Grow too fast and it's easy to get in trouble. Double the number of jobs in a year, add a new product line or even two of them, and suddenly you're managing a whole different company — one that's not just bigger but more complicated. Scaling up alone may not provide the tools or controls you need. That's why some home improvement companies have turned to project managers, in one form or another, to maintain customer service standards and production values.

Job Ownership In the past few years, Maine Window & Sunroom, Kennebunk, has experienced some growing pains. The $5.3 million operation was in danger of “losing those small company ideals as we became a bigger company,” according to Lisa Patey, operations manager. MWS was starting to resemble “companies we all don't like, where you can't talk to anyone who's going to help you,” she adds. Finger-pointing increased. A customer with a question could get bounced from employee to employee. “Customer service definitely suffered,” Patey says.

MWS recognized the problem and took action. In January 2004, management reorganized the production department and created the position of project coordinator. This, Patey says, caused “a complete turnaround.”

At MWS the project coordinator is the go-to person for the job. “One person has ownership from start to finish,” Patey says.

That person remeasures the job, applies for the permit, schedules the crew, and makes and maintains contact with the customer. When customers call with questions, they speak directly to the project coordinator, someone they've met and feel comfortable with.

Project coordinators were originally assigned by territory, but the company found it more effective to have one for each of its three product lines. That way the person in the position can develop greater product knowledge.

Single Point of Contact Project managers have been an integral part of the operation for many years at American Deck, Baltimore, where they play a broader role. Beginning with the sale, “the project manager is the single point of contact,” explains operations manager Casey Garland.

Following an initial prospect phone call, the project manager goes out to talk to the customer, Garland says. He makes the sale, designs the job, and goes to the jobsite regularly to monitor the progress of the job. “Our project managers are very knowledgeable,” he says. “They've been builders, so they know what can and can't be done.”

Although Garland and others continue to have a daily role in the “team effort” of coordinating crews and running jobs, “the customer sees the project manager doing it. They can put a face to a voice and they trust the project manager.”