Managing a Job for Success

March 2017
by Kristina Eldrenkamp

This past fall, Byggmeister organized a workshop for lead carpenters on project management. The goal was to exchange ideas and best practices for launching and running an on-time, on-budget job.

The event’s attendees were lead carpenters and project managers from the peer-review business network that Byggmeister participates in, Bottom Lines. The Bottom Lines program emerged from the Northeast Sustainable Energy Association (NESEA), which facilitates groups of around ten companies that meet throughout the year to evaluate each other's businesses and building practices according to the triple bottom line philosophy of people, planet and profit.

On a chilly November day, lead carpenters from Bottom Lines companies all over New England gathered at a Byggmeister job site in Somerville. The Byggmeister crew intended for a loose structure to the workshop, prioritizing a mutual exchange among the attendees over a detailed agenda. Paul made an introduction, Cador discussed job setup, and Matt and Josh took over the second half to talk about running a job. They passed out samples of the project binder that accompanies each Byggmeister job site, which contains the project’s budget, scope, and products and finishes, among other items.

In the interest of avoiding a didactic approach and encouraging a back-and-forth discussion, Byggmeister asked attendees to send in their own project documentation so that the group could compare several project management tactics. No one did though; it turns out that no other contractors have documentation as thorough as Byggmeister has. In the end, it was “89% Byggmeister talking,” said Cador. Attendees expressed surprise at the level of detail in Byggmeister’s binder, and some noted difficulties they had in their own projects getting basic things like timesheets or building plans. Though the Byggmeister crew was quick to point out that they don’t all use these materials every time, either, Maria still came away thinking, “Wow, we’re really on top.”

Byggmeister ultimately records a lot more information, and this translates to more on-time, on-budget projects. Cador attributed this to the fact that Byggmeister has more office support than many companies. Most firms, he said, “are not gonna put together a book,” referring to the binders at each job site. Byggmeister also conducts 6-month, 12-month, 24-month follow-up visits, the “extra-curricular” activities of each job that provide accountability for quality work and happy clients. There are of course overhead costs associated with this level of job organization, which the Bottom Lines carpenters discussed as well.

Some attendees felt that Byggmeister’s practices would not translate well to other project types, such as new construction projects that don’t have to navigate around an existing structure, or timber frame buildings which have a different delivery. Others pointed out that a smaller company, with less administrative staff, would not be able to replicate this project organization. Despite these differences, the overall response to the workshop was positive, and Cador described an enjoyable lunch of storytelling.

Asked if he learned anything new from the workshop or rethought how Byggmeister approaches projects, Matt responded that simply the act of sharing the process made him reflect. He said that it will be good to revisit this topic in time, and to hear more from other companies. He will jointly lead a follow-up workshop in April, guided not by any claim of expertise, but by the attitude, “This is what we’re learning about; come learn with us.”