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How and Why to Conduct a Construction Project Autopsy

Rawpixel Ltd/Alamy Stock Photo Group of construction site workers meeting concept
This accounting and budgeting practice can be a surefire way to help you understand where your construction company’s money goes and how to avoid common pitfalls on future jobs.

There are many reasons why the success of construction companies breaks down, but implementing a job autopsy is one effective way to increase success and profitability.

According to contractor Abby Binder, there are a few causes of struggle at construction companies:

  •  
  • Not tracking marketing spend or not having a blended marketing campaign.
  • Not charging enough for jobs, leading to not enough profit.
  • The mentality that you can make up profit with the next job.
  • A lack of sales training.
  • Not accounting for the cost of necessary change orders.
  • Not raising prices when your costs go up, or not raising them fast enough.

Last fall, Binder offered attendees of the Growth Mastery Summit hosted by Dave Yoho Associates, a contractor consultancy, plenty of advice on how to mitigate or avoid entirely many of these pitfalls. But we’re going to focus on just one: how and why to conduct a job autopsy.

Known also as project postmortems, project autopsies or after-project reviews, job autopsies allow contractors to close the loop on their finance management on a project. Who doesn’t get to the end of a project and find themselves gearing up for the next one? While a steady flow of projects is key to turning a profit, it can be a costly mistake not to set aside time to review completed jobs.  

Successful business owners know that their sales, estimating and pricing decisions have a significant impact on the company’s bottom line, and they know that project management, production and accounting efforts play a big role in a job’s success.

Job autopsies build a step into the project management process for teams to slow down and evaluate what worked, what didn’t, what issues could have been predicted and what action plans can be created to improve future jobs. 

Binder noted that CRM systems can be beneficial during job autopsies, as they help keep track of change orders, prices, what money went where and—most importantly—the project’s profit.

Here are a few guidelines for conducting useful job autopsies and garnering valuable insights into how to improve on future projects:

1. Schedule a team meeting solely to conduct the job autopsy soon after a project ends.

Within two weeks is an ideal timeframe.

2. All involved team members should attend, and the group should designate a meeting leader and a separate note-taker.

Attendees can include the project manager, estimator, superintendent, accountant and anyone else who had a key role to play on that job or spent a significant amount of time on the jobsite. Tailor the attendee list to fit your company and needs.  

3. Bring all relevant documents to review and discuss (these can be physical or digital documents).

These may include:

  • The original estimate, proposal and contract.
  • The original project schedule and revised versions.
  • Change orders and major purchase orders.
  • Project correspondence, including any requests for changes, information, pricing or other job information.
  • Minutes or notes from previous job-related meetings with internal teams, clients or vendors.
  • Information on subcontractors and other vendors utilized on the project.
  • Final job cost reports, including a general summary of the estimated cost versus the final cost and a detailed breakdown of the final job costs.
  • Customer satisfaction survey results, if applicable.

4. The review leader will walk the group through all relevant documents and project stages, focusing particularly on any pain points encountered during the life of the project.

This is the time to really dig into the details; if there was a job with project handoff from estimating to production, for example, or any hiccups with subcontractors, now is the time to discuss.

5. Following the discussion and the culmination of the job autopsy, the note taker will distribute the final meeting notes and a brief discussion summary.

This creates a record and a valuable reference document, particularly during year-end reviews of personnel or business practices. It also helps company management review any lasting sticking points that may need more effort to improve.  

Implementing job autopsies may seem like a heavy lift initially, but this practice provides constructive learning opportunities for the individuals involved and for the broader company, Binder said. Learn alongside your team members what works and what doesn’t for your business practices.

Of particular note: Job autopsies should be framed as a positive experience, the contractor said. This is not an opportunity to lay blame on any one team member, client or vendor. Instead, employees and team members should come to the meeting ready to learn and to determine how best to implement what they’ve learned for future projects.

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