Is a lead carpenter system right for you?

Lead carpenters manage while they work

Like many, David Pekel, CR, president of Pekel Construction & Remodeling Inc., based in Wauwatosa, Wis., found himself at a crossroads during the height of the recession. “First of all, the way we were doing things wasn’t achieving results, and second, our sales dropped by more than 60 percent,” he says.

Three years prior, Pekel employed a production manager. He began to notice a fundamental breakdown between his carpenters and production managers—miscommunications that often led to mismanaged projects.

Added pressure from the recession meant there was no room for this kind of error.

“We were looking for ways to reduce our overhead, and after identifying our deficiencies, we decided we needed to eliminate the production manager role and enhance our lead carpenter’s role and responsibilities,” Pekel says.

Having a production manager allowed Pekel more time to focus on business development, operation and marketing of the company. But now, he reduced his staff and refined existing roles (including his own as owner) to fit this new climate.

Under the new system, Pekel works with the client from the very start. He handles the sales process, contract and budget. Then, all of the plans get handed to the lead carpenter.

Lead carpenters are responsible fro project execution. They conduct pre-construction tasks such as mapping out labor hours, project timeline, hiring of subcontractors and ordering. They handle scheduling and coordination of the daily work activities, trade partners, inspections, permits and deliveries. They are onsite every day, supervising work while working side-by-side with his/her carpentry staff.

Being onsite every day means the lead carpenters act as the main contact for clients, communicating with them about the daily work schedule. Pekel ensures that clients and lead carpenters have good chemistry before work begins because they have the most direct contact throughout the process.

A close relationship between clients and lead carpenters not only increases client satisfaction, it also has operational benefits.

“I have found that clients are better-served when the lead carpenter can make decisions on the fly, having intimate knowledge of the project scope, timeline, costs and materials,” Pekel says.

In other words, by reducing communication lines between clients, carpenters, project managers and owner, last-minute decision-making becomes more efficient, and work production goes unhindered. “I have streamlined our process where the lead carpenter can write up change orders using his best judgment onsite, as work continues,” Pekel says.

But Pekel doesn’t leave everything up to lead carpenters. He maintains a supporting role throughout the process. “I also visit the work site daily to make sure things are going well,” he says. And if the decision is too difficult or significant for a lead carpenter to make, they have direct access to Pekel at all times.

Since implementation of the lead carpenter system, Pekel has noticed an increase in quality and professionalism in his projects.

“The lead carpenters have become stakeholders in the company,” he says. “They feel a heightened sense of ownership and pride in their work, and they are invested in the overall success of the project and the company because of their central role.”

Pekel admits that not everyone is ready for the lead carpenter role. In fact, his current staff of lead carpenters were mostly previous business owners accustomed to all aspects of the business. It is this previous work experience—or at least six years of general carpentry experience at Pekel Construction—that would make a lead carpenter in Pekel’s mind.

There are also innate qualities of a good lead carpenter, such as attitude, diplomacy, problem-solving and tact that are fundamental to the role.

“You cannot teach attitude,” Pekel says. “You need someone with an innate desire to want the company and the customer to be well-served.”—Morgan Zenner

If you’re moving toward a lead carpenter system, consider sending your employees through the Certified Lead Carpenter prep program and certification through NARI. If you’re not sure the lead carpenter system is for you, consider using a project manager instead.

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