To improve performance over time, a contractor must continually learn from the past. One of the most important ways is through post-project reviews. The focus of a post-project review is to improve the construction process and build teamwork on future projects. Specifically, it will create better relationships and knowledge sharing among your estimators, project managers, and superintendents. The review also answers how well or poorly your company has done on a particular project. The best post-project reviews also include feedback from customers. The review process capitalizes on the “intellectual equity” gained from each project to ensure that “lessons learned” are captured and the information made available to the entire organization, not just the few directly involved.
The first step in the post-project review is to list all the items that your management team wants to review after each project (contract) is completed. Once all change orders have been accepted and processed, the final contract amount is known, and all job costs are recorded to the contract (including the costs of completing the punch list). Your accounting department should then prepare a financial summary of actual project performance and compare it to the budget.
When this summary and the list of discussion items are complete, your senior managers schedule a meeting with the estimator, project manager, superintendent, job foreman (in some cases a second-level foreman), and the director of operations. Estimators are included, because communication within most companies does not always provide ongoing feedback to the estimator during contract performance, and this serves as the only means to get feedback on the assumptions that were made when the estimate was prepared.
The project manager, superintendent, and foreman are each given an evaluation form and asked to evaluate the project in the following categories on a scale of one to ten:
- Quality of plans and specifications
- Original estimate
- Project scheduling
- Job layout and start-up
- Material ordering and staging
- Productivity of the crew as a team
- Productivity of the individuals on the team
- Tools/formwork ordering and deliveries
- Change order management
- General Contractor responsiveness to requests
- Job cleanup
- Job closeout
- Punch list
- Project manager's performance
- Job safety
- Customer satisfaction
A standardized evaluation form simplifies the process and prevents those involved from skipping over important details. The review also includes an evaluation of your company's performance by those external to the company. Suppliers, other contractors, and owners should be asked to list opportunities for improvements and comment on strengths and weaknesses. You should also review your suppliers quarterly to ensure that pricing and service are consistent and up to your standards.
The review is performed in a relaxed environment, usually over lunch or breakfast, and the participants are paid for attending. Meeting preparation requires one to three hours and the meeting may take one hour or much more for bigger, more complex projects.
Most post-project reviews will be positive, but even those that are negative can provide real learning opportunities. System and process failures, which could include problems with scheduling, communications, and teamwork, are potential sources of poor project performance that a company must constantly address.
Contractors can start this process any time with any project. The key is starting and staying with it. It will most likely be awkward to begin with, but in time it will become second nature. The lessons learned will fuel continuous improvement and higher profits for future projects.
—Brian Moore is a consultant with FMI, management consultants to the construction industry. Brian works with contractors and construction materials producers on various strategic, financial, and operational issues. Specifically, his work at FMI involves in-depth market analysis, strategic and business planning, and market planning for clients throughout the nation. He can be reached at 919-785-9269 or by e-mail at email@example.com.