Archive for January, 2020

(published on Escape from Averageness® every year since 2009, coinciding with the NAHB International Builders Show;  updated as necessary, incorporated, and republished, here as the first in the five-part series)

The NAHB Chart of Accounts enables builder-to-builder comparisons, complies with GAAP reporting requirements, and allows the same consultants to give the same presentation year-after-year at IBS.  But, to the extent that its Income Statement presents costs as anything other than a true delineation based on behavior in regard to Revenue, it is – from a managerial accounting standpoint, and therefore, from a larger management standpoint – utterly useless.

It is useless, because it prevents a builder from understanding how it makes money.

The ability to generate cash, make a profit, and produce an economic return depends on an understanding of cost classification.  How costs are classified, or associated, according to structural hierarchy, cost objects, and behavior.

Does it matter how costs are classified?  Does it matter where they are incurred, what caused them to be incurred, or whether they vary in relationship to anything?

Yes, it matters.

Costs are the most operative part of a home builder’s Income Statement, and an understanding of how costs are allocated and classified provides a basis of operational insight that is otherwise completely missing.  Understanding where costs are incurred and whether they are incurred directly or indirectly is important, but the distinguishing characteristic of costs is how they behave.

Here is the operative question:  Does the cost vary with the volume of Revenue, or does it not?

Cost behavior presents a builder with the truest picture of what its production capacity costs, where its breakeven points are, and how it analyzes changes in costs, production levels, and margins.

Not only the truest picture, but the only picture.

At the core of variable costing is the understanding that costs have attributes, and those costs cannot be managed as if their attributes don’t exist.

Builders need to control their direct, variable costs – the costs that should be “above the line” on their Income Statement;  they need to either reduce the cost, or extract maximum value (benefit in excess of cost) from having incurred it;  they need to exploit it, optimize its potential, find productive ways to get more value out of it, and understand, if they didn’t generate the Revenue, they didn’t incur the cost.

At the same time, they need to leverage their indirect, non-variable costs – the costs that should be “below the line”, costs expected to be incurred regardless of the Revenue generated;  the objective should be to produce as many closings as possible, from having incurred the cost in the first place.

Controlling and extracting value from direct, variable costs is how a builder improves margin;  leveraging indirect, non-variable costs is how it increases velocity.  Economic return is Return on Assets;  ROA is margin x velocity;  it is velocity acting upon margin.

Builders must distinguish between variable and non-variable costs, to have any picture whatsoever of breakeven, i.e., the rate at which it absorbs overhead.  If Cost of Sales contains non-variable costs, and Operating Expense contains variable costs, that understanding of breakeven is destroyed.

These three examples of the problem with the NAHB COA Income Statement make our point:

  1. Indirect Construction Cost is treated as a cost that is deducted from Revenue to determine Gross Profit; the only difference between Gross Margin and Gross Profit is the inclusion of Indirect Construction Cost.  Do Indirect Construction Costs generally vary according to Revenue?    For the most part, they are non-variable costs that will be incurred regardless of the Revenue produced.
  2. Selling Expenses (including Real Estate Commissions) are treated as an Operating Expense, part of overhead. Anything allocated to Selling Expense should, therefore, be a non-variable cost.  Is that the case?    The bulk of Selling Expense is a variable cost.
  3. Financing Costs are treated as an Operating Expense, but it would only be a non-variable cost if a builder had its construction lines of credit fully-drawn every day of the accounting period, or if the LIP balance on the construction line of credit never varied. Is this typically the case?    Are loan fees non-variable costs that do not fluctuate with volume?  Typically, no.

Bottom-line:  Report your financial condition and meet your tax reporting obligations, as required.  Mindlessly compare your company with other builders, if you choose.  But – give yourself cost information that guides your operating decisions.

Next:  Part II:  The Problem with the NAHB Chart of Accounts Income Statement

(variable costing and the Contribution Income Statement format are addressed at every Pipeline workshop™;  learn more here: or



Pipeline Workshops™: Disruptive Learning

Posted January 12, 2020 By Fletcher Groves

“The concept of production building being a ‘pipeline’, along with the simple and straight-forward concepts discussed in this seminar, made this one of the most eye-opening experiences I have ever had when it comes to learning about production building.”  (Patrick Bukszar, Dir. Construction Services, Essex Homes, Lexington, SC)

“The Pipeline workshop™ was an eye-opening experience.  I took away invaluable insight on what it takes to operate a profitable homebuilding company.”   (Daniel Hopkins, Director of Purchasing/Estimating, Jeff Benton Homes, Huntsville, AL)

“I walked away with a new perspective on making returns in residential homebuilding that challenged the models and assumptions I have worked under.”  (Mark Carter, Operations Manager, Drees Homes, Jacksonville, FL)

“It was quite intense, challenging, and not for the intellectually lazy”. (Scott Sedam, President, TrueNorth Development, South Lyon, MI)

In relentlessly improving Pipeline workshops™, our intent – simply, plainly – is to open builders’ eyes, open them wider than they have ever been opened, and to make the learning as disruptive as possible to conventional, long-accepted ways of thinking.

We don’t want to just inform attendees’ thinking;  we want to reform it – and re-form it.  We want to change their thinking about homebuilding production, and, in so doing, rebuild it as a new understanding of homebuilding production.

To that end, we developed and use two unique tools:

Pipeline games™ are both a production simulator and a business game, and they are what make Pipeline workshops™ so intense, so interactive, so competitive, so unique, so worthwhile.  The best production simulator in the business (and the only one of its kind), we have made the Pipeline game™ even better over the past five years, by getting to results faster, by giving it an income/operating statement that looks exactly like a homebuilding company, comparing integrated and outsourced building models, and more.

RB Builders: Lessons from the Pipeline© is a business case developed specifically for Pipeline workshops™.  It presents a set of problems related to a very realistic homebuilding operation, problems that attendees are required to solve;  it is a test that challenges their knowledge and understanding of production and business principles.

The use of Pipeline games™ and the RB Builders: Lessons from the Pipeline© business case makes what was already known for its unique, engaging, and challenging format a much sharper learning experience.

Pipeline workshops™:  creating a visual image of homebuilding production;  making the connection between operating decisions and the business outcomes those decisions drive;  ushering in a new way of systems-oriented thinking – a paradigm shift – towards solving core problems, managing constrained capacity, dealing with variation and uncertainty, and managing homebuilding production as the specific and particular workflow that it is;  emphasizing the actions that enable builders to thrive on the velocity side of Return on Assets.

Come.  Participate.  Learn.


The next Pipeline workshop™ will be held at the Ponte Vedra Inn and Club, Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, on March 25-26, 2020.  The cost is $895.00 per person;  for team pricing, inquire here: (

Developed and delivered by SAI Consulting.  Sponsored by Specitup.

For more details:


Pipeline Workshops™: Right for You?

Posted January 5, 2020 By Fletcher Groves

Homebuilding production is a system.  It has to be managed as a system.  In order to be managed as a system, it must first be understood as a system.

That type of ordered, process-centric, capacity-focused way of thinking is not the homebuilding industry’s natural inclination;  it clashes with the deal-driven, product-centric, margin-focused mentality that pervades the industry.

Right now – and going forward – that understanding is crucial, because in an industry facing mega-challenges still less than a decade after the end of the worst economic and housing recession in three-quarters of a century, it cannot be a choice between two components of economic return, a choice between achieving higher margin or higher velocity.

No.  Survival is now an imposed, mandated requirement to achieve higher margins at higher velocities.

Meeting that requirement is what creates sustainable competitive separation;  sustainable competitive separation is what determines survival.

Pipeline workshops™ are a two-day immersion into production physics – into the principles and disciplines that enable homebuilders to thrive on the velocity side of Return on Assets, to thrive on the velocity side of economic return®.  Pipeline workshops™ transfer in-depth knowledge and create an intuitive, instinctive understanding of production principles and disciplines, focused exclusively on homebuilding operations.

The material is comprehensive, the learning is intense, and the format is interactive and competitive;  understandably, Pipeline workshops™ are size-limited events.

The comprehensiveness, intensity, interaction, and competitiveness found in a Pipeline workshop™ flows from two unique elements:  (1) RB Builders: Lessons from the Pipeline© is a state-of-the-art business case pertaining to homebuilding production and business management;  (2) the Pipeline game™ is a progressive series of production scenarios that simulate homebuilding production in the real business world, in an environment of variation and uncertainty, where operating decisions result in economic outcomes, results that are diagnosed after each game, so that the connection between operating decisions and business outcomes is embedded, the principles and disciplines ingrained.

What do you get from a Pipeline workshop™?  

  • A visual image of a homebuilding production system – its purpose, its size, its cost, its length, its capacity;
  • An understanding of how operating decisions drive business outcomes, and how the measures of operating performance connect to the measures of business outcomes; 
  • A set of mental models – a way of thinking about size, growth, capacity, even-flow, cost of variation, and other critical areas that define a homebuilding production system, that provides a systemic approach to solving production problems and managing finite production capacity, that delivers a blended approach to managing the unique attributes and parameters of homebuilding production; 
  • A set of velocity accelerators – deeper dives into Pipeline™ tactics, techniques, and practices that shorten schedules, reduce cycle times, produce higher quality with less waste, and achieve higher throughput with a planned, finite, and controlled amount of capacity and work-in-process.

Is a Pipeline workshop™ right for you? 

Pipeline workshops™ are not about job titles, operational scope, or company size.  They are intended for anyone charged with the critical responsibility of managing – or managing interactions with – a production system at some level of a homebuilding enterprise.

Pipeline workshops™ are for anyone – and everyone – who must understand/manage homebuilding production and drive results, including:

  • C-Level Executives – Presidents, CEOs, CFOs
  • Division and Regional Managers
  • Vice Presidents of Operations and Construction
  • Vice Presidents of Sales and Marketing
  • Design, Estimating, and Purchasing Managers
  • Production Managers
  • Construction Managers

Pipeline workshops™ are also an excellent experience for the equivalent positions with building trade partners – for the manufacturers, distributors, suppliers, and subcontractors who must interact with builders in the value stream.

Come.  Participate.  Learn.


The next Pipeline workshop™ will be held at the Ponte Vedra Inn and Club, Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, on March 25-26, 2020.  The cost is $895.00 per person;  for team pricing, contact

Delivered by SAI Consulting.  Sponsored by Specitup.

For more details:


In their own words, a few more comments from builders and industry experts who have attended one or more of the ten previous Pipeline workshops™.

“The Pipeline Workshop™ is one of the best illustrators of combining the business operating performance measures with the reality of the construction world.”  (Dennis Shriver, President. Hearthside Homes, Kansas City, MO)

“I would recommend the Pipeline workshop™ to any production builder wanting to gain a better understanding about their company’s own “pipeline”.  It will help you understand the effects of how/how much/when/what rate you feed work to your construction people.  Understanding what our cycle time truly is helped us to focus on improvements needed to our starts system and removing constraints from our pipeline.  The learning tools used are practical, visual and effective in making the principals clear.”  (Bob Anderson, Vice President – Operations, Stylecraft Builders, College Station, TX)

“The Pipeline Workshop™ was an excellent way of teaching and illustrating the benefits of reducing cycle time and work in progress, so that we ultimately increase our Net Income and Return on Assets.  This process has us abandon our practice of trades multi-tasking our jobs,  giving our trades  maximum days to finish a job and constantly update our cycle time.  By managing to the completion date with a buffer, we have a greater chance of reducing cycle time.  With this new process,  we will need to be prepared to have trades jump to our jobs when they are ready for the next resource.  Ultimately, the future of homebuilding will include focusing on controlling WIP, lowering cycle time, and managing to the completion date.”  (Lise Anzelone, Regional Director of Sales, HHHunt Homes, Blacksburg, VA)

“Attending the Pipeline Workshop™ . . . thoroughly enhanced my perception of how WIP and CT can affect a production builder.  Using the Pipeline game™ to shift the mentality, [from] pushing homes into production to pulling them through the pipeline, was fun and eye-opening.”  (Josh Hoot, Director of Construction, Neal Communities, Sarasota, FL)

“While knowing the homebuilding industry is slower to adopt and grasp the usefulness of technology and integrated systems management, the Pipeline Workshop™ really helped me to understand on a deeper level HOW the right management applications and a truly collaborative system across the entire supply chain, along with internal departmental transparency, saves gross amounts of overhead and truly addresses [and] solves the gaps that manual ‘old school’ processes simply cannot.  As well, working through the Pipeline games™ gave me a real picture of how variability and constraints, when acknowledged, managed, and leveraged, while counterintuitive, actually gives homebuilders a means to optimize their organizations.”  (Crystal Wolverton, Business Development, Hyphen Solutions, Addison, TX)

“You think you have a good handle on the overall flow of your homebuilding operation, until you have your eyes opened by the instant result of changing workflow.  Realizing what happens to your cash flow and profit margin when optimizing productivity.  What a great tool!”  (Mark Johns, Vice President – Purchasing, CalAtlantic Homes, Jacksonville, FL)

“The Pipeline Game™ is a great tool requiring the players to put into practice the principles taught in the workshop.  It’s a hands-on exercise that requires you to think, consider, and review the results of Critical Path versus Critical Chain.”  (Lisa Ramsey, Consultant, Mark Systems, Mt. Holly, NJ)

“I thoroughly enjoyed the workshop.  It awakened concepts that have been dormant in my brain since I left manufacturing 15 years ago.  I’m very excited that our team has embraced “Pipeline” with so much energy.  I truly believe it will separate us from our competition and provide a roadmap for sustainable success.”  (Rob Boyer, Division Manager, Logan Homes, Belville, NC)

“The Velocity Accelerators presented in the Pipeline workshop™ are something I can take back and implement immediately.  Digging deep into these strategies with a room full of peers from multiple builders and specialty areas helped me to see the parallels we all experience in our day-to-day and to come up with some tangible focus points that we can use to improve current and future operations within our own teams and across our business to truly give us a competitive advantage.”  (Susan Williams, H1 Director of Sales, HHHunt Homes, Blacksburg, VA)

“[The Pipeline game™ was] fantastic.  A force multiplier to the seminar.”  (Todd Schunk, Construction Manager, CalAtlantic Homes, Jacksonville, FL)

“This workshop is a must for any construction business who is desiring to be more efficient and effective.  The practical applications are easily understood and implementable at any level of production.  Great tool for any team.”  (Jason Reynolds, Production Manager, Arbor Builders, Bend, OR)

“If you are a home builder looking to streamline……this seminar will give you all the tools to do so.  You will be challenged to think about how to overcome you production constraints and forced to think about what’s causing them.”  (PJ Kelly, Sales Manager, Logan Homes, Belville, NC)

“I found the Pipeline workshop™ eye-opening to concepts of homebuilding management that no one else is talking about.  Any homebuilding operation that is able to use these strategies will no doubt be more profitable and less chaotic.”  (Charlie Barber, Purchasing Manager, Essex Homes, Lexington, SC)

“[the] Pipeline Game™ truly connected the dots.  A remarkably creative tool.”  (David Nielsen, Division President, Cole West Homes, Washington, UT)

“Great workshop!  It forces you to think about the business side of homebuilding.  Too often, we get stuck in the details of each home and miss opportunities to improve the overall bottom line.”  (Brett Smith, Vice President – Operations, Hearthside Homes, Kansas City, MO)

“This is my second attendance to the Pipeline Workshops™.  All I can simply say is WOW!  Fletcher and his team strive to improve the workshops and make [them] even more relevant.  I especially enjoyed playing the Pipeline Game™ again, and learning about [the] Velocity Accelerators®.  I look forward to attending in the future!”  (Carlos Alvarez, President, Alvarez Homes, Baton Rouge, LA)

“Very beneficial information to help us bring back concepts to our business that help spur maximum efficiency and profitability.  The beneficial concepts mixed with an interactive learning environment create a great experience that is well-worth the investment.”  (Patrick McNair, Senior Financial Analyst, Essex Homes, Lexington, SC)

“This educational experience was extremely beneficial.  I feel that I have a much better understanding as to how WIP and cycle time can impact our company.  This knowledge and understanding will be extremely beneficial when explaining to our production crew and contractors the importance of reducing cycle time.  Thank you all again for everything!”  (Justin Cullivan, H1 Area Builder Manager, HHHunt Homes, Blacksburg, VA)

Come.  Participate.  Learn.


The next Pipeline workshop™ will be held March 25-26, 2020, at the Ponte Vedra Inn and Club, in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida.  The cost is $895.00;  for team pricing, inquire here:  (

Delivered by SAI Consulting.  Sponsored by Specitup.

For more details: