Don’t Fall Victim to a Contractor’s Missteps

Do you ever wonder what happens behind the scenes at your general contractor’s office once you award them a project?

Some clients have referenced that working with Helmkamp is like hitting the “easy button”. We think this is the greatest compliment because that’s what we try to be for our clients day-in and day-out.

However, it’s not always easy to explain how hitting the “easy button” at Helmkamp is different from experiences with other contractors. We thought maybe a view behind the scenes might help. You know, the things clients don’t always directly see but make their world much easier during the course of a project.

Like any good company should, Helmkamp focuses on continuous improvement in all areas of the company and how each area can best cater to the client.

We have found over the years that any time we asked ourselves what we did differently on a project that made it go from "doing a job" to "doing an exceptionally great job" was better pre-planning.

We feel so strongly about pre-planning, that there is an uncompromised process our team goes through on every job – no matter what size – to ensure the “exceptionally great” results for our customers every time.

As Helmkamp focuses on being the builder of choice for our customers, we start every process with understanding the owner’s requirements and project goals, if we’re working with an existing contact or new contact at that company, their preferences, how we can best work with them and make them look good, and how we can best perform and complete their project by best managing quality, safety, schedule and cost.

Owner requirements though seem just like that… a list of requirements. We take that further and make sure every team member understands a deeper level of expectations, both from the owner’s unique preferences to what Helmkamp has communicated and is committed to.

The specifics are then covered about scope, specs, permits, lead times, what tools and equipment are needed, planning for special safety requirements, roles and responsibilities, etc.

But the areas we feel make the biggest impact to the success of the project for an owner are SCHEDULE and SUPERINTENDENT HANDOFF.


Helmkamp Project Director, Kyle Ogden, talks about schedule saying “Schedule dictates almost everything. Schedule ties into the estimate and our approach depending on if the client has a hard deadline for project completion. In today’s landscape, it’s even more important to have good coordination of current constraints that can cause potential chokepoints like material, equipment, subs and suppliers. It’s not rocket science, but the effort put forth in this coordination provides a clear path for project success. It provides us knowledge at a quicker pace rather than being reactionary. It allows us to be in lockstep with the entire project team from the word GO.”

If the schedule is not properly planned and maintained by a contractor, the customer experience is vastly different.

  • An owner might find they’re not getting what they want, when they want it.
  • They are wondering what's going on with the project instead of fully knowing.
  • They can tell the difference between planned work versus just showing up.
  • They can tell when a superintendent has had a proper transfer of knowledge from the project manager.

“The unfortunate thing is that the lack of thorough pre-planning is the contractor never gets that time back,” said Ogden. “Everything is more chaotic, reactive, and because you’re constantly behind the 8-ball, you’re unable to work ahead. You’re also unprepared to fight fires as they come up because you’re too busy managing the things that should be running smoothly and on time.”


The other major part of Helmkamp’s pre-planning process is the Superintendent handoff. We find that when we give superintendents more time on the front end to understand the project details instead of throwing them into the deep end and saying, “go swim”, the project results are noticeably better. We have been known to give superintendents multiple weeks in the conference room prior to executing on a complex job so they can prepare.

It adds even more value when the superintendent can spend time with the project manager and estimator on specifics that are not well shown on the plans. These are the things that can trip them up causing rework and schedule issues. If an estimator can point out details that there is a plan for but not obvious in the drawings, it alleviates any issues upfront and safeguards the project. Solid communication with the project team is critical to its success.

Brandon Howard, a Superintendent who has worked at Helmkamp for 16 years said, “I have found that pre-planning has allowed our team to be more successful & more comfortable in many areas of our projects. This includes safety, owner and subcontractor coordination, and job cost savings. Being able to start the planning process early has had nothing but a positive outcome for Helmkamp and our customers.”

Helmkamp wraps up with a post-job process to review the customer’s feedback, what went well, and what can be learned. This information is carried forward to continue and improve performance on future jobs.

We feel like being the “easy button” means being a contractor where these things are happening behind the scenes. It allows the owner to:

  • Have a realistic and accountable construction partner who is solution-oriented and understands your needs.
  • Get answers to their questions instead of waiting for the contractor to figure it out.
  • Experience efficiencies that only come from an unsurpassed pre-planning process and commitment to the project partnership.
  • Have peace of mind.

Don’t settle for less. No two projects are the same and they all deserve thorough attention to the pre-planning process.