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Home > Lowe's for Pros > Manage Your Subcontractors Effectively

Manage Your Subcontractors Effectively

Manage Your Subcontractors Effectively

By Jenn Danko

A successful building project is only as good as the sum of its parts, says Peter E. Simpson, president and chief executive officer for the Greater Vancouver Home Builders’ Association (GVHBA). In order to make a building or remodeling project sing, it has to be well orchestrated from all facets of management and talent.

For many, that orchestration revolves around a team of well-managed subcontractors. Often, the most effectively managed teams are those with whom contractors have worked closely for years.

"There are many builders and renovators who have used the same subcontractors their entire careers, which really builds a level of trust and confidence in a subcontractor’s skills and reliability," Simpson says. That trust lays the foundation for well-managed projects.

Follow these tips to craft an effective management plan and ensure the smooth execution of your next job:

Establish expectations and hire appropriately

The first step toward effective management of subcontractors is hiring the right people for the tasks at hand.

"Finding qualified contractors can be a real challenge," says Jim Bahnuk, president of Briar Design & Construction Ltd and a 34-year veteran of the Burnaby, B.C. construction industry. "Hiring the wrong trade contractor can prove devastating."

Although the scope of his projects vary, Bahnuk says his company manages about 20 sub-trades and 30 suppliers for a larger job. To weed out mismatched talent and lay the groundwork for a solid plan, he looks for specific attributes when seeking desirable trade contractors, including financial stability, quality workmanship, the ability to stay on schedule, prompt service on call backs and minimum material waste, to name a few. As a member of the GVHBA and the Renovation Council, he talks with other association members and cross checks many of their skill to ensure he has the right people for the job. Bahnuk says associations provide a wealth of knowledge when it comes to finding talent.

"Suppliers will also give you list of subcontractors that I can check by calling their contractor references," he adds.

"Because we are a design/build company, we work closely with our trades and suppliers in the planning and preparation stages to get their input," Bahnuk says. "We hold site visits for the trades to see how the home is laid out and constructed, and where electrical panels should go or where water or gas lines run in relation to the renovation. This allows for a more accurate fixed-price quotation."

Communication and contracts

All site visits are entrenched in open processes of communication, which begins at the start of the design phase, or in Briar’s case, mainly the renovation phase. Introducing subcontractors to suppliers so they can ask proper installation questions is key to setting the tone from the start, Bahnuk says.

"Subs only communicate with the suppliers for new technologies or when they are unfamiliar with a product and have questions, but working together helps us all understand the project a little better," he adds. Inviting a subcontractor to the site allows them to see the existing condition of a structure, what materials have to be used and if the services are up to code.

"For example, an electrician may determine that the existing electrical service is inadequate to handle the new demands of the renovation and a whole new service is required," Bahnuk explains. "This will cost thousands of dollars and have an impact on the budget. Multiply this by several trades and you have a real problem on your hands if you don’t find this out up front."

Once the groundwork is laid out, a detailed, subcontractor written agreement will minimize snags before they arise. It defines expectations in clear language with terms and conditions involving construction requirements, work performance, payment schedules, change orders, delays and invoicing, to name a few.

"Contracts are everything," Simpson explains. "Four words of advice I give when it comes to effective management: get it in writing. If expectations are written down, they are not open to interpretation."

Keep all trades in the loop

Once teams are assembled, the home construction phase begins. When the framing is finished, Bahnuk schedules heating and plumbing contractors to view the project and layout their runs.

"This allows us to see where plumbing waste lines are [in terms of] toilets, bath and shower drains and where heating ducts can be installed," he says. By reviewing these processes ahead of time, Bahnuk’s team saves a lot of time removing and re-installing components, which can lead to delays on the job and higher costs for the client.

Additionally, Bahnuk remains in close communication with subcontractors throughout all project phases, informing them of schedule delays or additional challenges that may arise in relation to their scope of work.

"The more in the loop they are, the better service you will receive," he says.

An effective checklist

By encouraging subcontractors to participate actively in the entire construction process, contractors can manage them more effectively.

Bahnuk recommends encouraging subcontractors to suggest new and more efficient methods, products, materials and techniques that could benefit the project’s big picture. His quick-tip management checklist includes:
  • • Provide adequate orientation and training to new subcontractors.
  • • Mediate disputes or disagreements that arise among contractors.
  • • Respect the expertise of the trades.
  • • Listen to suggestions from trades; organize and implement useful direction.
  • • Recognize the contribution that trades and suppliers make to a successful project.
  • • Coordinate the communications and efforts of various trades to produce a positive, trusting work environment.

Most importantly, builders or renovators have to make sure they have the right people on their staff to manage subcontractors well.

"Never bite off more than you can chew," Simpson says. "An effective management plan is about working within the realms of what you can handle."

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