In this week’s Behind the Build, we speak with Brian Blankenship, Project Manager for the largest commercial plumbing and mechanical firm in the Tallahassee market, Miller’s Plumbing and Mechanical. Brian shares more about his journey in construction management and how the family-run company has standardized its use of software across the company and projects. Read on to learn more.
Tell us more about your experience in construction before working at Miller’s Plumbing and Mechanical?
I’m from Tallahassee and completed school in Florida. After that, I was hired by an international company and worked for them all over the state for the first two years of my career. In these early years, I learned a lot as a construction manager working for a general contractor. Depending on how you look at it, I was lucky or unlucky enough to be put on projects that were behind schedule. I learned crisis control right from the beginning.
A company then hired me out of Denver, CO to oversee apartment conversions. I went straight from crisis control, to running crews doing almost residential grade stuff. I did that for about a year until we got most of the apartment conversions completed. I was then ready to come back home to Tallahassee as a project manager. Ultimately, I ended up leading a pre-construction team for a while and later was promoted to head of business development. But before long, the economy tanked.
From there, I was hired by a smaller company in Tallahassee that did finishes. I was overseeing the entire company. I basically headed everything but the finance department. We were fortunate to grow the company four-fold, even in a recession. We went from having one office in Tallahassee to four offices around the entire country and ended up becoming a fairly large company for the type of work we did. I was there for over seven years before I ended up at Miller’s.
What does Miller’s Plumbing and Mechanical specialize in?
First and foremost, we are a mechanical and plumbing company. We are the largest in the Tallahassee area and one of the larger ones in the entire panhandle of Florida. We specialize in healthcare and are known for quality of work, speed and accuracy. We also do a tremendous amount of work at Florida State University in Tallahassee, and we’re starting to do more at the University of Florida.
How did you end up at Miller’s?
I’ve known the owner, Heath Miller, since high school and I’ve always wanted to work with him. I also always wanted to do mechanical and plumbing, so it was a great opportunity.
I’ve been here a little less than a year, but it’s been great.
It’s a family run business, and this family-like environment is very obvious to everyone who works here.
This company and Heath, and everybody else here has built a community. Everyone steps in to take care of one another.
What’s also neat about the company is that not everyone has a strictly mechanical and plumbing background. We’re from all different parts of the construction industry. The business is growing a lot, and I see us being even more successful over the next couple of years and well into the future. The opportunities are endless.
How did you start using PlanGrid?
I was using PlanGrid at the finish company I worked at previously, but it was very different from how we use it at Miller’s as a mechanical and plumbing company. Once I started using the software at my previous company, I began to see how much value it had. We were primarily using it as a communication tool as well as for punch lists and daily reports. We were able to communicate across time zones immediately without having to make 15-20 calls to get everyone on board. The information was all there with a simple update.
When we brought it to Miller’s, we took the next step to maximize its potential for complete document control and punch lists, in addition to communication. We are crazy detailed with it and standardized. If you start at our company today, by the following week, you will know exactly where to find anything in PlanGrid. Every job looks identical, and we use the same formats for stamps, document folders, RFIs and submittals across projects.
PlanGrid is like a strong layer of armor for us.
For instance, we use Plangrid on a new outpatient center that we’re working on right now. Although it’s small in space, it’s completely filled with complex mechanical and plumbing systems. Our BIM Coordinator is using Plangrid to make adjustments on the fly to send to the field. PlanGrid allows our team to make changes quickly, and everyone has the latest information within 30 seconds. What could have previously taken a full day of work can be done within 1-2 hours with PlanGrid. That can potentially save us hundreds if not thousands of dollars at a time.
Speaking of BIM, are you using models on every project?
In recent months, we have decided to use BIM on all jobs that financially make sense. We particularly look at the complexities and the size of the project, but I would say the majority of the jobs we use Revit or BIM. It just makes a lot of sense because we can accomplish so much more on the front end.
What advice would you share with the next generation of project managers?
Just be diversified. I see so many people who are closed minded in thinking that they need to go to school to be a construction manager. While I’m all for college and got a degree for construction management myself, there are other avenues.
I would tell anyone who wants to be a construction manager that I don’t think they should study construction management until they’ve worked at least a few years under at least one or two different trade groups–whether it be mechanical, electrical, plumbing, concrete or even painting.
I think it would go a very long way with the next generation to understand the foundation of our industry.