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"Service Through Structure" by Paul Eldrenkamp

Published In: Journal of Light Construction; April 2005


For many contractors total customer satisfaction is the goal. But when it comes to construction, a client-controlled project is almost always a doomed project — not because the client is a control-freak, but because the client is not the professional. The contractor is. Thus the contractor should learn how to strike a balance by maintaining control of the project and producing something the client is satisfied with.

There are two main ways a contractor can lose control over the project. One is by not taking charge themselves at the beginning. Being disorganized and unresponsive creates a vacuum of leadership, and the client rushes to fill that void.

The second is by being too responsive—wanting to “wow” the customer by bending over backward with an extremely high level of service. Everyone, including the client, ultimately suffers from this anything-goes environment on the job.

We need structure. And to create this structure, we need a good set of rules that are clearly communicated and gently but firmly enforced. They will vary. Eldrenkamp’s rules are: (1.) We’ll do nothing illegal, (2.) We’ll start only when we’re ready to finish, (3.) If asked to do more, we’ll charge more and take longer, and (4.) Our strength is our team. Whatever our rules are, they should be should be easy to remember, beneficial to all, and heartfelt—born of experience.

Pete Fowler's Commentary: Why this is important to me

  • This is one of my favorite articles, and I wish I had written it.
  • Construction projects need leadership because they are executed by and for people.
  • In any situation with groups of people working together, an absence of leadership always causes problems.
  • Leadership means sometimes disappointing people. Clients are people and their expectations need to be managed.
  • My personal experience is that this lesson extrapolates to circumstances outside construction projects.

The first 100 words of the article can be found here. Anyone who then wants to read the full article must then purchase a subscription for access to the JLC archives.