Sometimes the slightest change in the schedule can snowball into great hassles for subcontractors.

Marketing companies know what adults and children like. However, the information they provide about their products is limited to glitzy pictures and catchphrases that attract our attention.

The method used to present a product or idea is critical to its success and how something is presented to you may determine whether you reject or accept it.

As subcontractors, we are generally presented information in the following ways:

1. Plans, specifications, addendums.

2. Contracts, schedules.

3. Visual inspection.

4. Written documentation.

5. Verbal communication.

Most plans, specifications, addendums, contracts, schedules and inspections are what they appear to be. However, when we add the human element of verbal communication followed by letters to support the verbal communication we can end up being misled or misinformed.

In other words, the schedule can say one thing but the actual job situation can be totally different from the schedule. The following is an example of how subcontractors can be led to believe something far from the truth.

The truth is out there

At the tail end of a recent subcontractor meeting, the superintendent mentioned there would be a slight change to the schedule. He went on to say, "When we prepared the schedule, we didn't realize that the plumbing rough-in had to start from the top (third) floor and run down to the first floor. The schedule will be revised and a copy sent to everyone. The building will be divided into four wings and we will finish each wing and then move to the next in a top to bottom sequence. I don't expect this to be a problem for any of us and we will work together to make sure it's not."

I found myself feeling good about all this "working together" stuff, and he seemed like a sincere and honest guy. While driving back to the office, I came to my senses and thought more of what he said. First of all, we are supposed to work together and help each other when we can. However, this change in sequence is going to cost me a ton of money!

What I consider to be a proper sequence is starting and finishing my work in the way I was asked to bid the job or in the way the plans, specifications and schedule have since been modified to direct, and for an equally modified subcontract amount.

My point is that all the subcontractors in the meeting were led to believe it was no big deal, no problem, a slight change and they would still finish on time! The GC presented the change in a casual non-offensive manner and no one really questioned it.

How many times have you been told, "Don't worry about it"? Or, "I just need you to do this little bit of work," "I just needed to put this ductwork up so I could get the heat running," or "This is no big deal"?

Don't get me wrong--there is nothing wrong with doing a favor for a general contractor or other subcontractor. I'm talking about the big issues! Issues that affect the bottom line!

Read the fine print

All of us have been on jobs that are out of control, schedule- and sequence-wise. We're told we can drywall this wall but not the other one, or we can frame the walls but not the ceilings. What can we do to keep ourselves from becoming the victim of a job that is out of sequence, out of control or poorly managed?

1. Attend subcontractor meetings.

2. Listen to what the superintendent and other subcontractors are saying. Confirm it in writing when appropriate.

3. Don't agree to contract language that allows the GC to pick whatever sequence or schedule he or she wants.

4. Make your bid subject to a mutually agreed-upon contract, schedule and sequence.

5. Include in your bid, "Drywall before mechanical-electrical where required." Proper sequence.

6. If you think there will be extra cost, get out a notice letter right away. Offer to meet with the owner and the general contractor to discuss ways the cost or schedule impacts might be reduced.

7. Think critically!

On my desk right now is a contract, which contains the following language:

"Time is of the essence and the Subcontractor agrees to keep itself thoroughly informed as to the overall progress of the project and to commence and prosecute the work undertaken hereunder in a prompt and diligent manner whenever such work, or any part of it becomes available, or at such time or times as the Contractor may direct.

"Contractor shall have the right to decide the sequence in which the various portions of the project shall be performed relative to the scheduling of the Subcontractors work."

If any of us were to get involved in some unforeseen dispute regarding sequence or scheduling, how would our attorney defend us since we have given up our rights to the schedule and sequence of the job?

It really doesn't matter if the subject is marketing, politics or subcontracting. Don't be led into a position that will hurt your pocketbook. Our brains were created to do many things, as well as to think critically. Let's work hard to lead so we are not led into a problem that was not our own doing.

When you attend your next subcontractor meeting, listen closely to what is being said and question how it affects you. However, when walking into the meeting you see the superintendent passing out bananas be prepared for some monkey business.

Teamwork begins with a fair contract!