So you built a solar array. Nice work! Did you make a profit?
As with any industry in construction, especially solar focused, profit is the biggest litmus test of success. Unfortunately, most solar installers don’t have a good handle on this. There is a lot of work that goes into assessing profitability. When you are pushing hard on closing projects, keeping the pipeline full and keeping your crew busy, it’s hard to pause for a second and see how you did. Just believing (and hoping) you did well is much easier.
That’s why you need a firm process for Project Debriefings.
What is a project debriefing? Also known as a post-mortem or a review, a Project Debriefing (PD) involves getting the players of a recent project in the same room to walk through what the company as a whole did right, what they did wrong, and how to optimize flow. The outcome of that PD is to ensure mistakes are corrected and the process is streamlined.
During my days as a solar estimator, PDs were a big freaking deal to me. They allowed me to calibrate my pricing and learn where my numbers were off, where they were accurate, and why. Project managers are great for that kind of feedback too, because they spend a lot of time trying to match the budgeted numbers. In reality, if the folks creating the budget are unaware of what is happening during construction, then the company’s bottom line will suffer. A consistent 10% error on pricing throughout the year could mean no profit to the company. That’s a big deal.
There are a few effective steps to doing a proper Project Debriefing:
Step 1: Review the budget and actual costs
Have your project managers take a little time at the close-out of every project and pull together all of the costs for the project. Compare them to the budget. Then identify areas where the costs were off and make note of those. Don’t forget to identify where the costs were correct. A little positive reinforcement will go a long way during a tough conversation.
Step 2: Determine the net profit
Once all the numbers are put together in step 1, really dialing in on the net profit is important. Everyone should be aware of the overhead costs of the company and any other indirect costs related to the solar project. This includes things like commission, bonding, etc. When everyone starts talking about the project, make sure each person has a clear understanding of the target net profit and real net profit.
Step 3: Get everyone’s feedback
Ask everyone who was involved in the project what they thought went well, and what they thought could use improvement. This is way more effective if you can get everyone in the same room; it should be a dialog if at all possible. Make sure you highlight the good stuff too.
Step 4: Changes
Projects often have change orders associated with them. The sales team has determined expectations for the project and change orders help highlight where initial design went wrong. Identify why these change orders might have been included, and see if there are ways to minimize them in future contracts. I often worked directly with the sales team to figure out what assumptions we could standardize and they could bring up with the customer to anticipate potential change orders. The goal was to keep the customers happier by not surprising them.
Step 5: Overall happiness
This step is about raising and maintaining morale. See how everyone is feeling. It’s especially important to address any points of conflict that might have come up during the project to get everyone actively trying to improve the process. It’s essential to keep an eye on the customer’s opinion and feelings about the project. Customer satisfaction leads to more sales. Along these lines, if the sales team did their job on the front end, then the operations team can do their job and keep the customer happy. if the operations team did their job, the sales person can work harder to bring in more business. The circle of life!
I will be speaking at the NABCEP Continuing Education Conference in Texas on March 21-23. There are a lot of great classes including SEI, Ryan Mayfield, and many more. Let me know if you are going to be there and I’d be happy to sit down and chat.