in the remodeling process is? Stayed tuned for Part 2 of Jeff’s article!