Building More: Building Blocks, Systems, and The Task Chain

Words: Corey Adams
Words: Corey Adams 
It is kind of funny how small, weird lessons or quips stick with you. It is even more amazing when you can apply those random snippets of education across multiple facets of life or business. One that sticks out more than any other to me is a lesson I learned about concrete. I do not remember who taught it to me or even when it was taught to me, but it is a lesson that applies daily. The lesson was this: if we do each step the best we can, it makes the next step easier. For those that have poured concrete, you know exactly what this meant. If the rake guys do an excellent job, it is easier to screed. The screed guy does an excellent job, it is easier to float. This trickles down the chain of placing and finishing until every task gets easier and easier. In reality, this applies to every trade and every style of construction. If someone in the task chain falters on keeping up their end, it can have a butterfly effect on every task that follows. If a foundation is laid out of square and unlevel, the framers fight it, the roofers fight it, the drywall guys fight it, the trim guys fight it, and so on. You get the point. Unless someone is excellent at fixing these mistakes, the entire chain begins to suffer.  Our businesses work the exact same way. We should constantly be improving our processes to solve the task and make the next task in the chain easier. For example, if your company has trouble with employee time submission, it will make multiple other tasks harder to complete. It will immediately affect your job costing, and payroll but could ultimately filter into estimating, billing for time and material work, and overall profitability.  When you design and install a system to improve employee time submission, you need to big picture the system so that it makes all of the linked tasks in the chain easier. It may not be just about getting the employees to submit their time in a prompt manner. It may also include improvements in accuracy and organization.  Approaching your systems as building blocks to all tasks will help you do a couple of things. First, it will force you to think of the big picture. Many set up systems to solve specific problems, never thinking about how the new system interacts with other associated tasks. Secondly, it creates a start to finish approach to your systems. Why try to install a system in the middle of the task chain? Shouldn’t it start with making the first task as proficient as possible? Most tasks within our businesses are intertwined. They require some prerequisite tasks to operate. We would never get a chance to meet a potential client if we didn’t return any phone calls. Yet many businesses invest in sales training without setting up a functional system of answering the phone. We cannot begin to understand our true profitability without accurate job costing; yet, businesses are reluctant to systematize field expense reporting.  This is one of the largest problems with the plug-and-play systems that many internet gurus want to sell you. They may solve a specific problem with a task, but most of them do not concern the entire task chain, how your business operates, or what the real problem may even be.  Another rampant problem in every industry that brutally attacks the building blocks of your systems is the not my job syndrome. This arises from horrid company culture. We must train our people that the systems we have in place are designed to make everyone’s job easier. The better everyone does, the easier the whole thing gets.  The moral of the story is to build your systems and train your employees with the big picture in mind. Ensure that you are not trying to solve an issue mid-chain—especially when it could be corrected a few tasks earlier, and maybe with less system. For any of you that want to feel what this means, run out and pour some concrete. Go ahead and see how hard it is to screed when the rakers have left it two inches high.   
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