Let's get organized: how to handle project details

If you accept the premise that things may be slowly returning to some semblance of normal, or however you define actually having jobs, then planning and organizing that work should be first on your list of priorities.

It would seem that the dam may be starting to spring a few leaks. According to my sources here in the Southwest, it looks like the worst of the economic tsunami we’ve been experiencing may be over and there may be a light at the end of the tunnel for the construction industry … let's hope the light is not a train.

If you accept the premise that things may be slowly returning to some semblance of normal, or however you define actually having jobs, then planning and organizing that work should be first on your list of priorities. Why? Because this is a golden opportunity to get a handle on those pesky details that always seemed to be such a bother when you were going great guns, just before the downturn.

Spring cleaning
Now is the time to get organized. Put your work in order, and stay on top of it instead of the other way around. Spend a nickel's worth of your time now to make dollars down the road. Take the time to get squared away with a method or system that works for you and use it consistently.

There are lots of ways that projects are organized. They range from the "dashboard" method, where you throw all of your invoices, contract documents, insurance certificates, change orders, etc., on the dashboard of your truck, so they are readily available for reference when needed (or for sopping up spilled coffee while you rummage through them holding the cell phone to your ear), to the charted, tagged, indexed and computer driven models where every document is filed, catalogued and bound. Believe it or not, the gulf between those two extremes is not really that large if you apply some logic and discipline.

No matter if your company has two hundred employees, doing multi-millions of dollars in work a year, or you are a one man show, proper organization of job paper work pays dividends in time and money, and it need not be something to dread.

Just do it
To get a system that fits your work style, begin at the very beginning, before you are even awarded the contract. Do you keep a file of estimates? Do you keep a list of all revisions and variations of the plans you bid off of? In many cases the original plans are modified by the owners, architects and engineers right up until the contract is awarded. Keeping a record of plan dates and revision numbers with your estimate protects you when contract time rolls around.

Once you are awarded the contract, start a job file. Get a three ring binder and a lot of dividers. How you divide up the file is up to you, but my suggestion would be to follow the normal progression of the projects, which are amazingly similar no matter who the contractor is or what the jobs are. That progression usually goes something like this: the estimate; the contract documents; certificates of insurance, both liability and workers compensation; bonding if required; job account data for your supplier(s); pre-lien or other lien documents for you and your suppliers; insurance documents for any sub-subcontractors; manpower/labor documents and schedules; sub-subcontractors documents and schedules; material invoices and billing; submittals on fixtures and equipment - filing the approved submittals this way ensures that you have them at your immediate disposal should any problems arise (see scenarios below); invoicing; change orders; payment schedules and draw requests; correspondence; and close out packages.

Whatever you decide to put into your job file make sure to put your job binders together the same way every time, no matter if one project may be small and last only two weeks and another project is large and might last for a year or more. Make sure to always be consistent. If you need more than one binder, so be it. The key to organization of the projects is to file everything consistently the same way every time. Your ability to utilize the information in your project file relies on that aspect.

What scenario below do you prefer?

Scenario No. 1:
GC: "The architect says you used the wrong water heater."

Plumber: "That’s the one we submitted on."

GC: "He says he never approved that submittal and it's the wrong heater."

Plumber: "I'm sure it's what he called for."

GC: "Do you have the approved submittals? If not, he wants it changed."

Plumber: "Er … let me look for them."

Scenario No. 2:
GC:
"The architect says you used the wrong water heater."

Plumber: "That's the one we submitted on."

GC: "He says he never approved that submittal and it's the wrong heater."

Plumber: "I have the signed, approved submittals right here, dated Dec. 1, 2009, and that's the heater we put in. If he wants a different one, I'll put together a change order and if he approves it, we'll change the heater."

Granted this is an oversimplification of a common job-related issue, but think how nice it would be to be able to put your finger on the data in question quickly instead of having to hunt it down. Even more, by having the required information at your fingertips, you not only save yourself the time it takes to find it elsewhere (dashboard?), but the GC will see that you are organized and on top of the situation, making it much less likely that there will be other incidents of this type during the course of the job.

The Brooklyn, N.Y.-born author is a retired third generation master plumber. He founded Sunflower Plumbing & Heating in Shirley, N.Y., in 1975 and A Professional Commercial Plumbing Inc. in Phoenix in 1980. He holds residential, commercial, industrial and solar plumbing licenses and is certified in welding, clean rooms, polypropylene gas fusion and medical gas piping. He can be reached at [email protected].