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August 30, 2012 2:00 PM CDT

How quickly can you do this job?

Contractor tip of the month


There is a schedule on every project for a reason.

There is a schedule on every project for a reason.
“How quickly can you do this job?” We hear this daily in the construction business. Even though it is great to be an optimist, this is no time to answer the general contractor with optimistic time lines. In fact, if you want a happy customer in the end, be a little pessimistic. Under commit, so you can be sure you hit the timelines promised. That, in turn, will make your life easier and keep your customer happy.

I took my three girls to Myrtle Beach with three of their friends last week. What a great trip we had! However, with six girls between the ages of 7 and 14 and one man on the trip, it didn’t take me long to discover how demanding little girls can be. Two hours into the 10-hour ride, they started taking turns coming to the front of the motor home asking, “How long before we get there?” This went on at least every 30 minutes. If I told one of them five hours, she would say, “You told us five and one-half hours an hour ago. What’s taking so long?”

Then I got myself into a real pickle by not allowing for gas and food stops. So, two hours would pass, while I only gained an hour on our schedule, due to stops. I would have to answer four hours when I told them we have five hours left to go two hours earlier. At that point, they would get agitated, team up and have a spokesperson who would say something like this: “You told us we were only five hours out three hours ago, and now you are telling us we are still four hours from the beach.”

It made for a long trip down there, especially the last two hours, when they would ask every 10 or 15 minutes. By the time we headed back home, I devised a plan to keep them happy, and I was amazed at how well it worked. When they asked how long we had to go, I would give them the worst case scenario while banking extra time. If there were five hours of driving time left, I would tell them there were eight. It was a good thing I started that early in the trip home as we had traffic issues, and it took 15 hours to drive home instead of 10, like it should have.

And, even though I was extremely tired, the last two hours were an absolute pleasure for me as I still had four hours allotted with only two hours of driving left to go. Talk about a bunch of happy girls – can you imagine going on a four hour trip and getting there in two? I can’t even imagine how quickly those last two hours flew by for the girls, but I can assure you I never got a single complaint.

It seems the biggest issues we’ve ever had on projects have been due to scheduling. Every time we dig into it, we find that a project manager or a foreman has made a promise to a GC that he can’t fulfill. Most of the time, it isn’t that he doesn’t perform the job in a satisfactory way, it’s just that he never studied the schedule and built some realistically needed bank time in up front. How could a GC know more about the time it takes to do a masonry project than we do as professionals? The truth is, he couldn’t. We learned the hard way that we can’t let them dictate an unrealistic schedule to us, or we know we could have big problems coming later in the job.

There is a schedule on every project for a reason, and when a GC puts it out, you and your people had better study it before you agree to it. If not, you will have a disgruntled customer in the end, often for no reason other than the fact that you agreed to something you shouldn’t have to start with. Build your time into the schedule up front, and, as you go, and make sure the GC agrees to it. If you do, I guarantee that when you have four weeks left to do the job and finish in two weeks, your customer and you will both have a wonderful finish. And, winding up a job on a good note like that will keep them coming back for more.

About the Author

Damian Lang is a mason contractor in southeast Ohio and inventor of many labor saving masonry systems and products. Lang has served as the Marketing Committee Chairman for the Mason Contractors Association of America. He is also author of the book Rewarding and Challenging Employees for Profits in Masonry. To network with Damian on contractor tips or tips you have and would like published, contact him at or 740-749-3512.


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