Lessons Learned: Construction

With most of the recent renovation project behind me, I have been taking some time to reflect on lessons learned. I always try to do this after a large project, be it a production, installation or something this big. It’s really up to each of us to debrief after a project so we can see what we can do better next time; and there will always be a next time!

With that in mind, I’m going to look at three angles of lessons learned. First, as it pertains to the construction process itself. We’ve talked on the podcast that if you’re the TD, chances are you are going to be really involved with any type of construction (at least you should be).  Hopefully, the lessons I learned will help you. The upcoming posts are going to focus on things I learned with regards to the AVL installation as well as some personal things that I hope to improve on next time around.

So here we go; lessons I’ve learned as it relates to the construction process itself.

Set realistic timelines

Most people are terrible at this and church leaders are no different. I’ve been involved with four significant building projects at three churches in the last 25 years, and in only one case was the timeline realistic. This happens for a variety of reasons. First, unless you’ve been actually involved in the construction trade, you don’t really have any idea how long it takes to do things. I heard quite a few times in the weeks leading up to our renovation, “All we’re doing is knocking down a few walls and moving a door or two. Shouldn’t take more than a week or so.” Ha! 

We had a crew of of 3-5 guys painting for two weeks! There was an electrical contracting company on site with 2-3 guys, every day, 8 hours a day for 5 weeks. HVAC took a week and a half, spread out over 6 weeks. The AVL install took a week and a half.

So while it was true that the demo took a few days, and by the end of the first week, we had most of the new walls framed, there was a whole lot more work to do in the next 5 weeks to wrap this up. 

The point is, don’t let people who have no idea what they’re talking about set the timelines. And if you don’t know how long things should take, make sure you talk to contractors ahead of time and get an idea. Know that they will probably pad the time (and then be late getting it done), but at least you’ll have an idea. If you have a General Contractor on board, he should be able to help quite a bit. 

Church leaders like to set timelines based on the ministry calendar; and that can be valid. We all want to have the new wing opened up by the start of the fall kickoff. However, don’t wait until Aug. 1 to start a complete renovation. Yes, we did it, but I don’t recommend it. You’ll also save money by slowing it down a little bit.

Also, know that no one stocks building supplies any more. You would think 2x4 box fluorescent lights would be easy to get. Not so—it's 4-6 weeks. 3-0 Fire doors? 4-6 weeks. Simple can downlights? 4-6 weeks. Almost everything we needed beyond studs and drywall was several weeks out.

Line Contractors up in advance

This was a big one we learned. We sadly waited until the week we started the project to start calling on many of the subs. HVAC was the biggest hassle, mainly because we started the project on the first really hot week of the year. Suddenly every HVAC company in SoCal was swamped. Had we contracted with one earlier and put the project on their schedule, the first few weeks of the project would have been much less stressful for me. 

Good contractors are busy. There seems to be line of thinking that assumes people are just sitting by the phone waiting for you to call them and give them work. And when you call they should be so honored that you call them that they drop everything and run over. It doesn’t work that way. Get on their calendar a month or two before you actually start, and share the plans for the project with them (I know…crazy right?). 

Pre-Date Deadlines

Contractors are funny. Most of them are hard-working, honest people who really want to do a good job. But, they tend to overbook some times, and your project timelines will start to slip. To counteract that, bring the deadlines up by a week or two. In other words if you need the project finished on the 20th, tell everyone the last day to work is the 15th. This is not lying; it’s good project management. The work will expand to fill the time available, and you will find plenty of things to do those last 5 days. 

Plus it’s always nice to know you have a cushion of time as you see the project timelines stretching out a bit. For example, I planned on building stages and tech booths during week three, then installing all the AVL in week four. However, we couldn’t start building anything until the very end of week three (for a variety of reasons), but because we had a week cushion, it wasn’t a disaster. 

Just don’t get ridiculous with this; especially if you work with the same contractors regularly. If you set the deadlines 3-4 weeks in advance, knowing that everyone will slip, they will eventually slip right past the real deadlines. 

It Always Takes Longer and Costs More

This is one iron-clad rule of construction. This is why it’s so important to plan carefully in advance, come up with realistic timelines, budgets and have good contractors. This is especially true when doing a renovation. There will always be things that you can’t foresee until you open up the walls. Electrical and plumbing you didn’t know was there will need to be re-routed. Things will have to be fixed and that “non load-bearing wall” actually is. 

Don’t despair over this, plan for it. Leave yourself some contingency budget and time to handle those things. Prepare leadership for it, and don’t freak out when the contractor tells you that will be another $2,000 to fix it. Sometimes you have to get creative, change things or re-work some plans to make it all fit, but know this is coming. 

This rule is of course why we pre-date our deadlines and budget at list, not discounted pricing. 

There are plenty of other lessons to learn in a project like this, but this is what stood out to me the most. Oh, and here’s a bonus one. If you pick paint colors that use an ultra deep base, plan on doing lots of coats (like 6-8) to get good coverage. Talk to your paint suppler in advance for advice. Don’t’ ask me how I know this…

What have you learned from your construction projects?

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