Beyond the Build

Tips from the Field

What Do Construction Contracts Have To Do With Brown M&Ms?

This week, I received an interesting Fast Company article about the details of Van Halen’s contract with concert promoters. There is a clause that the band should always be provided with M&M’s backstage and that none should be brown.


At first glance it seems picky and eccentric, but if you think about it, the “no brown M&M’s” clause is a brilliant low-tech solution for determining if the promoters actually read the contract. If the bowl of M&M’s backstage has the wrong color candy, the production company probably hasn’t read the contract or paid attention to its details. Then it seems fair to question what else they neglected. Were they careful to read for the proper equipment voltage?

I sometimes think about how can I find the “brown M&M’s” or predictors of how things are going with our projects. When problems are still small they are generally easier to fix. It’s always better for the customer relationship when problems are solved sooner than later.

To me, the devil is in the details. More times than not if those details are handled and the contract read, we can eliminate the oversights. It generally means the rest of the job, while maybe not perfect, is being looked after. Someone is paying attention.

I am always looking for the early warning signs of a brown M&M on our jobs. Here are three questions that I keep top of mind:

  • Are the contract submittals being kept up to date in the submittal log, routinely?
  • Are the right questions, appropriate to the stage of a construction project, being asked?
  • Are there red marks on plan review copies? That’s generally a sign that someone is paying attention to the details and not just rubber-stamping to move on.

What are your simple approaches for success?

Merrill Stewart Jr.

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