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How World-Class Construction Operations Improve Foremen Productivity: An Article by Ethan Cowles

April 30, 2014
 / Operations / 



What is the difference between a successful contractor and a second-rate one? A great foreman says Ethan Cowles. Cowles has worked hands-on in the heavy construction industry from carpenter to Project Management and knows first-hand what it takes to be successful.

Cowles, currently a senior consultant with FMI, a company founded in 1953 that provides management consulting and investment banking for the engineering and construction industry, works with clients to maximize their productivity and find solutions.

In his detailed article, “If You Want World-Class Operations, Focus on the Foreman,” he suggests:


  1. Foremen must know their trade
  2. The entire organization must focus on making these individuals successful

  3. Must care about performance

  4. Must be involved in the pre-job planning process

  5. Must have buy-in and trust in the project labor budget

  6. Must know the “score” on the project scoreboard, at least weekly

  7. Given a specific scope of work, need to be able to create a plan and a shopping list for it

  8. On any specific day, need to be able to set production goals with a 50%/50% chance of being achieved

  9. Must respect the people working for them

When we reached out to Cowles we wanted to know if he was familiar with our job management software HeavyJob, which like his article suggests, empowers the foreman. “I am very aware of HCSS and HeavyJob,  I consider it the ‘gold standard’ for heavy construction,” Cowles said.  “I am, of course, a big fan of what it can do when fully implemented.”

So how does a job management software like HeavyJob help his clients? “I feel defining and communicating expectations is the first step (hours, units, cost codes),” says Cowles. “The second is measuring your progress against your expectations. This allows the project team to notice good/bad trends early and allows them to ask the right questions of the right people, at the right time. This information is needed in order to ‘manage’ a project rather than ‘witness’ a project,” said Cowles.

“HeavyJob requires contractors to define their expectations and allows/forces them to track their progress against those expectations. This is needed by all contractors but not all contractors do it,” said Cowles.  

Download a copy of Cowles article here

Read how American Infrastructure used HeavyJob Mobile to empower their 150 foremen


Ethan Cowles is a senior consultant with FMI, management consultants and investment bankers for the construction industry. He frequently writes and speaks on topics pertaining to construction operations and has earned an industry reputation for helping contractors focus on making the field successful while positively impacting margins. Ethan is the Director of FMI’s Project Manager Academy and is the Project Execution and Operations Practice Leader within FMI.

Ethan earned his master’s degree in business administration from The Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University and a master’s degree in business administration from Queen’s University. He is an alumnus of the University of Washington where he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in business administration and earned a certificate in construction management. He also holds the Project Management Professional, Certified Construction Auditor and Graduate Master Builder professional designations.Learn More about HeavyJob


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