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Quicker and safer projects as a result of planning.


Last week’s blog was centered on preconstruction planning. Everyone’s experiences and definitions may be different so I will share with you what this means at Northern Concrete Construction. It all begins before we even get a job. What is our sweet spot? Can we perform the project within the timeframe required? Do we have the capabilities to perform the work to specifications? As the person in our company responsible for business development and acquiring work for our organization, I need to work hand in hand with our human resource and production department to thoroughly understand the answers to those questions. Sometimes the best job is the one that you don’t bid due to the answers to the above questions. Knowing the amount of work booked, our headcount, and capabilities are all taken into consideration before saying yes to a request for proposal. No amount of preconstruction planning can help if you don’t have the manpower to perform the work.

Once we are offered a project, I get together with our production scheduler to make sure that we can perform the work within the schedule. Many times the schedule at the time of the bid can change during the bid process so it’s important to check for any changes.

Last week, there was a question presented to me from the blog. The question was “Do you feel concrete preconstruction can further develop to improve job-site safety, speed construction, improve quality and reduce waste? Or, have we reached the practice limits?” It’s such a great question that it is the focus of this blog. When I talk to people in our industry, I explain our system of estimating and the time we put into our planning. At times I will hear “your overhead must be high” or I may hear “customers don’t pay for planning so isn’t it considered waste”?

Customers don’t pay for planning but they also don’t pay for the price of not planning. Not planning can include a delay in schedule due to lack of manpower, a surprise OSHA visit and not be in compliance, not ordering the correct job site materials causing schedule issues, etc…



How can preconstruction planning develop job-site-safety?

  • Our safety director is involved in all of our projects. He will address the safety concerns of any site – fall protection, make sure the excavator is stepping back the excavation, checking for power lines to make sure there are no hazards for our placement equipment, do we need safety railings, etc… This takes place prior to crews mobilizing to the site.

How can preconstruction help in speed of construction, improve quality, and reduce waste?

  • I mentioned this last week but it’s such an important part of our system that I need to mention it again. We utilize cad technicians. You may wonder what cad technicians do. A cad technician works hand in hand with our project supervisor during preconstruction planning and then with the foreman once the project begins.

*They begin the submittal process

*Cad techs thoroughly review the plans and project specifications and develop our internal construction drawings. Different architects and structural engineers may call out details on plans differently so we have the cad techs recreate the drawings in our terms so that it’s always consistent.


 *During the above process, many questions will arise that need to be addressed so that the concrete or anchor bolts are placed at the right elevation, in the correct spot on the foundation, etc… At times there will not be enough detail on the plans or there may be a conflict with the architectural, structural, steel or precast decking plans. This is where the planning creates speed. We get most of these items addressed before boots hit the ground or if they aren’t addressed at that time, someone is working on them. I have shared some customer testimonials on this process at the end of the blog.

*Cad techs create job binders that include project contacts, directions to job site, local hospitals, material list, job targets, project plans, our drawings of the projects, submittals, and a detailed scope of project. We also communicate with the other trades to make sure we know where any block outs need to be formed in our pours.

*Once the project begins, our foreman contacts the cad tech daily for prepour plans. Simply, they will let the cad tech know what they plan on pouring tomorrow and the cad tech will put in a will call for concrete with our dispatch personnel. At all times we will have a master plan that is color coded – what’s poured today, previous pours, and what’s left to pour.

These steps improve speed and minimize waste. No ordering two extra yards to be safe. No 911 RFI’s taking up valuable time from the superintendents.   The foreman does not need to take measurements and fumble with a concrete calculator to order concrete.

  • Another big part of our system to reduce waste and gain project speed is the use of Total Station. When we create our construction plans, we incorporate the points that the Total Station Operator will need to do his/her job. The points will be for the exact location for any point on the site once a bench mark is established. Many structures that we form and pour have many corners on the building, interior pads, and anchor bolt settings. The TSO will find these points for our footing crew, our wall forming crew, and finally to pre-check before the concrete is poured.

It takes a lot of work behind the scenes to gain project speed, to work in a safe manner, and to get it right the first time. Here are a few comments from customers:

“I’m extremely satisfied with the follow-up in the office and the field. And, you can tell that the field is communicating with the office, and that doesn’t happen all the time.”

“You’re very good with communication from start to finish versus just parts of the process. There is solid communication on pre-planning, so everything is worked out ahead of time prior to the job starting. Things are clarified.”

“Total Station is a nice feature. That way we know everything is straight and square, correct, and it alleviates a problem possibly down the road.”

“I don’t have to babysit your guys. The workmanship is outstanding. Communication lines are always open and, once again, they’re outstanding. It makes my job so much easier.”

Why do we use CAD TECHS and TOTAL STATION?




Plan your work and work your plan….

“If I had eight hours to chop down a tree, I’d spend six sharpening my axe — Abraham Lincoln

This is one of my favorite quotes. Abraham Lincoln would spend 75% of his time preparing/planning and 25% of his time executing. I’m not sure what the correct percentages are but I do know that preparing is very important in construction.   My focus in this blog is to concentrate on preparing for a project.

Why is planning important?

Our concrete structure or slab may be our end product but what are we really offering our customers? It is time, correct specifications, and risk mitigation. That’s what they are paying for. Concrete is one of the first trades on site and if we fall behind, it can cascade and affect every schedule and subcontractor behind us. Not a way any project manager or superintendent wants a project to begin.   Developers and owner representatives are counting on the G.C. or construction manager to keep the project on schedule. The developer has created a project Performa and renting units or beginning operations on time is vital to attaining it. In addition, the person or group who is funding the project is also concerned with keeping the project on track. The larger the project, the greater the risks are.

What to plan?


1.)    Preconstruction- The best way that I can share this with you is through a video that we created last year. Here is the link:

  • CAD Technician’s fully review the plans and specifications and get all questions answered before the crew hits the ground. The questions will come up. When is the best time for the questions to be addressed? On site slowing production down or before the crew arrives on site.
  • At NCC, we have a team that works together on projects – cad technician, project supervisor, and foreman. Before the project begins, they have a meeting covering the details of the project, our scope, submittals, key targets, etc…   Our tag line says it all SOLID PROCESS. SOLID RESULTS.

See our process on our website at

2.)    Construction -

  • Job site layout – We utilize Total Station equipment. After the surveyor identifies building corners, we take over from there. The TS operator locates points for our footing crew and for our wall forming crew. Finally, before any concrete is poured, the forms are checked for accuracy.

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3.)    Post Construction

  • Two reviews should be conducted. An internal review and a review with the customer. A lot of questions can be covered and a look at situations that occurred. Look for the positive and areas for improvement.


Plan your work and work your plan.






Pouring concrete is HARD but do the daily operations have to be?

I am in my fourteenth year at Northern Concrete. I would like to think that I have learned a few things over the years. Learning comes in all different sizes and shapes – learning can happen by making mistakes, seeking out people who can help, checking on-line resources, seminars, trade organizations, etc…   Although making mistakes can be unpleasant, it is one of the best ways to learn. Most mistakes occur outside of your comfort zone. So it’s a double edged sword. Stay safe and stay the same or take some risks and learn from mistakes. I choose the latter. What have I learned?


My first point is how do you expand your influence without doing everything? This is hard especially for smaller companies who need people to fulfill multiple duties. I have seen our business take off when people began limiting their roles and become exceptional in one area. What were the business outcomes that we experienced when dividing and conquering?

  • More accurate estimates
  • Better preparation for projects
  • Improvement in controlling costs
  • Changes in morale and for the better
  • Cohesive teams
  • Better balance with work/family

The question is how much are you saving by not hiring an estimator or project manager? Or maybe the question should be what business outcomes are you forgoing by having everyone take on too much?

The second area is habits. When we speak of habits, it’s generally those nasty things that people do that drive us nuts – snapping gum when chewing, speeding (I get reminded of this frequently from my wife), etc… Habits can also be our friend especially in construction. I have found most field mistakes happen when employees decide to take a short cut vs. the right way. What habits are worth spreading?

  • Being prepared in the office and the field
  • Showing up on time to meetings and job sites
  • Follow your companies standard operating procedures; they are designed for the good of everybody
  • If you commit to something, follow through

Here is what Vince Lombardi said about habits:

“Winning is a habit. Watch your thoughts, they become your beliefs. Watch your beliefs, they become your words. Watch your words, they become your actions. Watch your actions, they become your habits. Watch your habits, they become your character.”
“The harder you work, the harder it is to surrender.”
“Confidence is contagious and so is lack of confidence, and a customer will recognize both.”
“If you don’t think you’re a winner, you don’t belong here.”
“Don’t succumb to excuses. Go back to the job of making the corrections and forming the habits that will make your goal possible.”

Lastly, take time to have fun.


Celebrate obtaining work from a new client. Get excited when your crews make the proper adjustment when a monkey wrench gets tossed into their day. Be thankful when everyone returns home at the end of a day without injuries. To have fun, you need to do a few things (1) create measurements – would attending a basketball game be fun without a score? (2) hold people accountable – nothing is more demoralizing to employees than someone who gets away with sub-par work. Everyone deserves a chance but people who are habitually late or absent and don’t perform well on the job are hurting the team. (3) Create clear expectations. Make sure this isn’t flavor of the week. Sometimes expectations are treated like a smorgasbord – people pick and choose which ones to follow. The expectations should be absolutes.  Zig Ziglar said it best – “You need to inspect what you expect”.



Innovations in Concrete

Industry always comes with innovation. In the concrete industry, innovation could be the equipment we use, form work (load-bearing walls/tilt-up), our placing methods, and even the concrete itself (self-consolidating concrete).

Here are some of the new innovations that are happening in our industry today:

Did you know it’s possible for concrete to transmit light?!                                                                                                                                            assd

I don’t know much about it, but the technology is out there. From what I gather, optical fiber strands made of pure glass or plastic are mixed with the basic concrete components, minus coarse aggregates. These light transmitting fibers make it possible for the viewer to clearly see the outline of an object on the opposite side of the concrete. This process is very expensive and serves no structural application yet.

The Industry is Introducing Jointless Floors

It was always thought that contraction joints were essential, but is that true? New technologies are allowing for the reduction and even the elimination of joints. By introducing high concentrations of steel fibers into the concrete mix, jointless floors become a reality. See for yourself, click here to watch a video.

Self-Consolidating Concrete

This type of concrete can be placed with little or no vibration; it is highly flowable and non-segregating. It is defined as a mix that can be placed purely by the means of its own weight. This is made possible by the use of superplasticizers, a type of admixture which makes the concrete very flowable without increasing the water-cement ratio.

33Modified Version of Slump Test- Self- Consolidating Concrete

99Slump Test- Normal Weight Concrete

What other new technologies does our industry offer?

  • White cement and other new coloring agents and admixtures. Popular in the decorative market; white cement is very expensive.
  • Load-bearing walls/Tilt-up- This industry is reaching new heights, with record lifts nearing 100 ft.!
  • New post-tensioning methods are solving strength and serviceability problems.



Integrating the Millennial Workforce



Our last few blogs focused on young people entering the construction industry and what they should expect. Just as they should have expectations about our industry, we need to be aware of what to expect from them. The millennials present a different culture and we need to understand their expectations and what are the keys to obtaining engagement. So who are the millennials and how do we manage their expectations?

Who are the Millennials?

Millennials are the newest group of labor market who range in birth years from the early 1980s to the early 2000s. They are our emerging workforce and have distinct expectations of their jobs.

What can we Expect?

Here is some insight to managing millennials in the workplace:

  1. They are well educated and skilled in technology.
  2. Very self-confident, able to multi-task, and have a lot of energy.
  3. Millennials have high expectations and prefer to work in teams rather than individuals.
  4. They want performance feedback – Millennials are used to constant feedback so shorten the time in between reviews, and provide them with short-term goals.
  5. Create a flexible, relaxed workplace- This generation is facing the “real world” later in life, and they prefer putting their friends and lifestyle above work.
  6. Millennials are Innovative – Focused – It’s important for the industry to keep a fresh perspective, as the millennials are tech-savvy.
  7. They seek challenges but work-life balance is very important to them.

I have been in the construction industry for about 13 years. My background was production management. When I entered the construction field, it was apparent to me that it was lagging behind other industries. Let me explain. Sub-contractors cared more about their scope of work than the good of the overall project. The louder someone yelled, the greater the productivity. You worked from sun up until everything was done no matter what time of day that was. It was the norm. Thirteen years later, construction has changed tremendously – for the good. Companies are training their people with soft skills. Sub-contractors work as teams so that projects are completed on time and at budget. Coaching has replaced yelling. Companies recognize that employees have to have a work-life balance.

As far as the list above, I believe some of the greatest challenges will be performance feedback and the work-life balance. Projects still need to get done on time. Schedules are constantly changing due to the weather and other unforeseen delays. There are less people choosing construction which impacts everything.

Here are a few examples that we have done to help with the 7 challenges:

  • We offered free tickets to the Cinderella movie to families. About 100 people attended.
  • We offer classes at our fitness center during the week – boot camp and yoga. Employees can use the fitness center during lunches or off hours.
  • Increase communication throughout the company by utilizing “chatter groups” from Salesforce.
  • Developing of curriculum of classes for new employees to help with the on boarding process.

These are a few of our initiatives.  What are you doing?