Should You Take That Construction Job? Ask Yourself These 8 Questions First

By Jim Kissane, retired construction industry veteran

Deciding whether or not to take a particular construction job isn’t always an easy call. A number of factors come into play for contractors when evaluating projects and determining if they are deserving of an investment of time, effort and resources.

Over the course of my three-plus several decades I’ve spent in the construction industry, I haven’t always made the right choice when trying to decide if I should accept a job or not, but I can say the knowledge and experience I gained as a result has been incredibly valuable and has ensured I don’t repeat the same mistakes twice.

So with that in mind, let’s zero in on some questions contractors should be asking themselves when evaluating construction projects…

Is it a customer you’ve enjoyed working for in the past? It’s a straightforward question, and it can be answered simply. If you enjoyed working with the customer, take the job. That’s all there is to it.

Do you need the work? In the construction industry today, the answer to the question of whether or not you need the work is often dictated by circumstances beyond your control. For example, let’s say a municipality is slow to provide you with a permit, leaving you and your employees with a whole lot of downtime. If the downtime lasts too long, you can find yourself in a situation where you’ll be forced to furlough people and sideline some of your equipment. And once you do, it’s often really difficult, if not impossible, to get all of your people back. So while the question of whether or not you need the work may seem obvious, the consequences of failing to consider factors and circumstances out of your control can be catastrophic.

What types of jobs do you normally take? It’s so important to take a long hard look at your company’s predominant delivery model.  Too often, capable contractors call themselves “Design-Build” to expand their market, yet if you lack the skillsets and experience needed for design-build you can be exposing your firm to serious operational and legal challenges.  Likewise for the firms that use the term “Construction Management.”

Can you increase your marketshare or increase the visibility of your company? Successfully completing projects which boost your company’s reputation, win you or your organization an award, or serve as a gateway for your company to enter a new market are always worth your time and attention. If a specific job can take you and your organization to the next level, it’s definitely worth your while. It’s as simple as that.

Will the project allow you to take advantage of new technology? Throughout my career, I’ve always looked for ways to incorporate the latest innovations and equipment into my fleet. As a contractor, you need to be always thinking about making smart investments in technology. Doing so is not a luxury. It’s a necessity, because you simply depend on solving the problems of today with approaches that worked yesterday. And it’s a fact that does not only applies to technology, but also the human resources needed to utilize the technology properly.

What is the quality of the plans and specs you’d be working from? It’s so important for you to determine if a plan has been developed or not, and if the plan was put together by a third-party architect or engineer. More often than not, I pull together a group of people together I trust and conduct a constructability review, determine potential issues and decide if the project can reasonably be completed. After all, it’s really up to the contractor to look into aspects associated with the project and see whether or not they will be problematic, or in some cases, impossible.  Don’t assume the architect or engineer got it right. That’s the reason why those folks don’t get into “means and methods.” You alone have to figure out if it can be built, and how.

What about buildability and utilization?  Larger contractors, in almost every case, always consider the aspects of buildability and resource utilization. Tasking a group of people with conducting both a design analysis and constructability reviews is often the difference between being able to tolerate a turbulent construction market and being adversely affected by it.  

What are the consequences of making the wrong decision, and can you afford to deal with them? To me, the most significant repercussions are associated to human resources. Many contractors simply can’t find enough skilled tradespeople today, and there are certain jobs you don’t want to go take with your “B” team in tow. Without an “A” team at the ready, you can find yourself in trouble pretty fast. However, if you continually deliver quality projects time and again, and if you take care of your people, then you’ll be able to assemble the right group of people. And they’ll stick with you, they’ll know more about your business and your preferences, and they’ll be able to anticipate much of what you want to accomplish on a project.

The vast majority of contractors in business today possess a fairly good sense of whether or not to take a construction job. They can walk into a job, get a sense of the situation and the people they’ll work with, and they can move a project forward. Ultimately, for you to be successful, you need to acquire a level of tacit knowledge you can’t get from simply attending a certain school or reading a specific book. It’s just street smarts, developed through experience and over time.

Jim Kissane is a retired construction industry veteran, having served the design/construction industry for more than three decades.

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