Member Two Cents: As a CFM, How Involved Are You in Your Company’s Project Startup?

Some of the best education we can get is from each other! We asked some Specialty Trade CFM’s about their company job startup process, including how involved they or their team were in the process. This uncovered a common theme: that the CFM was very involved with the administration and compliance piece of the project, and making sure those issues were addressed upfront ultimately impacted the financial outcome of the project.

Shawn Erickson, CFO, C.J. Erickson Plumbing Co, Alsip, IL

C.J. Erickson Plumbing Co. is a union, commercial new construction, service, and site utility/plumbing contractor in the Chicagoland area. They have 80-90 employees, and their projects range from $500 to $5,000,000.   

“I am responsible for reviewing and signing all contracts. The contract dictates the level of engagement for our project financial/administration team. Upon project award and receipt of the contract, I discuss the project with the estimator, project manager, and project assistant to identify various risk areas such as unusual scope, compliance needs, large upfront cashflow needs, budgeted profit, workforce needs, allowances, risks associated with particular clients/owners, expected change order magnitude, insurance set up such as OCIP/CCIP, certified payroll, reporting needs, large material purchases, timing of the project impact on material price fluctuations, etc.  The project assistant documents all of the billing, change order, and reporting particulars. The estimator and project manager completes the budget, does the buyout, creates the purchase orders, completes the safety or quality related documents, and assembles foreman documentation needs. Depending on the foreseen risks, the team discusses and sets up a plan to address the particulars and push back to the client where needed and possible. While I sign 100% of our contracts, I do not do a thorough review of all aspects given the volume of jobs that are processed. However, size, scope, and client base will pull me in to engage at various times. Reviewing and signing all contracts allows me to have an understanding of the cash and labor needs, workload, financial projections, and risks that the company is dealing with at any one time.

As far as the actual operational turnover, project accountants/admins typically do not get involved. The estimator and pm do a project turnover and then a job startup meeting is done with the foreman at a later date given there’s often a lag between award and job start.  Project accountants typically do not get involved with the profitability management of the job but rather with the billing, collection, and compliance needs.”

Lynn Pace, CFO, Atlas Masonry, LLC, Phoenix, AZ


Atlas Masonry, LLC is an Arizona based, full-service masonry contractor. It has over three decades of service and project experience including commercial class A buildings, vertical construction, industrial, public works, schools, design build projects and Insulated Concrete Form work. Projects range from $1,000 to $2,500,000 performed by 50-75 dedicated employees.

“Our company does a lot of work directly for our sister GC company. Given that, a lot of the contract concerns – owner stability, team makeup, manpower needs, prequalification, material issues, bonding, insurance needs, software requirements, certified payroll, etc., are all addressed by the GC team at bid time. At award time, we already have a lot of our concerns addressed.

We also do a large amount of Job Order Contract (JOC) work which means that our negotiations and project concerns are addressed at master contract discussion time, not when each project is awarded off of it. When it comes to contracts, they are reviewed at bid time by the owner, myself, and the general manager (who also signs them).

For job startup, in order to capture the information, we complete two forms: New Project Setup and a Job Start Up Form. These forms document some of the issues that were addressed at bid time.  They are completed by the estimator, project manager (PM) and the project coordinator.”

Amanda Yearwood, CFO, Interstate Mechanical Contractors, Knoxville, TN: 

Interstate Mechanical Contractors is an industrial and commercial mechanical contractor with 2 divisions; Large Construction for projects ranging $500,000 - $5,000,000 and Special Projects for more owner direct, smaller work ranging from $1,000 - $500,000.

“My project accountant is responsible for setting up both division projects in our accounting system. Neither myself nor my project accountant are included in our turnover/handoff meetings.

The typical flow looks like this: Estimation gets the project and meets with the project manager and/or project manager assistant. As the project manager is finalizing contract and buyout reviews, they will then come to the project accountant and request a job number to get the costing process started. Due to the nature of our process and accounting system, it is not unusual for the project accountant to set up the job just enough for purchasing to start buying out, and then have to make job cost adjustments after the fact to route costs to the correct places.

If I had a wish for the future, I would wish that the project managers would come for a job number with the following items already in hand: GC Billable Client Name & Address, Project Site Address, Schedule of Values, Budget, and required billing exhibits, including extra paperwork and waivers.

Special Projects is much more streamlined due to the smaller, mainly one-time owner direct billings. Their turnover to the project accountant looks very much like my wish above for large construction. The special project manager will meet with the estimator and together they fill out a job checklist, which contains the billable client name, site address, budget, and client purchase order number for billing, with amount.

Regardless of type or size of project, the project manager will then meet with the job field team to go over drawings, job schedule, submittals, material buyouts, subcontractors, etc.

Our accounting people aren’t included in turnover meetings, they are setup only and to ensure that costs are routed properly, monthly billings are produced, and money is collected.”

Jennifer Murphy, CFO, Pleune Service Company, Grand Rapids, MI:

Pleune Service Company is a full service commercial mechanical contractor with approximately 100 employees. It has a construction department that performs all large projects (new build, renovation, remodel, etc.) and a small projects division that does quick equipment replacement work for existing customers.

“When we are awarded a job, our PM reviews the contract and will reach out to myself or the VP of construction for areas they are concerned about. The PM will typically then sign the contract, unless an officer is required, then I will sign it.

For construction awarded projects, before any new job can be setup there are a number of items the sales and estimating team must pull together to complete a “job setup package.” There is an excel file that has multiple tabs — including our estimate file — which shows all our costs (materials, hours, permits, bonds, subs, and other costs along with markup). They also complete an excel file with multiple tabs that is called the “Job Setup File.” This has a document checklist for them to make sure they have everything, such as: contract, permits, specs, drawings, estimates, etc. It also has a number of other topics it captures: scope, billing information, general client/job information, submittal information, SOV, bond status, allowances, and any contingencies. There is tab for purchase orders & subcontracts to be issued. Quotes for each vendor must be in the folder.

Once all of this is gathered, the construction biller and myself are notified and we go through all the files and backup to make sure everything ties out, we have all quotes, contracts, etc. and if everything is correct, we set the job up. Until a job is set up, we can’t start submittals, issue purchase orders, subcontracts, or start working on site.

This process assures we aren’t chasing information after the job starts. Once this setup is complete, we have a kickoff meeting and everyone (PM, PA, purchasing, field foreperson, accounting, etc.) has all the information they need and we aren’t trying to gather it after the fact.”

Thank you to our valuable CFMA members for sharing their experience and knowledge. The common theme our members have shared here is that project startup has a lot to do with information gathering. This important function/process ensures proper billing, cash flow management, and that any potential compliance issues are averted. Also, it helps make sure the operations team has preplanned and gathered their necessary information so they may start the project out on the right track.

 Join us at the CFMA National Conference on Monday, May 16, 2022 at 2:45 pm as we continue this discussion at the subspecialty contractor’s roundtable “Teaming Up! – CFM & Operations Partner for a Successful Project.”

About the Author

Shawn Erickson

Shawn Erickson is CFO of C.J. Erickson Plumbing Co., a commercial plumbing and site utility contractor, in Alsip, IL.

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