Problem Solving in Construction

In the commercial construction industry, the majority of phone calls and emails we receive are from people presenting some form of a problem. My colleagues and I like to joke that all we do is put out fires. While it can often seem that way, I’ve learned to become a more efficient problem solver through preparation, following a simple process, keeping the right mindset and ‘staying on my toes.’

When a problem is presented, I recommend using the following sequence to find a solution:

First, consider who is informing you of the problem and think about their experience level and what might be their personal motive and end goal. Rarely does someone bring a well thought out issue or present all the facts initially. Even fewer will give potential solutions after they put the problem on your plate.

Second, leave your emotions out of it and really focus on listening and asking key questions – this is the most important phase of the process. It’s during this time you need to ask yourself, “Is this my problem?” If it’s not your problem, state the facts and hand it back to the originator or hand it off to the correct party with clear communication so there is no confusion. It’s amazing how many issues you can solve with one phone call if you listen and ask the right questions.

Third, problem solving today is often in the form of an email, but the same thought process applies. Understand who you are dealing with, leave emotions out of it, read carefully and ask questions. Oftentimes you will find they haven’t given it much thought or done any basic research. Next, call all the parties involved and get their side of the story firsthand to save time and energy. The logical solution will often present itself and your gut instinct will tell you if it’s the right move. If it’s more complicated, call a meeting and gather all the parties at the location of the problem to produce an action plan.

If the problem is of your own making, it is important to step up and take responsibility. Give a timeline to solve it. Then follow up continuously until it is resolved. Your customers and business relationships will greatly appreciate it.

When problems seem to be coming in faster than you can react, apply these steps:

1. Write your problems down in order of priority.
2. Address only the top 1/3 right now.
3. Develop 3 solutions for each problem.  (This will confirm you are picking the right one.)
4. Look for the 80% solution.
5. Give someone an opportunity to step up.
6. Shift from killing yourself to setting expectations and communicating.

Our problems will not stop rolling in but we can improve our process on how we deal with them and train others to do the same.

– Ron Yaeger
President/Co-founder, Fulcrum Construction Group