BMJ Stone
EZG Manufacturing
Federated Insurance
Fraco USA, Inc.
Hohmann and Barnard, Inc.
Hydro Mobile, Inc.
iQ Power Tools
Kennison Forest Products, Inc.
Mortar Net Solutions
Non-Stop Scaffolding
Pullman Ermator
Tradesmen's Software, Inc.
March 20, 2006 2:00 PM CST

Baby Steps


Sometimes we just try to do too much at once. We go too fast and we get ahead of ourselves.

Let me tell you what I'm talking about: I had a situation once where our company thought that there was an obvious change in the scope of work. We had to get the client to acknowledge that there actually was a changed condition, some extra work would be required, and this would result in a change order to our company. How to do it? (Hint: Think "baby steps.")

Too often, I have seen contractors send out a letter explaining the situation, suggesting a possible solution, along with projected costs and time required to do the work. In other words, wrap it all up in one, nice package. Wrong!

There's a smarter way to do this, which is the Full Contact PM way. There's a logical sequence to getting this done, and here's how it goes:

Phase 1
Bring the issue to the client's attention through an RFI, asking how the client wants you to proceed.

Set a time limit for the response.

Receive the response from the client - it may even include a request that you furnish a proposal to do the work.

Celebrate - you just won the issue!

Phase 2
Provide the requested proposal and time frame to your client.

Include all of the appropriate notes and exclusions to the proposal. You are in control at this point, so write it out exactly as you want to perform it. List items of work that are not included in your proposal; do this now - don't whine later.

Give the number of additional working days required to provide the work.

Receive the written directive to perform the extra work - do not proceed without it.

Let's talk about this whole sequence just a bit more. First of all, remember that the original objective is to protect your company from performing any out-of-scope work, if you can possibly help it. Period! The best way to do this is to write an RFI delineating the problem. Nothing else is as effective - nothing else even comes close. Now, raise the issue (send the RFI) and ask how your company is to proceed.

Always assume in the RFI that the work is not in your contract, and that someone other than your company needs to deal with it so that you can get on with your own work. At this point, what we are looking for is simply an agreement by the client that the work mentioned in your RFI is an extra to your contract. Don't say anything else. Wait on the answer.

There are only a few possible answers: The client can agree with you, disagree with you, or ignore you. When the client agrees, which will likely be on a significant portion of the RFIs, proceed as outlined in Phases 1 and 2.

We will discuss what to do when he or she disagrees with you or ignores you in a future column. For now, we're going to focus on him or her agreeing with you and doing things correctly: point, by point, by point - first A, then B, then C. That's how we win.

When we're doing things correctly, we're trying to avoid doing A, B and C at the same time. It is counterproductive, will cost you more money in the long run, and will take a lot more time. Another way to say this is that we focus on single-issue items. We don't want to confuse our client with anything not absolutely critical to our winning the point.

For example, let's say that you have a contract to build a masonry wall. The plans clearly show a standard CMU wall, but the owner's superintendent really is expecting a wall made of split-face block. How do we handle that? Do we write a letter explaining that, while split-face block is not included in your bid, you can provide it in place of the standard CMU for so many dollars per square foot additional? Of course not! So, how do we do it using the Full Contact PM approach?

First, we write the RFI, explaining the problem, giving a timeframe, and we ask how to proceed. That's it. Right now, you're probably a couple of steps ahead of me and you're thinking something like, "Hey, I'm a busy guy, and I can do a couple of things at one time to speed up the process and keep my crew working. Why can't I do it that way?" Baby steps!

Keep the process simple. Unless your client first acknowledges that you have a problem, the price of split-face block and your ability to build it is irrelevant. And your client doesn't need to know right now that you once built a similar wall right down the street. What your client needs right now is to focus on your problem. Does the client agree it's a problem? The superintendent may be all wet. The client may be on a different page. Don't confuse the issue with additional, irrelevant and non-requested information.

Stick to the issue. What's the issue? Essentially, it is something like, "Ms. Client, we may have a problem. It needs to be resolved immediately because it impacts my schedule and your project. How shall we proceed?"

See how simple that is? Is there a problem? Only when the client agrees that there is a problem do you go on to the next step. But guess what? The next step is now incredibly easy, because the client is on your side and is working with you to resolve it. Your client is now ready to ask you, "Okay, how much will it cost?"

In sales, this kind of technique is known as the "trial close." In other words, there is a foregone conclusion that the sale - the "extra" to the contract, has been agreed to. All we have to do now is add some details. And the bigger the project you are working on, the more important it is to use this process. See how much easier that is?

Baby steps.

About the Author

Gary Micheloni is a working project manager, speaker, author, consultant and coach. He has severals years of industry experience, including a background as a licensed general engineering contractor. For further information and insight on the Full Contact Project Management approach, write Coach Gary at

Copyright © 2006, Gary Micheloni and Full Contact Project Management


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