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  • Writer's pictureTristan Wilson

A framework for learning from competition

We discussed in our last post how a regular practice of observing the competition’s projects can help create insights on competitor behavior and foster learning. Now, we will review a framework for what to observe on these visits. (Disclaimer: much of this wholly based on my own experience so )

People and Equipment

  • Crew sizes – How many people and what crafts comprise a crew? Are there tenured employees? Are there lots of new employees? Can their skill level be ascertained? Do folks appear to be enjoying themselves or not? What is the level of labor activity and productivity?

  • Equipment – What equipment comprises the respective crew spreads (e.g. milling, paving, patching, grading, pipe, concrete)? What is the age and condition of the equipment? What is the mix of owned versus rental? Which observable technologies are in use (e.g. GPS, robotics, grade control, telematics)?

  • Trucking – How many trucks are running? Is there over or under trucking? Are the trucks owned, third party, or both? Truck sizes and types (e.g. triaxles, trailers, live bottoms, belly dumps)? What is the condition of the trucks?

  • Subcontractors – Who is performing the subcontracted work? Which items are being self-performed? Do we need to establish relationships with additional vendors based on what we see? What is the quality of the sub work?

  • Talk to people – Most of the learning can be conducted from the comfort of one’s vehicle. With the right intentions and ethical approach, friendly conversation with employees and inspection staff may be perfectly fine depending on the situation. After all, we are all in the same industry. To be clear, I’m not suggesting that anyone jam the brakes in live interstate traffic in the middle of a lane closure to ask a crew member a question!


  • What are some observable safety pluses and concerns (traffic control, signage, channelization, lighting, PPE)?


  • Where are the materials being supplied from (asphalt, aggregate, concrete, fill, pipe, structures) or disposed of (excess, excavation)?

  • How efficient is the movement of material?

  • Is the job housekeeping strong or poor? What does this tell us?

Production Approach and Dollars

  • Are any LEAN principles being followed? If so, what are they?

  • What are estimated daily productions of work being put in place? How do these compare to what we figured?

  • How are they constructing the job differently (phasing, sequencing, means/methods) from what we were thinking on our bid?

  • With the bid tabs in hand, what links can we make between what we see in the field and the tabs?

  • What days and during what hours is the work being performed?

  • What percentage complete is the job relative to contract time?


  • Does the work appear to meet or exceed the specifications?

  • What best practices are/are not being adhered to?

  • What is the quality of the finished product (smoothness, longitudinal and horizontal joint quality, concrete finishes, dress work)?

Documentation and Action Plan

  • Keep track of your learnings by taking notes in a shareable document and share with the team.

  • Create an action plan of follow up items based on your takeaways.

The best contractors are constantly seeking out ways to improve themselves and understand the competition. Overcoming biases with longtime competition is hard and the local competition may be far from world class. A small regular time investment here can pay dividends and one should exercise his or her own judgement on how much and how often this practice makes sense based on his or her situation.

One way to understand what is really going on is to go see for oneself, take notes, and have a beginner’s mindset. A beginner’s mindset begs for an honest assessment: What did we learn? How do we stack up? Where are we being outfoxed? What innovative things are they doing that we are not? What are our next action steps based on what we have learned?

Thank you for reading our post this week. At Edgevanta, our proprietary SaaS platform enables highway contractors to track and forecast critical market dynamics and increase the predictability of the project acquisition process.


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