6 Steps to Start Your Project Off on the Right Foot

You’ve got a new construction project. Everyone’s excited to get started, but are you doing the right things or are you setting yourself up for failure? Let’s talk about the essential items that should be on your checklist for a successful project.

Topics we cover in this episode include:

  • Start off with good communication
  • Get the mobilization and utilization right at the beginning of your project 
  • Get accurate accounting information from the start 
  • Consider project safety from the start of the job
  • Managing change orders
  • Make sure you’re monitoring progress and tracking results


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Wade Carpenter, CPA, CGMA | CarpenterCPAs.com
Stephen Brown, Bonding Expert | SuretyAnswers.com


[00:00:00] Wade Carpenter: You’ve got a new project. Everyone’s excited to get started, but are you doing the right things or are you setting yourself up for failure? Come on in. Let’s talk about it.

This is the Contractor Success Forum. If you’re new here, I’m Wade Carpenter with Carpenter & Company CPAs. With me, my co host, Stephen Brown with McDaniel Whitley Bonding and Insurance.

Stephen, what are your thoughts?

[00:00:19] Stephen Brown: Getting your project started off on the right foot, Wade.

First of all, you have to understand what that means, getting started on the right foot. Why do we say that? Why is it important? Well, I can tell you, first of all, that my best customers always have absolutely intensive, non changeable, checklist s, meetings, items that they do before a project starts.

So, why did I choose getting off on the right foot? Where’d that expression come from? Well, it came from, they say, ancient Greece, where anything regarding to the left, literally, the definition of the left was considered sinister or evil. Another explanation of where that phrase came from is that when soldiers go on a march everybody needs to start off on the right foot or they’ll be out of sync. So, that’s another explanation.

As a contractor, you think about foot and footings as the foundation of a building you’re building. You have to get that project started off with the footings right. So, I threw that one in too.

But getting started on the right foot, Wade, means what do contractors do over and over again to make sure that project started off on the right foot?

[00:01:35] Wade Carpenter: Well, I like your analogy. That’s what they say that the foundation is the key. Everything else is going to crumble if the foundation isn’t set up properly. And so that’s where I think this is a great topic. And when you get started on a new project, maybe everybody’s excited and ready to go, but a lot of times I think there are missteps.

And, one of the things we talk about is, things like the time to get a project done, but miscalculating some of the things that can go wrong on the project. So what are your thoughts? Give us an overview of what you’re thinking today.

[00:02:10] Stephen Brown: Well, getting your project started off on the right foot, you think to yourself, okay, I’m a contractor, and I’ve got to communicate with a lot of different workers what I want to get done. Those workers that are experienced and know how to do what I want them to do, they don’t need as much oversight as my new employees, for example.

But, you start off a project, you show up a piece of land, you got your land levelers out there, you’re measuring it. You have your AutoCAD drawings which are showing you the dimensional information of just the foundation you’re putting down. So you scan it, you put that data in, and then you plot out the foundation. Okay, so That’s literally getting a building project started. Whatever your project is, you’ve got to start somewhere.

Start off with good communication

[00:02:57] Stephen Brown: One thing that I see over and over again is poor communication during the the negotiation and the beginning of a project. It’s so vital that you pull in all your team members that are involved.

But getting the project completed, and that includes sales. Somebody estimated the job. Someone has a relationship with the owner. This is where the most communication needs to go in. If you want a happy job, then make the owner and his representatives as happy as you can be. And the best way to do that is overly communicate.

You can say, well, I don’t have time for that. But your salesperson does have time to do that and needs to be involved in these meetings and communicating with the owner. So what I see over and over again is that the job starts and the owner of the construction company, or the chief operating officer calls a meeting for all the players.

They call in the accounting, they call in the legal department. They call in safety, they call in project managers. They might make their own materials and they might need to talk to the engineering group. But whatever’s involved on the project, all these people. Need to be pulled in together for a meeting to talk about the goals of the project, the profit that you expect to make on the project, and the problems that may come up so you can plan for them.

Most importantly, who’s going to do what when the project starts? You assume that everybody knows their job, but just by simply meeting and going over that information with your group, you know that you’ve communicated properly. And as the owner of construction company or the chief operating officer, that’s your job.

You’ve got to communicate and you’ve got to monitor that folks are doing what they’re supposed to do. That’s why you get the big bucks, right?

[00:04:46] Wade Carpenter: And I think that a lot of people, they jump into this thing and it, sort of going back to the time issue, in Parkinson’s law, which says basically if you got two months to do the job, it’s going to take two months to do it, two years to do the job it’s going to take two years.

But no matter what, most people, if you say, well, I got plenty of time to do this, but when it comes to wrapping up the job, everybody is scrambling to get it done by a certain date. And we see it all the time. And a lot of times, especially if you’ve got late penalty completion clauses, things like that, you need to build that buffer in there.

 So if you’ve got two years to do it, well, maybe figure out, I need to get it done by a year and eight months or something, because inevitably things are going to go wrong.

[00:05:33] Stephen Brown: And you have to set up your workflow schedules based on the timeframe that you have. And you may say, I want this project done sooner. We can push to do it sooner. This is so important because if you’re not meeting with your folks, they might say, well, that’s an impossibility, that can’t be done.

Well, really why? Tell me why. And they may have a good reason. They may just be stalling and you have to push them on it. I don’t know.

Get the mobilization and utilization right at the beginning of your project

[00:05:59] Stephen Brown: But the workflow and the communication of ordering supplies and materials would lead to the next thing I have on my list, which is the mobilization and utilization that always occurs at the beginning of a project. And to mobilize think of it as moving your workforce to that job site to start work. Does it have to be secure? Does it have to be fenced to protect the project from people getting hurt? Do you have to set up a job site trailer? What equipment has to be transported to that job so you can get started? And that’s mobilization.

Also, what permits have to be pulled and be in place so you can start work? All that is mobilization and utilization. And in most contracts, of course, you can bill the owner for mobilization and utilization. And I might add the bond premium. So by all means, go ahead and do that.

Get accurate accounting information from the start

[00:06:55] Stephen Brown: And then the next category that’s so important is talking about why the accounting folks need to be there. And I know you could talk for the whole rest of this podcast on the importance of getting a project set up correctly as far as cost codes are concerned. But also getting information from that site, from that project manager, and making sure in real time you’re getting accurate data in there so you can make decisions to keep the job from going under. What are your thoughts on that?

[00:07:26] Wade Carpenter: Absolutely. That is one place I was wanting to go was, when people start off on a job and, most of the people running a construction project, they hate the paperwork side of it. But if you want to have accurate job costs of where you are, and, just inevitably, well, you got all these receipts and I’ll do that later. Well, a week later, you’re not going to remember what all those receipts are, especially a month later.

[00:07:51] Stephen Brown: Absolutely.

And why not sit down with accounting and say, these are the payment terms according to contract? So this is when we need to build this stuff while you got the project manager and the accounting team sitting there right with you.

[00:08:04] Wade Carpenter: Right. If you want to set this up right and know how you’re coming out, especially if you’ve got a longer term contract, you need to know how you’re coming out and when things start to go wrong. So that’s definitely the time you stay on your accounting and making sure that it’s kept up as you go so that you have some real time numbers if things go wrong. And that’s where I think the planning part comes in play, that you need to do some of these things right up front.

[00:08:31] Stephen Brown: Right. That’s so vital. And also, you’re assigning a project number, right? So, all the cost codes go from that project number. Everything that involves from payroll to equipment to materials. All the costs involved with that job get assigned to that project number.

And then the next thing on my list would be managing your subcontractors, if you had them. If you’re a subcontractor it’s managing, am I producing the materials or am I ordering the materials? Getting that done. But if you’re managing subcontractors, you have to have all their paperwork. If you’re requiring a sub bond, you’d have to have that, a copy of the signed contract, and a review of their insurance certificate to make sure that you’re properly protected. So, next thing I would say, getting your subs put to bed if subs are involved.

[00:09:24] Wade Carpenter: You’re absolutely right. Planning those subs out and communicating to them when you’re going to need them on that job, I think, just giving them some kind of time frame.

But the other part of this, especially after COVID, is a lot of times like you got mechanical or plumbing or electrical subcontractors and they’ve got some supply chain issues, which you may know or maybe some of those things have eased up now, they probably know what materials you can and can’t get, and then what’s going to take longer. So talking to them about some of those things and making sure those are in place so that you get done on time.

Consider project safety from the start of the job

[00:10:01] Stephen Brown: And then the next item I have on the list, Wade, would be project safety. You know if somebody gets hurt, it’s going to cost you money, and it’s going to cost you time, and time is money. So, I guess the two are interchangeable, but you’re also responsible for your workers not getting hurt.

So a safety plan on a particular project is everything to the success of a project. And I think most people know that now. In the old days, people didn’t quite understand that the way they do now. So that’s good news. The safety on a particular project is identifying the hazards that are inherent to that job. I had a project once that was literally going to have a huge fall hazard from height that could produce a fatality. And it was absolutely over safety engineered by the subcontractor. The general contractor kind of gave them a lip service but an employee got in a restricted area and died from a fall. Things happen.

But by knowing that situation occurred it could have helped so many other people on this project that had so many man hours of safety plan, and then monitoring that plan and making sure that that safety program is enforced is something that needs to come from the owner or COO, again, pre-project planning.

Managing change orders

[00:11:25] Stephen Brown: And the next thing I had on the list, Wade managing change orders. We’ve had, you’ve talked in so many podcasts about accounting for change orders. I’ve talked so many times about making sure you get your change orders in writing that are signed by both parties, that they agree to what they want done. So many times a change order occurs because the owner on a project asks you to do something and you want to make that owner happy. And then they have amnesia when the bill for it comes through. What do yo u need to do pre project to make sure you’re accounting for and managing change orders?

[00:12:03] Wade Carpenter: Well, whether it’s pre project or just in general, you need to have a workflow that says if somebody is going to change something, exactly what you said, everybody wants to take care of the owner or whoever, and they want to make sure they’re accommodated, but they have this amnesia.

Having some kind of way to document it. And, if you got this change order form, it like has to go back to the office or whatever, and it goes through this whole process and it takes a long time to get through the process. A lot of times it doesn’t get done. So, maybe having that form that your building superintendent has on the job that can hand write it out.

It’s nice to have it nice and pretty and all that stuff when it gets back, but handwrite something up and get something signed.

[00:12:49] Stephen Brown: Yeah. Legally, that’s everything to collect that for that change order. The change order is going to cost you something. And it needs to be accounted for. And I guess my point is, the reason I put this on the list, you might say, well, this happens in the future, not at the beginning of a project. But I’d say, like you’ve always said, Wade, it’s important to have your procedures for dealing with change orders in place at a time. And what a great time to remind everyone. About the procedures for change orders then when you’re having the pre project meeting.

[00:13:19] Wade Carpenter: Inevitably, whoever’s on that project is going to forget it and absolutely remind them every single time.

[00:13:24] Stephen Brown: Right. It lets them know that it’s important to you. You set the ground rules out on every project. And if you’re not doing it on every project, you’re assuming that the communication is there and you don’t want to waste people’s time. Oh, they know what to do. The faster they can, they don’t have time to come in and meet.

But With Zoom calls and everything else, you can not only meet, but you can document and have a transcript of what you discussed with everyone, in case everybody on your team has amnesia. It just seems to me a no brainer, Wade. And my best customers do it.

Make sure you’re monitoring progress and tracking results

[00:13:59] Stephen Brown: You’ve evaluated the equipment, the technology you need to accomplish it. You’ve communicated what your goals are. Your job as the owner or the COO is to monitor and track all these results, that they’re moving along smoothly. And the last thing that, that comment that I had to have was, if you don’t know where you’re going, you probably won’t get there. That’s an ancient Chinese proverb.

If you don’t know where you’re going. You assume that everyone knows their job. Why not just communicate a little bit extra? Why not put on your sales force the duty of Regularly meeting with that owner. If they’re not, you should be. Regularly giving them progress reports. Regularly communicating problems before they occur? So you let them know that you’ve anticipated this, and this is your plans for working through it.

It’s worth its weight in gold. Not only does it help the project go more smoothly, but it helps you get more projects with those owners. So, I’d say pre job start, getting it started on the right foot is everything.

[00:15:05] Wade Carpenter: This is all great advice. I appreciate it, Stephen.

Have you got any thoughts or feedback on what we discussed today? Anything we left off the list? We’d love to hear about it. If you’ve got questions, we’d love to talk to you as well. Or if you’ve got other topics you’d like us to cover, drop us a line.

Thank you for listening to the Contractor Success Forum. Check out the show notes@contractorsuccessforum.com or the Carpenter CPA’s YouTube channel. We would appreciate it if you consider subscribing, liking the podcast, commenting, and follow us every week as we do a new show, and we will look forward to seeing you next time.