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Top 10 Tips and Best Practices for Managing Construction Projects

Bart Mendel Shares His Zen Practices for Successful Projects

Successful construction manage practices

Disaster stories in construction abound—unfinished homes and buildings, blown budgets, lawsuits and contractors fleeing the state. True story: a potential client came to me after receiving an anonymous packet on his front doorstep containing 200 pages of nefarious crimes by a contractor he just hired that included restraining orders, lawsuits and judgments. Allegedly, the contractor even hooked his pickup truck to a previous client’s electrical service and ripped it out. I have decades of experience both as a Buddhist teacher and construction professional counseling others on  how to avoid disputes and disasters. Here are a few tips and construction management best practices to help maintain your sanity during your construction project:

  1. Seek wisdom in all the right places. Hire the best professionals within your means for design, building and construction management. Going cheap may cost you in the long run, sending your peace of mind right out the window. Retain experts and rely on their opinions. King Solomon wrote: “Listen to wise advice and follow it closely.” Maybe he learned this from building his temple.
  2. Deconstructing the construction team. Get to know the players before you hire them. Don’t just check licenses and the references they provide to you. Talk to former clients, their vendors and people outside their reference list for true enlightenment.
  3. Take a big view on time and budget. Manage your expectations. Remember that quality, cost and time are always competing—don’t expect the best work to be the cheapest and fastest. Carefully think through what you can afford and then allow a substantial contingency of 10-15% or more. Expect to spend every penny of it and you won’t be disappointed.
  4. Hire a master and let go. Professional construction managers are essential to keep large projects on time, on budget and risk managed. The money invested will end up saving you substantially, often more than their own fees. A construction manager will coordinate relationships, budgets, schedules and contracts and keep all the players on the same page. Let go and let them do their job so that the project doesn’t take over your life.
  5. Plan, plan, plan. Prepare a preconstruction plan based on real information from your professional team—even better, have a construction manager do it. Seek contractor input early, way before bidding and pay for estimating services—this way you won’t feel obliged to hire that aren’t competitive later. Demand full design and coordinated engineering drawings—this will save on expensive change orders later. Planning represents a very small cost of the project and is an opportunity to save real time and money in construction where 90% of the cost and all the liability occurs.
  6. Value real value. Don’t automatically pick the lowest bid—pick the one that gives you the most value. You get what you pay for and if you pay too little, you often get even less. Pick general and trade contractors, architects, engineers and consultants based on relevant experience and value, not just price.
  7. Be omniscient. Remember the initial price from your architect or contractor is not the same as the final price. Carefully define their services and seek inclusivity. A low price that doesn’t include the entire scope of the project is meaningless—throw it out and get bids that provide a realistic budget for everything you want or may need from the very beginning.
  8. Say no to stress. Know and manage your stress and risk tolerance. Stay within your means and don’t take on a bigger project than you can handle. Embrace change—learn to accept chaos and dust as progress. Expect the inevitable problems—after all, this is a construction project. Develop patience, meditate each morning and maintain a sense of humor.
  9. You don’t have to be a hobbit to go green. All projects can benefit from green opportunities. Focus on ways to reduce energy and water consumption first as this is easier than generating energy through solar, geothermal or wind power. Site your building to take advantage of passive solar. Improve the efficiency of your exterior walls and roof to reduce energy for heating and cooling. Use low flow water fixtures and drought tolerant landscaping or collect roof water for irrigation. Focus on ideas with a return on investment of less than 7 years for best economic value. Enjoy the peace of mind that comes from reducing energy consumption and sustaining the environment.
  10. Positive people power. Buildings are designed and built by people so clear, calm communication is your essential survival tool. Mistakes and disputes generally come down to poor communication, unrealistic expectations and ineffective practices by team members. Foster good relationships with your team and work together to solve problems. Offer praise regularly. Studies have invariably shown that job satisfaction is more important than compensation—even in the construction industry. Show the team you appreciate their efforts and they will give you their very best. After all, they are building your home.

People often aren’t aware of the knowledge, skills and best practices required to design and build successfully. You may own a hammer and a cordless drill, but the odds are construction professionals know more than you do. Evaluate them, hire them, trust them and let them build you a great home.

   – Originally published in

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