TrueNorth Development
President

Scott Sedam, president of TrueNorth Development (www.truen.com), spends most of his time working in the trenches with builders, suppliers and trade contractors. His Lean Builder blog appears weekly at HousingZone.com. He welcomes your feedback at scott@truen.com.

Lean Builder Blog: Do operations still matter on the West Coast?

I have spoken at PCBC, the big West Coast building conference most of the past 15 years and I always enjoy it. The event has been very well-run, quality of programming is excellent, the staff is great and you can do a lot worse than hang out in downtown San Francisco for a few days. I have been there so many times that I know all of the streets and how to get around, walking or driving. I even have my favorite hotel and off-the-beaten-path restaurants. Yet as PCBC begins later this month, I will be on the other side of the country. Yesterday I received two emails from business associates asking if I was speaking this year and I had to tell them no, I was not. 

In all my years speaking at so many conferences, I have only been rejected a couple of times, but this year my PCBC presentation proposal on Lean Design & Building (with Todd Hallett) was not selected. We have such good data, such great detail, innumerable pictures, so many proven ways to save massive amounts of money – all combine to make the subject of Lean Design & Building not merely compelling, but essential for any conference on homebuilding that purports to help builders improve operations. I simply could not fathom how we were rejected, until I saw this, copied directly from the PCBC promo material:

Whether your interest is design trends … understanding consumers … capital and finance … aging-in-place solutions … multifamily markets … or the latest innovations in building products … PCBC will connect you with housing’s best people, practices, and products.

Something’s surely wrong here, I thought. Nothing offered on Operations? This must be a marketing oversight in the brochure. It must be in there, maybe it just not get mentioned. Or was Operations buried within the other topics? So I downloaded the brochure from the website and perused it thoroughly. Nothing. Going through the smiling faces in the brochure, the presentations all sound impressive and the glamour shots put mine to shame. But as a hard core Ops guy, the lack of anything directly focusing on process improvement struck me as a major ommission. This industry got into a whole load of trouble due in no small part to the fact that we forgot how to build really great houses at a profit without heaping collateral damage upon suppliers, trades and employees. It appears that our proposal never had a chance in this year’s PCBC program tracks; there  was simply no place to put it. How many other strong presentations from others were likewise rejected because PCBC had no operations category to feature them? Did they not think that Operations was important or maybe that it would not sell?

There has been a formidable resurgence of focus on Operations in the past year, especially given that the outrageous land deals have all but dried up, deals that provided heady profit even if the building margin faded to zero. In some markets, such as Texas, bidding wars for lots are firing up again. It’s make money on the house or go broke. Marketing trends, capital & finance, 50+ markets – all in the PCBC brochure – they are all important, I agree. But if you cannot sell the stuff at a profit, what good is it? And to do that, Lean Design and Building – the cornerstones of efficient, profitable operations – are key. There may be topics that are just as important, but none are more important. I hope this is a one-time oversight by PCBC and next year we and others will be back and appearing in a track on Operations or Business Management or by whatever name – a place to focus on the best daily operating practices of the best builders in America. One of the perennially best conferences in America should be at the forefront in this effort.

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