Tips for Scheduling Your Shop Work

by WOHe

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

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.

Schedule board
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

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.

Next Column: Your Shop and the Internet

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