Subcontractor Performance Issues? How to use a QC Program to promote improvement

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Subcontractor reliability and performance are essential to the success of GCs and home builders. When subcontractors underperform, it’s frustrating, time-consuming, and brings the construction schedule to a grinding halt. But what should the Builder do when a subcontractor isn’t bringing its A Game – or worse, isn’t even showing up? Can the Builder help improve an underperforming subcontracting partner? Or should the Builder cut its losses at the first sign of trouble?

Those answers can actually lie within a properly implemented Quality Control Program.

A QC Program provides facts. It tracks performance issues across a wide range of projects, jobs and areas. With those facts, the Builder can first understand the depth of the subcontractor performance issue. Is it a cascading failure across all projects or is it an isolated incident? How long has it been occurring? How much schedule-time and money have been lost? This data gives the Builder solid information to decide whether to replace a sub-par contractor or to talk to the company and work-through the issue.

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Regardless of the decision, facts always trump conjecture. “Our Super says your crew isn’t showing-up” doesn’t carry the same weight as “Your crew has been one-to-three-days late on eighteen jobs in the southeast region for the last two weeks, and now twelve jobs are behind schedule.” Back that up with performance graphs from the QC Program’s reporting tools, and the Subcontracting Partner has little room to contest.

However, a subcontractor who has been a good, reliable partner in the past is probably worth helping. Identifying the root of the problem is the first step. Obviously, the Builder wants to ask why the Sub isn’t completing the job or why the crew isn’t showing-up. But those are Generalities, and generalities are non-productive. With the data mined from the QC Program, the Builder can dig deeper to find recurring or common triggers. Why didn’t the Subcontractor complete the job on lot 7 of block 9 on August 12th and was it a different reason from lot 13 of block 2 on June 29th?

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There are many causes for a Subcontractor’s underperformance. Most often, material delays, manpower shortages and schedule bottlenecks will be sited as excuses. Sometimes the subcontractor is taking-on more work than it can handle. On the surface, these conditions have solutions that can be negotiated between the Builder and the Sub. However, there are usually other, hidden root causes that are actually on the Builder’s side of the partnership. The subcontractor may not speak-up about these problems. So, the Builder needs to be prepared to ask:

  • Are the jobsites clean and ready for the Sub to do its job?
  • Does the crew or subcontractor know and understand the Builder’s standards and best practices? Are those standards and best practices clear? Do they need to be established?
  • Is there a language barrier preventing effective communication?
  • Are there any interpersonal differences between a crew and a Construction Manager?
  • Is the Subcontractor regularly receiving feedback (positive and negative) from the Builder?

Whether the causes lie with the Subcontractor or the Builder (and realistically they probably lie with both), an improvement plan can be put in place.

An improvement plan works seamlessly with the QC Program. If the Subcontractor has solutions in place, from showing-up to the jobsite on time to cleaning up at the end of the day, trending reports will allow both the Builder and the Sub to monitor the progress.

Also, both the Construction Manager and the Subcontractor can provide notes to further explain events on the jobsite. This can hold the Construction Manger accountable for scheduling errors and jobsite readiness and cleanliness, which can severely impede the Subcontractor’s performance.

The improvement plan should include Hot Spots, which are simply reminders with pictures. Recurring items on a punch list or that are generating callbacks can become a flyer placed near the work area or pictures on a checklist for subcontractor to use. It reminds the crew performing the work to double check those items. These can be written in English and Spanish, and include photos – the universal language.

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Finally, communicate your standards and best practices through defined scopes of work, checklists and inspections. A checklist is simply the required steps within a repetitive task. Checklists provide organization and standardization. They also save time, reduce errors, and ensure quality building. If this is lacking in the Subcontracting Partner’s company, it can be a game changer. The structure of standardized checklists will help the Sub keep-up with a growing backlog of jobs and eliminate callbacks. It’s a win-win for both the Subcontracting Partner and the Builder.

For a Builder-Subcontractor Partnership to be successful, both must implement standardization measures wherever possible and encourage ongoing feedback and discussion about jobsite issues in an open and supportive environment. Two-way communication is essential. The QC Program is the platform that makes it possible.

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