It's Monday morning and the phone's ringing. The builder from the Johnson project tells you the sheetroc has been delayed and you'll have to put off the cabinet measure for at least a week.
You hang up and curse contractors again.'
The phone rings once more. This time it's your detailer: "Hey, Steve, it's Frank. Good news, Christie had a baby boy last night!" Great news, but he's arrived almost three weeks early. Frank's off for two weeks.
You walk out into the shop wondering how to juggle the latest wrinkles. Then you see a familiar-looking cabinet sitting by the roll-up door. The foreman tells you it's the microwave box for the Smith kitchen in San Francisco. Everyone loves the work, but the appliance doesn't fit.
And all this is playing havoc with what you intended to do this week!'
At our shop, we've found that scheduling is one of the hardest
things we have to do, and it's something we have to deal with on a
constant basis daily and sometimes hourly. It's a brain-taxing
activity, as if building the work itself wasn't hard enough.
Many shops, even one-man outfits, have a master schedule board. For most, it's a simple chart of when work is to begin, how long it's going to be in production, at the finisher, etc.
Some shops use a large whiteboard with erasable markers. Along the top there might be a calendar and down the side a list of jobs or phases of work. In its easiest format, this listing and dating is just a reminder of when work is happening. If you want to step up the level of complication, you can add in projected and completed shop hours.
Other companies use a push pin system, which may be a little easier to adjust as things change, get delayed or accelerate. Our own board uses different colors for different phases of work detailing and engineering, shop work, installing (if we're doing that work), etc. It's fairly easy to see at a glance what's planned for when. We use a single black pin for the delivery date, and these days, those black pins get moved a lot mainly because start dates seem to slip on most projects.
We haven't had much luck with multiple job scheduling software, although we haven't researched it extensively. It seems there are extremely good programs available for detailed scheduling of single projects, but when it comes to multiple jobs, it's not as easy. The other side of this is that you don't want to become a slave to the machine, spending hours and hours in front of a computer screen trying to produce good-looking charts of what's happening when, only to have the schedule change every hour.
The idea behind the basic schedule board is to give you and your
staff a general picture of what's going on. It's probably a good
idea if one person heads up the scheduling, so there's a central
individual to go through for changes.
From a sales perspective, your shop's schedule is everything. How often do you get asked what your lead time is? Knowing that can be critical as far as what you promise to your customer up front. We all know that delivering cabinet work on time is a major key to success in this business. So, if your sales efforts are schedule driven, as they often are, it's important to communicate with whoever's doing the overall scheduling (your foreman or production manager) as to your availability before you commit dates to any project. Telling potential customers that you'll have to get back to them regarding lead time can also give you a little time to consider whether or not your shop wants the work.
Communicating within your own company is also important, even if you're only a three- or four-person shop. It really helps people if they know what's going on, what's ahead. With a bigger shop, where you may have different people running jobs, it's important that the team is aware of the bigger picture.
Hand-over meetings are a big deal, too. When a piece of work goes from sales to detailing, it might be a good idea if your scheduling person is on hand to overlook what's coming up. He may want to be present at the hand-over to the production, too, to see if there are any items that will take more time in the shop than was originally anticipated.
If your shop is growing, you may want to consider a regular weekly lunch meeting with your key people to talk about all the work milestones, bottlenecks, delivery times and slippages. This way, your staff will understand there's more happening than just their own job!
The weekly update can serve to be a chance for whoever's in
charge of scheduling to really highlight important dates. It can
also be an opportunity for the salespeople to get a good feel for
available shop time.
Some shops these days operate like the airlines do they overbook work. We're probably going to see more companies doing this over time. The airlines figure that a certain number of passengers just won't show up for their flights; same with our shop work some of it will inevitably be delayed. So, you book more work than you can actually handle, betting that schedules will change and you'll be okay.
But this is a risky business practice, especially when all of your customers do want the work at the agreed-upon time. You can't give them free flights to anywhere in the continental U.S. You may be able to discount the work and mend the fences that way, but it's a hard road to follow.
When you couple overbooking with absenteeism, vacations, screw-ups, etc., you can end up in some difficult situations, dealing with some ugly telephone calls.
The flip side here is that perhaps you can check in regularly with the field conditions of your different shop projects. Perhaps you can find out ahead of time about any jobsite delays. Are parts of your work not on the critical path? The entertainment center is not as important as getting those vanity cabinets so the stone people can get their work going.
Remember, the future of your shop's success doesn't just lie in
beautiful work it relies on whether you come through with the goods
when you said you would.
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