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Service Through Structure

In 2005, Paul Eldrenkamp's article "Service Through Structure" was published in the Journal of Light Construction. This is one of Pete Fowler's favorite articles of all time. The concepts and ideas that he wrote about are timeless wisdom for managing construction and expectations.


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 backwards 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, albeit 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.

  4. Our strength is our team.

Whatever our rules are, they should be easy to remember, beneficial to all, and heartfelt—born of experience.

Why We Care

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 always need to be managed.