Once you have separated yourself from directing the day-to-day field operations of your company, the fear sets in. Fear that the work isn’t being done right. Fear that materials are being squandered. Fear that productivity is suffering, and so on. While these fears are legitimate, if you have chosen your new field superintendent wisely, they will be largely figments of your overactive imagination. Moreover, any and all of the above can and will happen no matter who is managing the field. It’s as inevitable as a sunrise.
Running the field is like playing chess, not checkers. There are so many variables and so many factors beyond your control that any game plan, by default, is going to crash at some point. Carrying the aviation analogy further; walking away from the crash is the goal. You know this because you built your company and have experienced it. Working through the small and not so small disasters that afflict every project is what you want your field guy to do. He won’t do it exactly as you might have, so you will need to step back and let him work, guiding and assisting rather than demanding he adhere to “the way I did it.”
Along those lines, have you developed a way to quantify job progress, materials handling, and manpower allotments? How about sub-contract management?
If you haven’t, you should. The primary job of the field supervision is to coordinate the “dance” we will call production and progress. Managing multiple projects is difficult enough without trying to mentally store all the information required to do the job effectively. In our current digital age, it is easy enough to develop forms that will allow you and your field superintendent to communicate job progress quickly and thoroughly, and to make mid-course corrections where needed in a seamless fashion.
If the advent of the digital information age has done one thing, it is making it easier to instantly transfer and share data.
Knowing ahead of time, for example, that needed materials will not be delivered as expected, allows your field superintendent to shift the work to another area (if that is possible on any given project), or for you to look to another source for that material if it is critical to job scheduling. So, rather than having your crew work right up to the last fitting only to be stopped by lack of material, you can either divert them to another part of the job or get that material from another source and keep the project moving.
Communication is king when working with your field superintendent. Making it easy for him to share information with you and the rest of your office staff is critical to his and your success. Placing obstacles between or insulating yourself from field communications is a bad idea. While the idea of field supervision is to free you, the boss, from having to deal with the day-to-day production problems, it is still very important that you have efficient and direct access to your field guy. Building a digital database/form that you can view from a smart phone, tablet or desktop computer, and which can be easily adapted for each project is one way to achieve this. Having reports generated on a daily basis using these tailored forms can, at a glance, give you all the information you need. You will know where each job stands and what problems have been solved and which have not. When it comes time to bill, you won’t have to go through the stress of trying to figure out what percentage of what phase of which project is billable, because you will have that information at the stroke of a key.
The primary job of the field supervision is to coordinate the ‘dance’ we will call production and progress.
Of course, making sure your field guy keeps those forms updated and current is key. That is something you, as the boss, will need to make a priority. If you work the program diligently, it will become clear to everyone that keeping accurate and timely data flowing from the field to the office makes everyone’s job easier. By adapting the information your digital forms carry, you can streamline and tailor those forms to your particular firm’s needs. By brainstorming with your field guy you will be able to set up accurate field reports, delivered in a timely manner.
If you allow your field superintendent enough freedom to grow into his role and strike that delicate balance of helping him mange the field while being the “boss,” you can develop a great working team concept that will, given time and the right employees, filter through the entire company. What this does for you, in the long term, is to allow you the opportunity to step back and get a better picture of your company. In short, it helps clarify your vision of where your firm is and where you want it to go next. By delegating the field responsibility you have set yourself free to grow your dream.
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].