If you work in the real estate industry, odds are that you’ve participated in, if not led, a site meeting.
Site meetings are often an overlooked opportunity to align your team and boost their performance.
It’s a shame because if your team performs better, your project or investment is likely to perform better too.
It doesn’t have to be that way, though.
If you want to make the most of your site meetings and take your current project to new heights, then you need to know how to conduct ones that are efficient and effective.
Here we go.
SITE MEETING PREPARATION
Before you even set foot on any construction or development site, several key areas of preparation need to be addressed.
Do you have what you need?
Can you imagine a pro golfer showing up to the first tee of a tournament only to realize he and his caddy left a club or two in the hotel room? Professional sports teams, athletes, and even coaches all have rigorous checklists for preparing for out-of-town tournaments or games.
Music performers have entire crews dedicated to helping them prepare and travel for their concert tours.
What if you took a more deliberate approach to your equipment and site preparation as well?
A simple gear checklist could include:
- PPE (personal protective equipment), if it’s an active construction site, including: boots, jeans, safety vest, eye pro (protection), ear pro, hard hat
- Emergency Contact Information
- Pen or pencil
PPE (Personal Protective Equipment)
To perform well, you need to be as safe as you can. Depending on the terrain and conditions of your visit, there are several ways to think about and prepare your PPE.
- Is the site outdoors or indoors?
- Do you need cold weather gear, rain jackets, or hot weather gear?
- Did you check the forecast?
- Who is your main point of contact on arrival?
- Where is the construction entrance?
- Did the construction office relocate?
At a minimum, you will need some sort of work boots and jeans. If you do not have your own hi-viz (high visibility) safety vest, and hard hat, most major general contractors will keep visitor’s gear on site. It’s never a bad idea to show up with your own eye and ear pro (protection). Eye protection ideally is shatter resistant and rated for impacts. Sorry, your new Goodr shades do not count.
Emergency Contact Info
Let’s assume you roll out to a project site solo. Does anyone know you’re coming?
What happens if you’re involved in an accident? If you’re like most business travelers, you have a phone and a wallet on you.
But who should someone call in case of an emergency? I travel with a Road ID that lists my emergency contacts on my wrist.
No roaming around my wallet or trying to unlock my phone. If I can’t communicate, I want to let people know who to call as soon as possible. Similar to a “dog tag” from the military, my Road ID lists key information about me, and whom to call.
Back in the day, way before the proliferation of smartphones, we used digital cameras to document our forensic investigations. Prior to that, anyone in the industry had to develop actual film to see photographs from their site visits. Nowadays, taking pictures is as simple as pulling out your smartphone and snapping a few shots.
Yet, you would find it amazing how little we see other people take pictures on-site. If that sounds like you, this is your sign to start.
Countless research has proven that we humans are imperfect at remembering things. So the two most useful things you can do on any site? Take photos and take notes. Document it all.
Field notes have been utilized throughout history to document observations, insights, and ideas. Yet, asset managers, developers, and construction managers rarely write anything down on-site.
Engineers and surveyors use field books like this one to document their field observations.
Since 2010 when I was working with the military overseas, I’ve used Rite-in-the-Rain field books.
Why? Because when I’m outside sweating in 130F heat or shivering in 40F rainstorms, I need to document what I’m seeing. This notebook has been with me through the toughest conditions and helped me do my work every time.
Preparing the Right Questions
Timelines change. Plans change. We all know that. Honestly, the only thing we can count on is change.
So if you’re heading out to check on your investment, what are the questions you want to ask your site team?
While I could list 100 questions to ask a developer, contractor, architect, or engineer, there are actually some simpler questions that will help you improve your understanding of the process—and progress—up to this point no matter who you’re talking to.
How do you feel about the progress?
Whether you’re discussing a lobby renovation, a back-of-house CapEx upgrade of elevator equipment, or a ground-up multi-million-square-foot industrial project, feelings matter.
The people on the ground have good instincts, otherwise, they probably wouldn’t be leading the efforts on the “front lines.” You can learn a lot from them about what they are seeing and what they are experiencing.
What are you working on right now?
It’s good to hear from the folks in the field what they’re focused on. Despite what the schedules say, despite what the reports indicate, despite what everyone else on the team is reporting, the people on site have their perspective.
It helps to connect what they say is happening with what you observe is happening.
When I ask this question, most of the time the specifics of the answer are irrelevant. Why?
Because I am more interested in knowing how the people on the front lines are thinking.
It tells me if they have a handle on their scheduled milestones, if they’re finding ways to stay busy despite setbacks, and if they have the ability to anticipate what the next thing is they need to work on.
This line of questioning can tell you a lot about your people’s performance.
What scares you the most?
What scares me is different than what scares you. I have my own experiences, perspectives, and skills that you do not, and vice versa.
Some field teams are strong on execution and weak on administration. Some have a solid command and respect of the other team players (subcontractors, consultants, architects, inspectors, engineers, etc). Some field staff are worriers. Others are doers.
Regardless of the type of team you have on-site, you need to know what they are afraid of in order to help them get the right support and the right direction.
How can I help you?
Sometimes the staff in the field needs more help, but they are too afraid to pass the word up to their organization. Other times, they need executives to make decisions faster when it comes to material selections or even changes in the scope.
Sometimes, they just need to vent. Other times, it might be to bounce around solutions that they are considering.
The key is that you will never know unless you ask.
Another version of this question could be:
What do you need to be able to do your job even better?
Support goes a long way. A team who feels supported often gives more effort and cares more about the outcomes of their work. Both are good things for you.
Depending on the answers that you receive, you will need to think about your next steps. Sometimes you might have ideas on potential solutions. Sometimes you might need to report back to your leadership on what you heard from the people in the field. Sometimes you need to do some research and think about how to best help the project get on track. Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all answer here.
The most important thing to do is to REFLECT. THINK. REVIEW what you learned.
When you eventually do make it on-site, you want to have a few priorities to focus on. It’s easy to get sidetracked or distracted these days.
For a major construction site, it could be work in progress (WIP), long lead materials, labor availability, material shortages, or quality control. The list can go on and on.
Don’t forget design changes can have an impact on any portion of the fieldwork.
Is the GC waiting on information from the architect, engineer, or developer? In some cases, even the inspectors and code officials will provide input that can affect the progress on site.
Some simple ways to break down your focus areas could be:
- Construction progress
- Material lead times
- Design changes
- Proposed Change Orders (PCOs)
- Franchise Utilities
At the end of the day, you need to decide what is worth focusing on while you’re on-site to make the most of the time you have there.
Good news. You finally made it to the Field. Now what?
Start with ACTIONS. What is everyone doing?
Refer to your notes to check your focus areas and your priorities. In my experience, it always helps to have a “top-down” approach. Think birds-eye-view, moving from a general perspective to more specific observations.
Usually, I try to step away from the site and look around. What is nearby? What does the site look like from afar? Are there site constraints? How is the weather? Is there plenty of activity?
By all means, make sure you take photos. Note any interesting observations.
Once you do make it onsite, try to figure out what work is in progress (WIP).
What is everyone focused on? Depending on who you talk to, there will be different priorities.
Remember, the main mission is usually completing the building on time and on budget.
To do that, you need to align all the different groups, re-focusing their piece of the puzzle to the overall impact and mission.
While it is great to observe what is happening now, it is even more important to focus on what is next.
Next steps can reveal a lot about an organization and the people running them.
While in the field, try to figure out what the MAIN next steps are. Anyone can list out the 100 next “activities” in their Gantt Chart.
But what are the main priorities?
An example of a leader in the field focusing on next steps could look like this:
“We need to wrap up site utilities so we can get paving started before the weather turns.”
A not-so-great example is:
“We are on track per our latest schedule.”
Risks, Issues, Contingencies
There is a fine balance between always focusing on the negative (what is wrong, what are the risks, where did we make a mistake) and the positive (everything is great, we are on track, no issue).
Too negative, people on the team will feel like they can’t win.
Too positive, people on the team will be unprepared for setbacks, challenges, and/or disappointing news related to progress.
What scares you the most?
Construction is actually very complicated when you think about all the things that are outside your control.
There always will be risks. But the trick is to figure out the most likely risks that you should focus on.
Working out your flooring selection might be important, but not when you are starting the job and your tower crane cannot get temporary power.
You will need lots of practice to sort through the urgent from the important.
You can practice this kind of filtering at any time in your day job. It doesn’t need to be only when you’re on site. In fact, once you are on-site, it is too late to practice. Try honing this skill before you actually need it.
What are the areas of work most likely to derail your job? If you answer supply chain, labor shortages, or any other general statement, watch my eyes glaze over and or roll into the back of my head.
If you say, we cannot source fire pumps or the carpenters do not have enough crews because multifamily is pulling all the qualified labor, now you have my attention.
If you say we can’t get steel rebar because the University’s central plant project is taking precedence, now we are in business.
What are your issues and what are you doing about them?
If they are not specific, how do you keep asking questions to get to the root cause of the potential challenge?
#1 BE RELENTLESS in your pursuit of answers.
#2 Ask better questions.
#3 Do not stop until you are satisfied, but then move on.
DEBRIEF – NEXT STEPS
Don’t just leave your observations to chance. If you work on multiple projects, in multiple locations, you can count on one thing.
You will screw up if you try to remember everything.
Writing things down helps you separate the signal from the noise.
While I like to upload my field notes to a central document for each particular client, program or project, you may have a different process. The bottom line is that you need a process AND you need your notes to be available for you and the rest of your team to reference later.
Wait, you don’t take notes??! Start now.
Save them where you and your team can benefit from your actual observations.
It’s true. A picture is worth a thousand words. Just think how much 1,000’s of pictures are worth too.
We take a lot of photos on-site, and you should too.
Why? Because we miss things when we are in the middle of the action.
Because you never know when you will need to refer back to them.
Also because it can be a lot easier to communicate with a photo of what you are describing.
Again, save your photos where you and your team can benefit from your actual observations.
If you do not have time to reflect on your visit and THINK, you might need to RETHINK your priorities.
What is the point of your visit if you are unable to clarify your thoughts? Read through your notes, look at your pictures, and simply sit and think.
Think about what you learned. Is it what you expected? Is it better? Is it worse?
Think about what you forgot to review.
Think about the questions you did not ask.
Think about how the team looked. Were they relaxed? Organized? Calm?
Think about how the team answered your questions? Were they defensive? Combative? Unaware?
There are no “right or wrong answers.”
Remember your areas of focus.
These are some examples:
- Construction progress
- Material lead times
- Design changes
- Proposed Change Orders (PCOs)
- Franchise Utilities
Do they need to change for your next visit? Are they still worth focusing on?
Regardless of what they were, think about the NEXT STEPS.
Action is the name of the game. No room here for theory or academic exercises. The field is where the rubber meets the road. It is where things happen. It is where you need to MAKE THINGS HAPPEN.
Decide what your focus areas should be next.
It’s simple, not easy. Start the process over again.
Site visits, property tours, field observations, whatever you want to call them are part of a continuous loop.
The same kind of OODA loop popularized by Air Force Colonel John Boyd.
He developed a decision cycle based on the following key processes:
We think you can do the same thing on your field visits:
How can you improve how you and your team conduct a site interview?
Here is a quick rundown:
Get prepped! You want to make sure you show up to the site with the right gear and the right questions. Knowing what information you want to come away with will help you stay focused and keep the project on track.
Document everything. You want to take photos and notes so that you don’t lose important information to the hustle and bustle of the site.
Find out what’s going—or could go—wrong. You want to assess potential risks, issues, and contingencies so that not only are you prepared for them but your team is.
Reflect on what happened on site. Those notes and photos you took will come in handy here. You’ll want to take time to reflect on all of the information you collected.
And finally, get back on site and do it all again.