Project GC Schedules in Commercial Cabinet Work

Commercial casework builders complain about the way general contractors manage the schedules. July 30, 2009

We do strictly commercial cabinets, from 1 box to 200 plus boxes. We have continual problems with contractors giving us firm schedules, as well as repeated and costly delays getting answers to questions and clarifications. The submittal process can take weeks to get approval. Is anyone else having these problems and can you give any advice on how to motivate the decision makers? Paying our guys overtime to meet the schedule because the architect is slow is not an option.

Forum Responses
(Business and Management Forum)
From contributor J:
"Is anyone else having these problems...". That is S.O.P. for commercial GC's and their projects.

"...and can you give any advice on how to motivate the decision makers?" You can't. If you try to charge late fees, etc., they won't pay them and you will simply irritate them. Offer them discounts - they will take them, but won't earn them.

From contributor G:
The best you can do is change the delivery clause to state “xxx” days after final design approval. But don't count on being able to get the clause changed, and try not to get into one of those..” their contract says one thing and my contract says another” situations. If you are changing the contract term make sure that they actually sign off on it and that the only reference to the change is not buried in unanswered correspondence.

From contributor B:
Better get out of the commercial casework market then, because it's always (at least the last 30 years I know of) been that way and doesn't look like it will ever change. In fact, I think it's getting worse. I've told them that I won't put their jobs in the schedule until I have approvals and FV's. So what? What am I going to do? Like contributor J says, you can charge them. They won't pay it and it will just make them mad. They have all these great Gantt charts that tell them when you are supposed to be ready, but they aren't.

You better read the fine print on your contract. You have to perform or they can and will do it for you (meaning give it to someone else) and back charge you for it. That's not an option. I've tried submitting drawings way early, they just sit on them longer. Every contractor we work with does the same thing, drag their feet until our scope becomes important, then yell and scream for you to get done, overtime or not, get it done. I've shipped casework all over the country and they are all the same.

From contributor S:
A GC will try and walk all over everyone but he is only able to walk all over those who let him. Don't let them walk all over you. Make sure your contract covers delays outside your control and a daily cost. Communicate effectively with your GC. Inform your GC by phone and in writing (e-mail, fax, certified letter) of potential delays and the cost of the delay before they happen. (i.e. Dear Mr. GC, we will need a decision in writing on xxx by 3:00pm on Wednesday, February XX, XXXX. If we do not receive your decision by the time and date listed above our production schedule will be interrupted at that time and the scheduled delivery date of your cabinets will be affected. As per our contract, the daily cost to your company will be $XXXX until the production on your project resumes). Communicate frequently.

From contributor K:
I always take the original schedules and count up the days I have been allotted to install each area. At the time the project is handed over to me (usually months ahead of time) I send emails to the site supt, project manager, and project engineer, asking for field measure dates in each area. I state in the email that I am five days out from the date of notification for any area that does not meet the original schedule. Also I give a notice for two weeks out after field verification to start the install. The install is self explanatory. If I was allotted ten days to install area A on the contractor issued schedule than I am ten days from the day I show up with the millwork to complete it. If shops are being held up. The same math applies. Send an email stating if the shops are not returned by such and such date, the install date pushes accordingly. The job supt hate this but the senior project managers at the builder’s office love it. You are given them exact deadlines and schedules to work with so that their project gets completed on time. Be careful to make your dates though. If you don’t give them any room on their schedule, they are not going to give you any on yours. This doesn’t always prevent the overtime and the rush. Its commercial work and hundreds of trades are involved. Schedules fall behind and openings do not. You still have to work with the contractors to get the job done. It does however go along way when a job goes beyond schedule and liquidated damages and fault are being thrown around. Our unofficial company motto is “If the job is not complete on time, it won’t be because you’re waiting on me". This has saved my butt a time or two. Just remember to work with your GC. Don’t just show up to field measure without calling. Attend sub meetings and address schedules and delays frequently. A good project takes a collective effort.

From contributor J:
Forget about having the GC sign your contract. Most of them won't anyway, but if they sign yours, you are still bound by their contract, which will say this is the only legal contract and it supersedes all others. In effect, it will make your contract null and void.

From contributor P:
I understand that you are dealing with project schedules, external delays and the resulting difficulty with due date commitment. The contractor may implicitly want you to honor the due date by absorbing any delay from his side into the project schedule. It may be better to bring this issue out during the negotiation. If he causes any significant delay in approval, then the due date must be revised in a rational manner or the contractor must compensate the overtime required to meet the due date. In either case, such delays will disturb the overall production schedule and workflow of your shop and cause additional damage to the shop. An authentic what-if analysis of schedules (along with an estimate of overtime) with respect to these external delays could sometimes convince the contractor of the damage his delays can cause to the workflow in your shop.

From contributor R:
Having spent a lot of years on the other side of the rant I can tell you that this is not going to change. The only defense you have is documentation, and lots of it. Show up on the due date and complain long and loud about the site not being ready. Write lots of letters and take pictures. This won't help with the overtime and the short schedules but it will keep your rear end out of liquidated damages if push comes to shove.

From contributor B:
The contractor could care less about your workflow. He cares about his project period. Even if you tell him that he is jeopardizing his project with his delay bumping into another slot already scheduled with another job. He doesn't care! That's your problem. Contributor R is right, document, daily reports and take pictures to support your documents, it will help you make your case if it gets to LD.

From the original questioner:
Thanks everyone for your responses. We have been on the GC side of the deal and would never treat a subcontractor that way. It is in our best interest to get the job done as smoothly as possible. Another thing we do is if possible, we will visit the jobsite to get a real take on the schedule. If they tell you that they are ready for cabinets at the beginning of May and you go out four weeks before and they are roofing, you can estimate your own schedule. This kind of thing can be extremely frustrating if you are expanding your manpower and machinery as soon as the next large job starts and you can't get a handle on the start date.

From contributor F:
We get paid overtime a fair amount of the time when we ask for it or bill for it. We generally ask for this when the schedule slips for causes that are not ours and then we are asked to makeup the time. It’s extremely difficult to charge for the disruption to other projects.

From contributor L:
I will no longer bid to a lot of the GC's because of all the above. The few we deal with aren't perfect but will usually pay within 90 days. I try to stay on top of their schedule since none of them will inform me of the job delays. The one thing that really gets me is when they tell me the site is ready for field measure and I go halfway across the country to find that less than half the walls are even chalk lines.

From contributor L:
The only thing that seems to have changed over the years with GC's is they now sub out more of the work than they used to. I grew up in construction. My dad was a sub with about 50 employees. When I got out of the navy I worked for him as a manager and as his estimator. After many bouts with architects I decided to go back to school and got a degree in architecture. The problem with architects is they are primarily trained as aesthetic designers. There are more things that go into a building than they can master. Few of them will have much of an understanding of cabinet making and for the most part rely on established specifications for all the trades, not just millwork. It doesn't help when you've got cabinet shops that don't know the standards of their craft. For all the residential cabinet shops out there that are now trying to get commercial jobs, do you homework before you bid. Understand the AWI or WIC quality standards. Failure to meet those standards could cost you your business.