Best Practices in Subcontractor Management for General Contractors


Subcontractor management can be a full-time job. Especially on complex builds, managing subcontractors takes a lot of time and energy. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

By implementing a few best practices, you can make your daily life as a general contractor much easier. Here is everything you need to know before you build your next subcontractor management plan.

What Is Subcontractor Management?

Before we get into the best practices in subcontractor management checklist, we should make sure we’re on the same page about what subcontractor management is.

As a general contractor, you get hired by the property owner to oversee the construction of a home or other building. And while you have a lot of skills, you can’t cover everything. For some of the jobs, you hire subcontractors. Subcontractor management is the process of overseeing their work.

The Difference Between a Subcontractor and a Contractor

We touched on the key difference between a subcontractor and a contractor in the previous paragraph — contractors like you hire subcontractors. But in terms of what both types of workers actually do, the differences can be quite slight or quite large.

However, in most cases, subcontractors are more focused on a particular skill or function. General construction contractors, on the other hand, will have a more generalized skill set, and subcontractor management will be one of those skills. A contractor may use subcontractor management software to oversee a large project, while the subcontractors will focus on their one job.

Subcontractor example

Many tradespeople and service providers may be considered subcontractors if they routinely get hired by contractors to complete work on construction projects. For example, a plumber might be a subcontractor — the only qualification is that a general contractor hires them to do the plumbing for a particular construction job.

Other examples of subcontractors include painters, electricians, roofers, carpenters, excavators, HVAC technicians and masons.

Contractor example

In the construction field, contractors are generally referred to as construction contractors. General contractors are typically the contractors who hire and manage subcontractors. Their main responsibility is to oversee the construction project all the way to completion.

3D rendering of a modern house designed with Cedreo
3D render of a craftsman house designed with Cedreo

Benefits of Using Subcontractors

Why put all the effort into creating a subcontractor management plan when you could probably take care of everything with your own team? It’s a good question, but there’s an even better answer.

While general contractors know a lot about many different construction-related tasks, subcontractors focus deeply on one particular skill. They are experts in their fields, and that means they can get jobs done more quickly and with higher accuracy.

While you may know a little about HVAC systems, for example, an HVAC subcontractor knows everything there is to know. And that’s the level of expertise when you’re doing high-quality construction.

The Risks of Hiring Subcontractors

Subcontractor management isn’t always a walk in the park, unfortunately. That’s because, as the general contractor, you are ultimately responsible for the outcome of the construction project. If the subcontractors you hire are late to the job or do subpar work, that blows back on you.

That’s why you want to build a network of subcontractors you trust, refine your subcontractor management skills and implement a subcontractor management software and subcontractor management checklist. That way, you can get more jobs done in less time and keep your reputation as a top-notch general contractor completely intact over the course of your career.

The Four Phases of Subcontractor Management

For most projects, you can break subcontractor management down into four crucial phases:

  1. Pre-award. This is when you discuss the project’s scope and start thinking about which subcontractors you could leverage if you get the job.
  2. Award. This is when you establish project parameters, safety standards and other criteria, as well as identify and hire subcontractors.
  3. Post-award. This is the part where the subcontractor management begins as you oversee the project.
  4. Close-out. This phase is when you evaluate the subcontractor’s work and deliver feedback.

Best Practices in Subcontractor Management

Hiring subcontractors may be a necessary part of your job, but you get to control whether this part of your job goes well or goes poorly. Obviously, you want it to work out well, and you can make sure that happens with these best practices in subcontractor management.

Screen subcontractors thoroughly

One of the best ways to prevent problems with subcontractors is to screen them thoroughly. Even though you’re not hiring them to work with your company over the long term, you should still vet them in much the same way you would vet anyone you were considering hiring. That means you need to look into their background and experience, as well as their work examples and testimonials from past general contractors they have worked with.

Assign tasks clearly

Once you have identified, vetted and hired all of the subcontractors you’re going to use for the job at hand, you now have what is arguably a much bigger task in front of you. You now have to break down all of the tasks for the subcontractors into smaller sub-tasks. On top of that, you have to develop a way to monitor those tasks and see their effect on other tasks involved in the construction project.

Finally, you have to find a way to assign those tasks to subcontractors with clarity. This is important — subcontractors are talented, but they are not mind readers. They will not know what you meant by something. The tasks need to be extremely clear and precise with no exceptions. For even the most organized general contractors, this piece can be a challenge. And it’s a big part of why so many general contractors purchase subcontractor management software.

Stay organized with management software

Subcontractor management software makes the management of subcontractors as automated and easy as possible. Many of these programs break down the various tasks involved in completing a given construction project and go into great detail with floor plans and 3D renderings.

There are many subcontractor management programs to choose from, but you will need to take some time to try out the leading software to make sure you have chosen the program that will do the best job of keeping you and your subcontractors organized.

Communicate details in writing

Software can create detailed images that speak 1,000 words each, but you still need to take the time to put the details of any given task for your subcontractors in writing. Why? Because instructions are not up for interpretation, and they leave no room for creative license. Write everything down, and be clear and detailed in all written communications with your subcontractors.

Sign a contract

This is running a business 101, but you might be surprised how many contractors skip this step. If you hire subcontractors, sign a contract with them. Make it clear and effective, and don’t do anything until both you and the subcontractor have signed it.

Uphold your portion of the contract

You’ve signed the contract and expect the subcontractor to deliver what they promised in the contract, so you need to keep up your end of the bargain, too. This is not just the right thing to do — it’s good business practice that protects your reputation in your industry and with other subcontractors you may want to work with on future projects.

Final Thoughts

Your subcontractor management plan can make or break your project and, by extension, your reputation as a general contractor. That’s why it’s so important that you follow all of the subcontractor management best practices we discussed above.

One of those best practices, of course, will be to find the best subcontractor management software. You will find that software when you try Cedreo. Our floor plan creation and rendering tools can help you deliver detailed plans to all of the subcontractors you hire. And when they have completed their work, Cedreo gives you a high-quality photorealistic rendering to compare it to.

Ready to manage subcontractors with ease? Try Cedreo today.