Most of the magazines covering the kitchen and bath industry, including trade magazines like Kitchen & Bath Design News, focus on the dramatic end results of our work. But while we all enjoy seeing the impact our efforts have, the majority of our working days are spent making this happen.
Many of us started out doing much, if not all, of the field work ourselves – one job at a time. At this level, we’re on the job all day, every day, and keeping track of what’s going on is relatively simple. The greatest challenge at this level, in fact, is planning ahead to order materials on a timely basis.
At some point, however, a decision is generally made to take on more projects, and we need to figure out how to control work on those jobs without actually being on site full-time. Our focus this month will be to look at how to manage work once you’ve stepped back from direct involvement in the day-to-day effort involved in producing the projects your company designs, sells and installs.
The first step in the planning process is to give careful thought to your job start schedule.
While there are great similarities to every kitchen or bath job, each one also has its own unique qualities. Before you put a project on your start schedule, you need to look at the lead times of the products you’ve specified. You need also consider the size of the projects on your schedule to avoid overloading your resources.
One way to control this aspect of your planning is to have a formal, written start schedule. Then, each time a project is added, that project should be evaluated to determine how soon another can be started after that one.
The first step in assigning a start date is to evaluate the project itself. Scheduling software, such as Microsoft Project, can be a valuable tool in this, allowing you to sequence the phases of a job and determine the critical steps in reaching completion.
Armed with this “critical path analysis,” you’ll be able to match up the various lead times for the materials you must order for it, and determine the earliest date you could start. If this date fits with your client’s needs and your other starts, then you’ve determined a start date.
Next, evaluate this timeline to determine when resources will be available to start another project after this one. The obvious variable is the size of each project. A small bath remodel may only take a day or two for job protection and demolition, while this process may take weeks for a whole-house remodel.
As large projects overlap with smaller ones, they will tend to pressure your resources. Try to develop a means of “weighting” each project – such as by sales dollars, projected payroll and subcontractor costs, and other factors – and then try to keep this measure even month to month on your start list.
All of this planning and scheduling will be of little consequence if your company can’t maintain the scheduled timeline that you’ve laid out.
The first step in this phase of the project is to get materials ordered and subcontractors lined up. As the order confirmations come in and you receive commitments from your subs, you need to re-evaluate the start date and make sure that things will come together as planned. It’s better to adjust the start date than to have your client endure foreseeable delays once the project starts.
Plan a meeting with your clients a week or so before the project starts in order to allow them to prepare for the upcoming disruption of their lives. This is a good time to review the timeline you have prepared. Care should be taken to point out to your clients that the timeline is a plan, not a promise.
While sharing this timeline with clients carries some inherent dangers, we’ve found that it’s helpful for the client to know that you do have a planned schedule for their project and will allow them some piece of mind as to the viability of a projected completion date.
Once underway, it’s important to make every effort to maintain the schedule you’ve set. As a means to accomplish this goal, it’s important to review progress on each project, each week. We do this at the end of each week by meeting with our project managers to go over all our projects, update the status of each, and review the work schedule for the next two weeks on each project. We do this with an eye toward what might be done to move the project along ahead of schedule, as well as formulating steps to correct problems that may have had a negative impact on the plan.
Finally, as the project approaches completion, there’s usually a stage when activity tails off as punch-list items are addressed and cleared. There’s a tendency at this point to feel that the pressure is off to get the work completed. After all, the clients are back in their space and the items remaining are not preventing them from using it. Because of this, it’s easy to let the urgent needs of other projects in their early stages distract us from completing these nearly-done projects. However, the danger is that by doing this, you can inadvertently convert a happy customer into one who’s only marginally pleased with your company.
Keep the pressure on these projects to get the punch-lists complete and the job finished.
As with any aspect of your business, things change continuously and no process is ever truly perfected or final. It’s equally important to look back at each job as it’s completed to analyze what could have been done differently or better. As part of this process, send out a questionnaire to your clients. After all, they’re often on site watching your employees and subcontractors perform on a daily basis. Pay close attention to the feedback you get from clients, and try not to be defensive in evaluating it.
Remember: The professional photos of the beautiful projects your firm has completed are a big part of your marketing, but not nearly as important as the experience your clients have in living through the creation of those beautiful kitchens and baths.