Tackling Problems in Your Construction Business

Tackling Problems for your construction business

Tackling Problems in Your Construction Business

Last time, we talked about When Solutions Become Problems.  As promised, now we’re diving deeper into one proven method for finding and resolving problems in your construction contracting business.

The first step, Defining the Problem, is borrowed from the car manufacturer, Toyota,  and has proven quite successful for them. The other steps are:

  • Reformulate the problem
  • Devise solutions
  • Evaluate alternatives

Defining the problem

Now is a good time to borrow the method used by Toyota which identifies their manufacturing issues. It is called the “Five Whys.” Don’t let the number five confuse you. It may take only “Three Whys” to get to the bottom line, or it may take more than five.

In short, you begin by stating the problem, then asking why until you get to the real root of the problem. For instance, the general contractor tells you he sees your crew sitting around doing nothing for large pieces of time each day.

Ask, “Why isn’t the crew on task during working hours?”

The answer might be that not all the materials or equipment needed were on site.

Ask, “Why is that?”

You see how this is going. There can be several different responses.

  • The trucks were improperly supplied
  • the chosen vendor is often low on stock
  • the foreman frequently forgets to order the right materials
  • or we only send someone to get stuff when we need it

At each junction, you ask, “Why is that?”

When you get to the bottom line, you have the opportunity to fix the problem for good.

Rather than a lazy employee problem or a we-don’t-care problem you may have an organizational or time management problem that begins with management and drips down to the crew.

Remember, it is important to distinguish causes from symptoms.

Reformulating the problem

Now, it’s time to question the questions. One way to reformulate the problem is by creating “How might we . . .” statements.

Let’s look back at the crew, wasting time on the job site. And ask this question, how might we . . .

  • make sure the crew is on task most of the time?
  • assure the vehicles are properly loaded every day?
  • overcome low vendor stock?
  • better train foremen concerning their duties?
  • be better prepared for obtaining supplies?

Now you have some jumping-off points for devising solutions.

Devising solutions

Sometimes, depending on the original problem, this is a one-person operation. But more often, the devising solutions stage is better practiced in groups. Whether it is leadership alone, a group of stakeholders, or the entire crew, getting ideas from more people is often the key to finding the solution.

One way to get the group on board is to begin the session by stating the problem, then asking the “how might we. . .” question, and then saying, “Please only mention very bad ideas.”

Yep, bad ideas. The reason is twofold.

  • It takes the pressure off. You know. Who wants to be the crazy guy who, when asked for a great idea, comes up with the dumbest idea on earth? Sometimes the tension is palpable.
  • Putting a new lens on the problem (unlikely solutions) may indeed produce some quite likely and grand solutions. At any rate, once the ball is rolling, there will be many ideas to toss about and roll around to get to the great idea.

Evaluating alternatives

This last step may be the one most left out when tackling problems. After all, you found solutions in the previous step. You can pick one and run with it.

Or you can evaluate the alternatives.

While there are likely several ways to tackle a problem and many of the ways may achieve the results you would like, there are two important metrics that will aid you in choosing one most likely to succeed.

The first is ease of implementation.

The second is the potential size of the impact.

Using the example above, let’s say the problem you’ve found is that the foreman isn’t taking care of his duties properly. One solution would be to hire a different supervisor. Another might be to train the foreman better. Which is easier to implement?

While finding a mature and knowledgeable foreman would be nice, we all know there isn’t a line of trained men knocking on your door. Yet, if the present foreman isn’t up for the training . . .

When considering the potential size of impact in this scenario, you must keep in mind the big picture as well as the details. Does the crew have a good working relationship with the present foreman? Is there another foreman who is willing to spend time training? Are there classes or courses your present foreman can attend?

How disruptive will either solution be?

What secondary problems might be created by implementing one or the other solution?


Remember, there isn’t a method, approach, or process that will achieve the results you’re looking for if you’re solving the wrong problem. Think about the five whys. Have you drilled deep enough? Most often, spending as much time (or more) determining the problem as solving it will allow you to generate truly valuable solutions.


We desire to familiarize you with business concepts, which will make it easier for you to be a better commercial construction business owner through our blog posts. Some are new ways of looking at things, and others are refreshers.


Schulte and Schulte Provides Accounting, Contract Document Management, and Advisory Board Level counsel for small to medium commercial construction subcontractors.

So you can Run With the Big Dogs! Call us 866-629-7735

When Solutions Become Problems

Solutions can go awry

Things that seem like a good idea at the time can turn out to be anything but.

For example, you and your gang just want to have fun. So, you go to Amazon dot com and purchase a “Beach Behemoth Giant Inflatable 12-Foot” beach ball. And, off to the beach you go!

Then, you post this on Amazon:

Review: “We took this ball to the beach and after close to 2 hours to pump it up, we pushed it around for about 10 fun filled minutes. That was when the wind picked it up and sent it huddling down the beach at about 40 knots. It destroyed everything in its path. Children screamed in terror at the giant inflatable monster that crushed their sand castles. Grown men were knocked down trying to save their families. The faster we chased it, the faster it rolled. It was like it was mocking us. Eventually, we had to stop running after it because its path of injury and destruction was going to cost us a fortune in legal fees. Rumor has it that it can still be seen stalking innocent families on the Florida panhandle. We lost it in South Carolina, so there is something to be said about its durability.”

(This is a real review I spotted on Amazon. I didn’t make this up. LOL)

Example from the offices of Schulte and Schulte

Problem = Develop a system to maintain payroll promptness for both in-house and clients

Solution = QuickBooks Full Service Payroll sends email reminders

Secondary Problem = QuickBooks Full Service Payroll sends a multitude of email reminders, which then must be forwarded to the internal firm payroll specialist.

Solution = Virtual assistant sets up auto-forward of these emails.

Newest problem = Tonya no longer receives notification concerning paying her employees. As a matter of fact, the internal firm payroll specialist receives notice to pay herself. And That’s Not Allowed. Big Problem!

And, this is what happens when you add a layer of efficiency, and it breaks your working solution.

It seems H. L. Mencken may have had it right when he wrote, “For every complex problem there is a solution which is clear, simple, and wrong.”

Here’s another problem scenario

You sit at your desk, head in hands wondering what in the world possessed you to get into the construction industry in the first place? The system you have in place dealing with (choose one or more) is not working!

  • People
  • Processes
  • Equipment
  • Materials

So, what do you do when you find a perfectly good solution which turns out to be a problem of its own?

First, let’s talk “lost cost fallacy” about which I dealt in length here.

The bottom line, if it is not working, dump it if the only reason to keep it is you have already put so much time and money into it.

Other solutions

Let’s go back to the problem discovered by Schulte and Schulte concerning payroll reminders. A few solutions came to mind:

  • Change instructions to the virtual assistant
  • Place in-house payroll reminders on the calendar
  • Set up in-house automation

As you can see, spotting the problem is the first step to solving it. Some problems, like this one, are glaring. Others may be less visible.

Your fires, the things constantly popping up to interrupt your day, often have their basis in solutions you’ve chosen, which no longer work optimally.

Be it apps, deployment strategies, operational systems, job assignments, broken equipment, or dysfunctional tools. Things can change. Whether you have growing pains or maintenance issues think in terms of creating systems you and your staff can change as necessary.

Be certain your employees understand that one part of their jobs is alertness for ways to improve systems, operations, client satisfaction, handling, and so on. Being on the hunt for ways to improve, means you’re better prepared to take on the broken solutions as they come your way. And don’t think they won’t.

Solutions coming up

Next time we’ll dive deeper into one proven method for finding and resolving problems in your construction contracting business.


We desire to familiarize you with business concepts which will make it easier for you to be a better commercial construction business owner through our blog posts. Some are new ways of looking at things, and others are refreshers.

Schulte and Schulte provides Accounting, Contract Document Management, and Advisory Board Level counsel for small to medium commercial construction subcontractors.

So you can Run With the Big Dogs! Call us 866-629-7735