Archive for December, 2012

Say it out loud.

Posted December 24, 2012 By tjflynn

When I was growing up two of my brothers were in the same age range and worked in Daddy’s home renovations business like I did. My older brother was out in the world, flying solo, a fledgeling, by then. I mentioned one of my brothers in a previous post. The other one had (has) his idiosyncratic moments as well. He would delight in nodding his head in response to verbal questions. For example, he might respond by shaking his head side to side if you yelled to him, “hey do you want to work overtime tonight to finish this task?” Normally, that response presupposes that one could see him. Which one could not many times. He thought it was the funniest thing in the world to do that. It must have been his own private joke-nobody else thought it remotely funny.

A good friend of mine from high school days is very good about rounding up the ‘old’ group when we are all in town. We used to meet at the all-night burger joint near our neighborhood after dates, eat silver-dollar sized sliders and lie about how masterfully we handled the woman we’d just taken home before the 11 or 12 o’clock curfew. He invariably invites one of the guys that I didn’t know that well-and liked even less. Over the years, it’s become a joke to the other guys that Bustle (not his real name) was my most bestest buddy back then.

While trying to crystallize my thoughts on male and female communication…I realized that communicating with women is impossible for me to dissect, analyze, make structured, rational or verbalize. So, I’ll just leave that to people more glib than myself. To those who can explain why human beings from different planets coexist at all.

Every project that I manage starts with a pre-construction meeting. I ask the contractor to have all of his key subs at this meeting. I say with great pomp and emphasis something to the effect of, “We are going to open this restaurant or retail building on “X” date. To make that happen, all of your work needs to be completed by “Y” date. If you can’t meet that date, let’s figure it out right now…don’t wait until the 11th hour to say it’s an impossible schedule. Once you walk out of here today, you are on board with this schedule. Since all of your businesses involve more than one person-even your demise will not be an acceptable excuse for not completing your work by this date. We will open this restaurant or retail building with your help or hire another subcontractor to complete it at your expense.” Most of the time I then ask the client to confirm to the subs that time is of the essence.

Every project that I manage ends with some subcontractor or subcontractors not pulling their weight, not finishing on “Y”. The contractor then has to juggle, struggle and massage the remaining subs to pick up that slack. Did you ever hear that, “no good deed goes unpunished”? Good subcontractors always pick up the slack for the bad ones. And that ain’t right. It is, however, the way it works.

Sorry, I slipped off task. I’m trying to say that even with contracts holding subs to dates, contractors making dates clear, project managers and owners making the dates clear…subcontractors and suppliers miss dates.

Several times during my career, I’ve offered bonuses to contractors who finished projects early. I’ve never paid one of those bonuses.

I’m still trying to find the right communication technique. The one that gets to every stakeholder in a project and motivates them perfectly to perform top quality work, safely, at the lowest possible price, on the schedule that we all agree to before the project starts.

Until then, common sense would seem to dictate that I continue juggling quality, safety, schedule and costs to get the best possible combination on every project.

One subcontractor can control your project schedule.

Posted December 21, 2012 By tjflynn

It seems that all of my schedules are tight. Some because they must be to meet client deadlines. Some because the contractor diddles around before getting started. Some because permits or financing are delayed. Most of them however are tight because that’s one way to keep costs down.

Direct Overhead costs for small contractors that I use run roughly $3,000 to $5,000 per week. Therefore, cutting two weeks out of a schedule can mean the difference between a low bid and a losing one. Even on cost-plus jobs, I always fix the “Fee” to include these costs which puts the schedule responsibility where it ought to be-on the contractor.

So, if a project is rolling along and one particular subcontractor continues to delay…especially on a short scheduled project-it has to affect the overall schedule. For example: If you are renovating a restaurant and adding steel railings for safety to the patio and those steel railings are continually delayed…there will be schedule problems.

If the railings are not fabricated and pre-installed, they can’t be powder coated and finally installed. Nor can the Hardware supplier supply the proper closers and locks without seeing the gates.(Obviously we did not require shop drawings). Without the railings installed, the owner could not install tables and chairs, or the waitress stand and equipment. In addition final touch up paint could not be completed. All but the last item were required to be inspected by three agencies before a certificate of occupancy would be issued.

In this exact situation, I suggested that the superintendent stop calling the sub and visit his shop. If not for motivation, to at least scope out progress. He didn’t. For some reason, he wouldn’t. When I was contracting, I wouldn’t hire a sub until I had been to his place of business to see his operation. After that, I felt perfectly comfortable “dropping by” during a project to check production progress. I guess contractors now-a-days don’t do that.

We opened late on this project. It was directly attributable to the one subcontractor’s dereliction and the contractor’s inability to control him. And, I must add, my inability to control the contractor.

My common sense says: “Mr. Contractor, be proactive. Go to the sub’s shop and rattle his cage if he is not performing.”

Changing horses in the middle of the stream

Posted December 20, 2012 By tjflynn

I had a job that, in retrospect, was outrageously wild-in every possible way. The permitting for this particular project was intense. We had site plan review after site plan review. The elevations were changed, at the city’s insistence, because the colors did not add up to the right brightness number (or something silly like that). There was a parking issue-even though we were taking over an existing restaurant that had a drivethru and our restaurant did not have a drivethru. The water management district and the state highway department could not agree on who was responsible to maintain the ditch where our runoff went. The Purchase Contract had a shorter fuze than it was possible to obtain permits. The buyer (my client) had hard money in the deal from the start and made a huge deposit before permits were issued. And then, there were the personality problems.

Our civil engineer was also our permit expediter (civil and architectural permits were required). This company was owned by a trusted friend whom many successful projects were completed with. He had multiple active projects with us at the time and we were skipping along nicely on all fronts…until. Until he had an offer to purchase his business that he could not refuse.

The guy that bought his business alienated the city’s engineer during a couple of meetings and the city guy called me to reign him in a little. That conversation led to me firing him for permit expediting and completing that task myself. Forgetting the headaches of travel between my office and the permitting office which were approximately a thousand miles apart. And forgetting the headache of getting myself up to speed on several issues which were in limbo between our engineer and the city engineer. And forgetting the tension between myself and our engineer…we finally got a permit and started construction.

The low bidding contractor was another nightmare. I had problems with the building for years. But, our new engineer came through like a champ during the certificate of occupancy process, going way beyond what any of us expected-way beyond what was usual to certify and test and review and document to the city’s standards (which I believe were made stricter on that job because of the issues we had).

Common sense about changing horses in the middle of the stream might be that, quality people do quality things…even if they start out rough?

Have you ever noticed that some projects flow smooth as warm butter-and some you need to drag along? I’ve had my share of both types of projects. Further, I have not yet found the magic way to start or the secret incantation to use to produce smooth projects every time.


The photo is of a project that I did in upstate New York. In spite of being several states away from my home base, designed by an architect that I only met on the phone and built by a contractor I didn’t know-coming from the other end of the state…it was a smooth project and it finished early.

My ego pushes to say that it was a shining example of my managerial skills! It wasn’t. After lots of review, critique and feedback from the client and consultants, we determined that our joint success was just a lucky mix of the right people on the right job at the right time.

That brings me around to the point of today’s post- If you determine that one of your team is dropping the ball…should you replace him or her?

I’ve been stubborn about this for my entire career, sending the weak link home most every time. On a seven-week restaurant remodel project, I kept getting bad vibes from the project superintendent. He was a week behind schedule after only 2 weeks on the job. The contractor assured me that he was experienced and fit. After another week, I determined to my satisfaction that the superintendent was over his head and told the contractor to replace him-or better yet, to run the job himself. Again, he talked me into letting the whomper-jawed monkey stay on the job. This decision led to me providing my client with an inferior product-late.

I should have sent him home that 2nd week

The very next project was another restaurant remodel with a four week schedule. This time I hand-picked my favorite contractor and my favorite superintendent. We negotiated a “cost plus a fee” contract and I thought I was gonna have a smooth sail. In fact, I determined that this was the best time for me finally pull the trigger on moving my home and business. Almost from the start, the superintendent had a dazed look that reminded me of once seeing a deer up close, on a dirt road with a spotlight. (Never mind what I was doing in the woods at night with a spotlight.) I went ahead and moved anyway. The project got further and further behind. I went from providing daily task sheets to hanging out on the job, following the super around.

You’ve all guessed by now that my presence on the job every day added to the super’s frustration (I found out later that he was having family troubles) and ultimately led to a confrontation that ended with him being sent home. The contractor sent a much less experienced man to finish the job. In my memory, at least, all he did was overeat and drink during training and pre-opening activities. This time the product was good-but late. In a future post, I’ll explore this question further.

For now I still lean toward taking the rotten apple out of the project barrell, but it is much more difficult and thought provoking when you know them.

It pays to know the players

Posted December 11, 2012 By tjflynn

As a prelude to building a comprehensive development schedule for Dollar General stores, I identified all “Players” in the process.
1. Accountant
3. Analyst
4. Appraiser
5. Architect
6. Attorney
7. Building Department
8. Building Contractor
9. Buyer
10. Cable Utility
11. Civil Engineer
12. Concurrency Dept
13. Dollar General
14. DOT
15. DRC
16. Ecologist
17. Electric Utility
18. EPA
19. Escrow Agent
20. Executive Committee
21. Fire Dept
22. Gas Utility
23. Health Depot
24. Insurance/Bonding Agent
25. Land Development Dept
26. Land Seller
27. Lender
28. Landscape & Irrigation
29. Owner/Developer
30. Owner’s Rep/Development Manager
31. Planning & Zoning Dept
32. Phone Utility
33. Public Utilities Dept
34. Real Estate Brokers
35. Signage
36. Sign Contractor
37. Site Contractor
38. Site Lighting
39. Site Permits
40. Soils/Environmental Engineer
41. Solid Waste Utility
42. Surveyor
43. Traffic Engineer
44. Water Utility
45. Water Management District

I then built a detailed schedule in MSProject that would have been the envy of a professional scheduler and his “Scheduling Professor”. Right here, I should probably admit that nobody understood the schedule-except me. It was bulky and complicated. And every time a consultant or permit department held up the schedule, I had to change dependencies to keep the turnover date the same. However, when I ran reports, everyone understood the dates that my partners and I expected their tasks to be completed.

The list of Players above may be of some use to the odd reader. At the very least it should make you think about all the moving pieces, and players that we are dependent on to complete projects.

Please consider, also, that some people may be players in multiple categories. For example, the Executive Committee in # 20 was made up of the Owner/Developers in # 29 and me in # 30. And the Soils Engineer in #40 was the same person as the Environmental Engineer.

All of this background is meant to point out that there may also be hidden or unannounced player-roles that can bite you in the you-know-what if you aren’t careful.

The first example goes back to 1968, when I was a lowly USMC Corporal in the tropical paradise of Vietnam. The details are not important. But, in retrospect, I may have been too forthcoming in my response to a question from an unknown Lieutenant who later became our Commanding Officer and refused to sign my promotion warrant until the day he rotated home.

The lesson here is that players can change positions


On a project in Orlando where, I was the manager of design and construction for a franchisee, the contractor was also a principal in the franchise corporation and I didn’t know. Although I would do the same thing today, there were bad results for me when I firmly denied a payment request by the contractor that was obviously padded to his benefit. He ultimately got his money from that draw and I got the privilege of not working for any of his franchisees again.

The lesson here is that players may not disclose all of their roles.

Daddy’s Lesson One

Posted December 10, 2012 By tjflynn

My dad was not a well-educated man, but his common sense was extraordinary. With a 9th grade education, he raised 5 children of his own and some of my mom’s brothers and sisters as well. He had a few principles that he never deviated from.

One of those principles was: “Do it right the first time.” This sounds like a grade-school admonition to people that give a hoot about service. In my experience, however, very few people remember the simple things. We are all bombarded with 12 step programs and 12 rules for this and the other and we just forget to do the most basic things.

One of my brothers grew up working with Daddy just like I did. He was always in a hurry to finish the task and sometimes took shortcuts in getting there. I used to tease him that you could not build a roof until the walls were up. To which he’d respond by throwing a heavy tool at me or burying my head in the nearest sawdust or builder’s sand pile and saying something that I could never hear because I was at the first aid box looking for a bandaid or cleaning crap out of my ears.

He never did things right the first time and I spent a lot of time fixing his work. He used to “cobble it up”. I never really understood what that meant, but Daddy used to say, “It doesn’t take any longer to do it right than it does to cobble it up.”

Daddy used to say “If it is worth doing, it’s worth doing right”, also.

Common sense here seems to advocate doing it right the first time and not cobbling it up.