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Don’t we all occasionally wish we could reach back in time and offer some wisdom to our younger, inexperienced selves?

A recent post on r/Construction, a popular Reddit community, asked construction project managers what they wished they knew when they were just starting out. The post has since attracted a wide range of responses, gathering over 100 “upvotes” and 112 comments in the previous weeks.

Several construction managers weighed in on what they’d tell their past selves if given the chance. 

“Scrutinize the heck out of the low guy’s number. Call and get references, ask a million questions, interview them — and then use the next highest number.”

1. Prequalification is crucial to success

Always a point of concern for contractors, prequalification turned out to be a popular discussion topic amongst the post’s commenters. One user offered a fairly cynical take on how to screen a subcontractor:

“Scrutinize the heck out of the low guy’s number. Call and get references, ask a million questions, interview them — and then use the next highest number.”

“Before hiring someone, or taking on a job, it’s important to have a good idea of the character and capacity on the other side of your contract,” said Alex Benarroche, construction attorney and legal associate at Levelset.

Alex Benarroche
Alex Benarroche
9 years experience
283 articles
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“You should have a checklist of the different characteristics you are looking for in a contractor, sub, or supplier. This list can include a number of different factors, but the big 3 are business information, financial stability, and safety record,” continued Benarroche. Sometimes, the cheapest option doesn’t necessarily represent the best option.

Financial security is already a widespread concern across the construction industry — just 12% of surveyed construction companies report always getting paid on time, according to Levelset’s 2022 Construction Cash Flow Payment Report. Contractors certainly don’t need any more financial risk if they can avoid it.

“Prequalifying can have a significant impact on time and quality of performance. Knowing who you are in business with can prove the difference between a project’s success or failure,” says Benarroche.

On the topic of prequalification, one Reddit user offered some additional words of wisdom: “Any sub with the word “Best” in their name is usually the worst.”

“You can never document stuff enough.”

2. Document everything — you never know when you’ll need it

The construction industry can be messy — unfortunately, payment disputes, insurance claims, and lawsuits can be frequent stumbling blocks for even the most organized contractor.

As one user noted, documentation is key for avoiding arguments and settling disputes when they do come up.

“You have to remember that a person’s memory is a lot better at the time of the problem than after the fact,” said Kelly Theard, construction attorney with Deutsch Kerrigan.

Kelly Theard
Kelly Theard
20 years experience
1 answers

Maintaining a disciplined approach to project documentation can help contractors in a number of ways, from minimizing the risk of damaging lawsuits to preparation for future projects.

“As a sub or a contractor, cost estimate problems, lack of timeliness, defective or incomplete work, inadequate review or observations — the best way to protect yourself against these types of claims is to properly document the project,” said Theard.

Documentation can also help contractors “identify issues as they’re occurring on the project and get ahead of them,” and also allow project managers to “estimate or administer future work,” said Theard.

In a similar vein, one user warned that documenting things yourself is critical, and that you should not put too much trust in other project participants.

“CHECK ON YOUR JOBS go see with your own eyes. Do not trust what ppl report. In the end, the final product is yours, and only your responsibility,” they wrote.

“The less you want to make a call, the sooner you need to make it.”

3. Stay calm when things go sideways

“Wanting to avoid difficult conversations, admit mistakes, advise timeline extensions is natural but you are truly setting yourself up to fail,” one user wrote.

Mistakes can be costly — mistakes in a project contract, for instance, can result in the contract being canceled outright in the worst-case scenario. But as the previous commenter noted, it’s important to get out in front of mistakes when they inevitably occur.

“Mistakes happen,” says Alex Benarroche. “Instead of overreacting or even trying to take advantage of what’s obviously a mistake, it’s always a good idea to just pick up the phone first.”

“Often, merely talking to the other party and discussing the possibilities is the quickest, simplest, (and most importantly) cheapest option,” continued Benarroche. “Plus, most people are reasonable!”

“The biggest thing I wished I had known before running my own job was how to better deal with & manage critical/uncomfortable conversations,” wrote project manager u/loganab13, confirming Benarroche’s point.

“I know now that there are ways to defuse the situation when tempers flare, but in my younger days I’d charge full steam ahead into an argument like a bull in a China shop,” they continued.