Discovering Your Leaks will Lead to Profits

Shop Talk with Shawn Maberry

CEO of Roger Shaw & Associates

I Didn’t Realize We Did All of That…
How many times do you enter the same information into different systems? Likely, you don’t even know off the top of your head, but that doesn’t make knowing less important. The best way to determine how many times you are repeating processes is to list out everything that happens from a quote to invoicing for a complete project. It might be surprising how many steps are involved in even a small cabinet order. It will be easy to identify the major processes such as estimation, submittals, shop drawings, engineering, gcode generation, purchasing, receiving, field verification, manufacturing, shipping, installing, and invoicing; but breaking down the activities or steps involved in each major process will require a little more thought and likely some teamwork.

As an example, estimation often involves the processes of downloading .PDF drawings, printing applicable sheets, highlighting and scaling takeoff conditions, measuring quantities, entering results, calculating labor, materials, overhead and hopefully profit, even before a customer presentation (quote) can be generated. With that much work, we should win every bid right? In today’s competitive market, we are forced to bid more and bid tighter which means that we better not be wasting steps and we better be confident about our accuracy.

Think of Your Data Like Your Factory
Once we have identified all of our processes, we need or organize them in a meaningful way to express the sequence of events and how they relate to other processes. Most woodworkers are pretty proud of their shop and since this is where the sawdust flies, it would drive most woodworkers crazy if their machinery was scattered randomly and if parts were moving back and forth, drilling the same holes over again, but because our data isn’t as tangible as our CNC or edgebander, we so often fail to work at managing it until we get a good flow. I’ve taken many factory tours where I witnessed very impressive layouts, great flow, and organization that was amazing, but once we started building a processes flow chart of data, it was far less impressive. Why do we always tend to think about the factory when we think LEAN? Isn’t lean simply about eliminating waste? What could be more wasteful than repeating processes or doing work that doesn’t get used forward? Until you have identified all of your processes and organized them visually, it will be difficult to rate your “data leaness”.

Moving Data Through a System of Pipes
Now that you have developed a data process flow chart, think of it as a system of pipes. Any place where there are leaks, profit is dripping out of your project. What is a leak? A leak would be work being done that isn’t useful going forward in sequence. For example, if my estimate doesn’t eliminate steps from the engineering process, it’s a leak. If my engineering work doesn’t help automate my purchasing of materials, it’s a leak. Hopefully you are beginning to get the picture. We are all doing more for less these days and most of us, simply can’t afford to have leaks in our data plumbing. I suspect it will be easy for you to find leaks, but do yourself a giant favor and don’t start trying to repair those leaks until you have identified the leaks in your whole data plumbing system. What would appear to be a good repair in one place might actually cause more than a leak somewhere else.

Why Do I Keep Doing That?
If you are anything like me, you’ll start hearing drip, drip, drip in your head. You won’t stop thinking about data until your organization has stopped doing redundant processes over and again. Even after automating as many of my organizations processes as I could, I knew there would be more leaks. It wasn’t that we didn’t do a good job of identifying our leaks, it was the reality that our minds weren’t capable of thinking about the next and next levels of leveraging our data until we streamlined as much as we could. I was in a facility once that finally identified that something as simple as typing a project name was done 16 different times by different individuals with each and every order. This company was processing about 4 orders a day which means that 60 times a day they were just wasting time and money. It goes much further than eliminating redundant processes, it means intentionally leveraging your data. If I’m going to go through the work to put out a quote, I am going to make certain that if awarded the project, I get significant value from what I have already done. Actually this is pretty simple stuff, but often left undone. How much profit is dripping from your data pipes?

by Shawn Maberry