Beyond the Build


5 Tips for Getting It Right with Highly Specialized Subcontractors

In commercial construction, we have found it’s easy to get in a rut. Sure, we build different types of structures, but we are often dealing with a similar set of trade contractors—structural steel, MEP, masons, paint, etc. After years of working in the industry, most of us have a list of folks we trust. We know the process and we know if anything gets off track. But what happens when you introduce a high specialized subcontractor to the mix? Someone who focuses on a trade that’s new to the house?

Recently, we have found ourselves facilitating the installation of solar panels  and wind turbines. We have a cinema bistro project coming up that includes an IMAX system. These aren’t cookie cutter jobs, and to complete them properly, we have to take an individualized approach.

5 tips for getting it right with highly specialized subcontractors: 

  1. Call the manufacturer. Whatever you are installing, get up to speed on their requirements before seeking the right subcontractors. It’s also helpful to consult with your industry contacts to find out if they have dealt with a similar installation. Seek advice from those you trust.
  2. Visit other job sites where installation is in progress. What better way to gain understanding of a specialty than to witness it first hand? While you’re there, find out the pitfalls and risks.
  3. Find the right sub. Ask around. Maybe some of your trusted subs can introduce you to someone they have worked with in the past. Check with vendors to see who they prefer to use.
  4. Get a deep understanding of scope.  In the project life cycle, the most influential factors affecting the outcome of the project often reside at the first steps. Give yourself plenty of cushion on the front end. Start with a clear description. Good paper will minimize the chance of getting off track.
  5. Once you’ve selected a sub, listen. These guys hold the experience in their field, and may be able to offer suggestions for saving time, money, or both.

Working outside of your comfort zone can be just that–uncomfortable. A project manager’s ultimate skill test lies in her or his ability to apply fundamental principles to solving problems in the new and unfamiliar. Introducing specialized subs to the mix can provide a challenge for your team and can also diversify your company.

Merrill Stewart Jr.

Merrill Stewart is Founder and CEO of The Stewart/Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham.