Safe and Effective Subcontractor Management

Subcontractor Management

Safe and Effective Subcontractor Management

Photo credit: NAVFAC via / CC BY

Safe and Effective Subcontractor Management – 11 Tips and Things to Think About


Here at GoFetchCode, we regularly work with construction companies of all kinds of sizes. While each and every company has a different approach to their projects, one thing they have in common is their relation with subcontractors. Working with subcontractors is a widely accepted practice in the construction industry – whether you need additional manpower or do not have the required skills or expertise; for each and every project there’s certain to be a company that can help you. But if you decide to hire a subcontractor, there are a few things you have to keep in mind in terms of safety, efficiency and getting the job done. With that in mind, we wrote down 12 tips for safe and effective subcontractor management.


1. Screening your subcontractors


Before you even start working with a subcontractor, you will have start qualifying potential businesses who can work with you. The time you use to screen your subcontractors is never wasted. There are a variety of factors you can screen your subcontractors on, but here are the most common ones:


  • Licenses
  • Insurance
  • References
  • Experience
  • Legal and financial history
  • Safety record
  • Business organization
  • Workforce and supervision


This is quite a list, but it’s incredibly important to screen the people you’ll be working with. If you do this properly, it will save you a lot of stress and headaches (or even legal fees if things go south) in the future.



2. Setting Expectations


Another way to reduce issues with subcontractors up front, is to properly set and manage expectations. A subcontractor is just like any other business – they want to know what their job is, how much time they have to finish it, and of course what they get in return. You have to make sure that you and your subcontractor are always on the same page. What do I mean by this? Well, you should have the same view on things like remuneration, deadlines, quality of work, how the subcontractor relates to the end-client, and so forth.


Never make assumptions about what your subcontractor knows or doesn’t know. Before the work starts, specify exactly what they should do and who they should report to. And if you set out your expectations, terms and conditions in a contract, you’ll make sure that there is no misinterpretation possible. What’s more, the subcontractor also knows what they can expect from you, how they should serve you (their client!) properly and how they should handle any unforeseen changes to the project.



3. Improve your contracting habits


Contracting is not just about drafting a catch-all document that suits your needs and fits the project. Sure, you want to include things like your responsibilities, your subcontractor’s responsibilities, the timeline of the project and the compensation. But if you want to manage your subcontractors well, it’s pertinent to draft something more elaborate.


For instance, make sure you do not only specify the amount that is to be paid, but also the latest payment date and payment method. Or incorporate safety requirements your subcontractors should adhere to. If you’re looking for a sample contract, take a look at this sample short form agreement by the AGC California.


Last, do not forget that it is not only about creating the document in question, but also understanding what is written. This holds true for both parties – make sure your subcontractor(s) fully understand the contract they are signing, and if they do not, explain it to them!



4. Proper Planning & Scheduling

Planning is a vital part of Safe and Effective Subcontractor Management

Photo via Visualhunt

There are a several aspects that come to mind when planning a construction project. But one of them should always be how you relate your planning to your subcontractors. For instance, while you might give yourself some leeway when it comes to setting deadlines in order to account for unexpected contingencies, don’t forget you might also choose to do this for your subcontractors. One of the employees of your subcontractors might fall ill; the soil is more difficult to work with than expected; or perhaps the client is more demanding than you thought. Similarly, you should not only know the schedule of your employees, but also your sub’s schedule. There are loads of other things to think about here, but I want to mention two planning-related tasks in particular.


Have a subcontractor management plan in place

So before you start working with a subcontractor, it’s important to have a good subcontractor management plan. In this plan, you specify all information that governs the relationship between you, the contractor, and your subcontractor. It is different from the contract in that it specifies things like organizational charts, persons of contact, methods of communication, roles and responsibilities, deadlines, weekly progress reporting, payment information, and a whole lot more. Depending on your wishes and the relation with your contractor, you can use something simple and straightforward (such as this plan by the US Department of Health ) or a more elaborate one such as this subcontractor management plan provided by the Silverstone Group.


Make use of project management software

You probably make use of different kinds of software to manage your construction project. While there are many different types of web-based construction management software, it’s imperative to take a good look at what software can help you in your planning. Products like eSUB or the popular Procore can really be a time-saver, also when it comes to planning and planning your subcontractor work.



5. Communication, communication, communication


Planning properly and managing expectations well can only be done through regular communication. There are numerous habits you can develop in how you communicate with your subcontractors, and there’s no one best practice. However, it’s quite important to think about this, since bad communication lies at the root of project mismanagement. We would at least consider the following:


  • Holding regular meetings (e.g. weekly or biweekly)
  • Having a contact person for every subcontractor
  • Notifying your subcontractor of changes before they take place
  • Ask for confirmation (or a signature) upon receiving important drawings or other documentation
  • Use a communication channel you’re both familiar with (whether that’s email, telephone, Skype or even things like Slack)



6. Safety is (Still) Important


Perhaps this is superfluous, but you should always make sure your subcontractors are adhering to the highest standards of safety. There are several reasons why you should do this. The first and foremost reason to discuss safety with your subcontractor is (obviously), the importance of safeguarding the safety of everyone on the work site. Second, the people you work with affect the way you, as a company, are perceived in the eyes of clients and third parties. This means that if one of your subcontractors makes a mistake or doesn’t adhere to (legal) safety requirements, this can leave a bad impression not only on the subcontractor, but also on you as the main contractor.


Another reason to keep safety in mind with regard to subcontractors, is the legal aspect. As Crain’s shows in an article, construction accidents may be criminalized, which may result in the conviction of the contractor in question, even if the accident was the fault of a subcontractor. In the end, by using a subcontractor, you start sharing the responsibility for safety on the worksite, so make sure you’re content with doing so – and that your subcontractor knows what is expected of him.



7. Build a Team


Communication does not necessarily build a team. There are numerous ways of communicating, and while it’s important to think about the way and means of communication, it’s also important to think about the goal. If you’re working with a subcontractor, one of those goals should be team-building. You want the subcontractor to feel as they are a part of the team, working towards the same goal of completing the project.


Team of Construction Workers

Photo credit: WSDOT via / CC BY-NC-ND

If you manage to do this, your subcontractors (and their employees) will feel more responsible, and are likely to enjoy their work more and finish the job before the required deadline. So how do you do this? How do you ‘teambuild’?


An easy way to start teambuilding is by letting employees get to know each other. You can use almost any exercise, from simple name games to more extensive team working exercises. And if required, you can hire an outside company that provides teambuilding services. The most important point is – build a team and the work will follow.


8. Macromanage


To an employee, nothing can be as annoying as a micromanaging boss. This certainly also holds true in the case of a contractor-subcontractor-relationship. In other words, as the contractor, you have hired someone or a team of someones to manage one part of the work.If you have done your homework and screened the subcontractor in question before offering him the contract, you should certainly be able to rely on his expertise. And if you want to know more about the work he’s doing or the way he’s doing the work, simply ask – communication, remember?



9. Revisit your Choice


It is never wrong to think about whether a company you work with really is the right partner for you. Take the time (e.g. twice per year) to rethink what made you choose for this specific subcontractor. Perhaps you realize his work is of a different quality than you expected or his insurance coverage no longer checks out. Or perhaps you’re still very content with your partnership and there’s nothing to worry about. That’s fine too! Just make sure that you’re happy with your partnerships and that you stay in compliance – and one way to do so is a regular review.



10. Always Pay on Time


If you value your relationships with your subcontractors, make sure to always pay them on time. In certain cases it might be difficult to do so, particularly if your client has not paid you yet.


However, in this relationship, you are the client. You probably know how it’s like (and how annoying it is!) to not receive a payment on time. This means that if you value your relationship with your contractors, always pay them on time. This ensures mutual respect and will certainly put you higher on the list of ‘Top 10 contractors to work for’.



11. Provide Feedback (Both Ways)


If you’ve chosen the right company, your subcontractor is open to feedback. This is not to say that you should criticize their work at every step of the way (and remember, no micromanaging!). However, your weekly or monthly meetings are the perfect opportunity to give your subcontractor some feedback. After all, it’s your worksite and you want to make your client happy. If the subcontractor is responsible for a mistake or is not living up to the standards you are expecting, simply tell them and ask them to improve. Simple, straightforward and constructive feedback goes a long way.



But while providing feedback is incredibly important, people rarely mention that receiving feedback is just as important. If you want to build a name for yourself or your company, it’s imperative to keep maintaining and improving the way you manage your subcontractors.

Feedback in subcontractor management

A rather simple form of providing feedback

Perhaps reading articles like this one is sufficient, but I doubt it. Another (and  better?) way to improve your subcontractor managing skills, is to ask for feedback. What does your subcontractor like about working with you, your company, and/or their contact person at your company? What has gone well so far? What could go better? Would they recommend you? Are you considered a good client? Why (not)?


Ask your subcontractor questions like these (e.g. in the form of a questionnaire) throughout the construction project cycle. Don’t overwhelm them with questions, but make sure to sit down at least once in a few months to talk about these things and give and receive feedback. In the end, your client will thank you for it.



12. You Want Safe & Effective Subcontractor Management? Think About Everything Else


A twelfth bonus ‘tip’ is to think about all other things that you have to create, draft, set up or do before starting working with a new subcontractor. These include for instance:


  • Quality assurance,
  • cost and progress reporting,
  • what to do when your subcontractor fails to deliver,
  • providing customer service training,
  • or even showing your sub the worksite.


Surely you can think of a thousand other things to consider when you’ve hired or when you are planning to hire a subcontractor. Nonetheless, I hope this article has helped you on your way.


Let us know in the comments which tips you found useful. And let us know which tips you thought were missing from this list!

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