A blueprint for excellence

Michael Neal says that closing out a project at Coscan
Construction LLC had become quite a challenge. It was kind of
like watching the little progress bar that you might see on the
screen when you’re downloading a computer file.

It reaches 96 percent, 97 percent and 98 percent, and then, … it
just … stops … moving.

“Closing these jobs is just worse than going to the dentist,” says
Neal, president and co-owner of the construction firm. “We could
finish the physical work, but then we can’t get the financial close-outs with our subs. We can’t get everybody paid and collect all
the post-construction documentation we need.”

To the casual observer, these might be viewed as fairly minor
problems because projects were still being lined up and revenue had grown from $29.7 million in 2003 to $73.9 million in

If you want to keep growing though, you have to keep your
eyes open at all times and attack problems as soon as you identify them.

“I don’t care if you have all A players or all B players, there is
always somebody who gets lazy or complacent,” Neal says.
“You have to continue to police the work to make sure everything is getting done. This is a very low-margin, high-risk business. If people are not following the safety processes or they
are not following the quality processes and you replicate a mistake on a 50-story building 50 different times, that’s a very
expensive lesson.”

Neal knew things needed to change. He felt the headaches
that developed each and every time the 200-employee company
tried to close out a project. He needed a consistent system of
processes that every one of his employees would be trained to

“I’ve had this ingrained in me, and I’ve seen and been part of
corporations that are very strong in their processes, and I’ve
seen them have better earnings and have more predictable
results,” Neal says. “If you have a group of very good processes and have them formalized in a manual form or online form
where everybody knows how we perform our jobs, everything
can be broken down into ABC.”

The need for such detail is obvious when constructing a 50-story skyscraper, but the logic can be applied to any business.

“It’s consistency,” Neal says. “If you look at any service business, whether it’s a cleaning business or McDonald’s or
Starbucks coffee, the thing you can always count on when you
go to one of these places is a consistent high level of service or
a consistent product. If I have a client and we’re doing three
projects for him, it would be a nightmare for me if he said, ‘I
like the way you’re doing it on one project, but you’re doing it
completely different on the other two.’ … I think the great companies have figured out how to replicate excellence on a consistent basis and that is the cornerstone of consistent earnings,
consistent customer satisfaction and consistent employee
morale. It creates a winning formula.”

Here’s how Neal led an effort to create and enforce best practices at Coscan Construction that took the organization to new
levels of success.

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