Pre-Construction Boot Camp: Training the Next Generation
Kraus-Anderson guides its clients all the way through a construction project, from initial planning to final product. Months before a project breaks ground, KA’s Pre-Construction Services team is working behind-the-scenes to calculate costs, collaborate with stakeholders and coordinate the project schedule to ensure delivery of a successful end-product.
The value of pre-construction is not something that KA takes lightly, and the team has committed to nurturing KA’s younger generation of talent through its Pre-Construction Services Commitment, aka Pre-Construction Boot Camp.
The three-month program takes young project managers and teaches them to think like a member of the pre-construction team. Pre-Construction Services Director Mark Nolta and two recent graduates of Pre-Construction Boot Camp, Assistant Project Manager Molly Jutz and Project Engineer Michael Stenbeck, along with a current enrollee, Assistant Project Manager Josh Carr, recently shared their perspectives on the program.
Q: Pre-construction is an integral part of KA’s project approach, but not a lot of people may know what it is. How would you describe what your department does?
MARK NOLTA: In short, we set a project up for success. The pre-construction phase starts when we get a job, up to the point where we actually mobilize it and start construction. The biggest thing is cost. An owner is only going to spend so much. It’s no different than us going out and buying clothes, or shoes, or a house. We have a budget and that’s what we’re going to spend. That’s the key, in my mind: We’ve got to establish this cost and make it work for everyone.
There’s a lot of things that go into it. We need to understand our management, the means and methods, and understand the schedule. What is the job going to take to build? What do we need to do to make our safety plan work? Or our site logistics plan work? Everything is set up so that when we start construction, we’ll finish the job on time, within budget, and without compromising safety or quality or service ability to the owner.
Q: The Pre-Construction Services Commitment is a fairly new initiative to KA. Where did you see the need for this program and how did the idea come about?
MARK NOLTA: The executive team understands how valuable pre-construction is. All the project managers were doing their own estimating prior to me being here. You can imagine that if you have 100 different project managers, they are doing it 100 different ways with 100 different looks. Let’s say they go on to manage a job for a year-and-a-half, and they end up losing those estimating skills.
I meet with the executive team regularly to discuss how we can continue to develop and grow, and we talked about how there was this need. I’m not worried about my team being consistent and providing a deliverable that’s reliable and effective. And the 30-year project managers, they’re pretty successful. But the new people and the intermediate people, they need to be exposed to this. So we selected some younger people that we thought would benefit from this, and we got started with this program.
Q: How does the Pre-Construction program work? What are project managers exposed to?
MARK NOLTA: We want to expose them to as much as they can. It’s usually around three months, but there’s never enough time. Three months is usually a down time between projects. Should it be six months? Sure, they would gain more. But we do what we can with the time frame we have.
During your time with us, you get assigned a job. They might be exposed to different principles and disciplines, and the biggest thing is learning the software. The number one thing is being able to interpret all these documents, and then know what to do with that information and how to put in an estimate to price, because that’s the ultimate goal. That’s a lot. If you’re missing information, or if there’s conflicting information, you need to be able to interpret and understand all that. They’re not going to get it all in three months. They’re not going to see it all. But they become part of a group that hopefully they can rely on every day moving forward to ask questions.
MICHAEL STENBECK, PROJECT ENGINEER: The pre-con department really wants to teach the younger generation the tips and tricks they have used throughout their career. Their goal is not to convert someone to join the pre-construction department, but rather teach someone a better understanding of how the entire process works so when we are running projects, we know exactly how to prepare an estimate with the support of the pre-construction department.
A New Way of Thinking
MOLLY JUTZ, ASSISTANT PROJECT MANAGER: I was able to work with every estimator in the department, and it was really helpful to learn each person’s way of doing things. It helped me see the many paths to the final product, and that let me discover how I best like to do things.
MARK NOLTA: It helps because everyone has different experiences, different education, and is going to think differently than the person sitting next to them. They’re getting some different perspectives, and they’ll see what works best for them and develop that consistency.
JOSH CARR, ASSISTANT PROJECT MANAGER: In the beginning, I was given one little task. Now, they tell me I’m going to be putting an estimate together all on my own. I mean, it’s never all on your own. You’re putting it together maybe on your own, but there’s so many sets of eyes on it. It’s so interesting when you start putting estimates together and you start talking to people in pre-construction, they all have their niche. They all know a lot, but they all know a few things really, really well.
Q: The Pre-Construction Services Commitment has also been coined as Pre-Construction Boot Camp. How intensive is the program?
MARK NOLTA: That’s a phrase I sort of adopted for the program. It’s really open and relaxed, but it’s focused. If you do something wrong, we’ll discuss it and hopefully it never happens again. I hope that everyone who has been through it feels like they gained something – this isn’t all about work. We all have personal lives, and sometimes we run into hardships or bad luck and need a lending hand. We’re really a family – and that is a theme in the Army as well, which is how Boot Camp ties in. Our first client is ourselves, to support all of the project teams, so those relationships are really important.
JOSH CARR: Anytime I come up with a question, I just flag someone down and they’ll take a look at it. If they don’t know it, they’ll look a little harder with you, and they’ll figure out the answer with you. They never say, “Oh, I don’t know that. Good luck.” I’ve never heard that.
When you’re learning new things every day and trying to do it right, some things do take me a little more time. So just trying to meet your deadlines when you’re given a projects, you need to meet it. No matter if you’re a month in or you’ve been doing pre-construction for 20 years, deadlines are deadlines. That does make it a little more intense, but they’re here to help you.
Q: How does the Pre-Construction program benefit these younger project managers?
MARK NOLTA: The future project managers won’t have to go through years of hard knocks. They will experience a way they should be thinking to set their projects up, which will make them better project managers. Eventually, when there’s 20 and 30 people through this cycle, those people have been given the same vision and they’ll be presenting that to clients.
MICHAEL STENBECK: The pre-construction department is there to help and support the project managers, meaning the project manager is involved from conceptual design to project closeout. This means the owner has one primary point of contact over the duration of the project, and in return means a better aligned delivery of the project.
MOLLY JUTZ: I like that our pre-construction department insists on working closely with the project managers. After seeing the amount of questions, clarifications and assumptions the estimators have to make, I now understand why it is so important for the project manager to be involved during the entire process. They are a great group to work with and will answer every question and inquiry as many times as needed.
Q: How would you say our Pre-Construction department sets KA apart?
MARK NOLTA: There are some contractors that are in it just for the money, but we’re not. We’re one of the safest contractors in the United States. We’re a family-owned business, and that says a lot. There’s no ifs, ands, or buts in my mind – if we can’t price the job competitively, we aren’t going to get the job. And of course, if we don’t build the job right, we won’t get future work. But what comes first, the chicken or the egg? Pre-construction is always first. It’s really important. We’re not perfect, but I think we’re always trying to improve. Like everything, people have to be driven and focused. With this program we’re developing, you have to take on some responsibility at a young age, but it will have a great impact in the long run.
The pre-con boot campers have the chance to work with everyone in the department, and my pre-con team is truly exceptional. KA really has such a dedicated and talented group of people. We have an industry-leading pre-construction department, and it’s something that sets our company apart. It’s great that these young project managers have the opportunity to work with and learn from a group of people that are setting the standard in construction.
JOSH CARR: I’m just so grateful that Kraus-Anderson lets me come in every day and just learn. That’s all they ask of me. Just come in here, try your best, and if you don’t know, ask. No matter how many mistakes I have, they are taking the time each and every day to just let me keep trying and learning. I’ve never really heard of another company taking an employee and giving them a training program like this. I think that really sets us apart.View Comments