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Improving Information Flow

Helping Hand


I have been asked to help a friend put some systems in place to organize his custom cabinet & construction business.

He has built the business from the ground up over a number of years and has plenty of work. However it has reached a point where there are a number of inefficiencies which a have led to jobs not being finished off and money being held back which in turn leads to cash flow issues which increases everyone's stress levels and compounds the inefficiencies.

It is his belief that the main problem is that 90% of the job information resides in his brain & is not flowing out to the shop. This causes things to be missed and mistakes to occur. I tend to agree that this is a large part of the problem. There is no real procedure in place right now for starting files for new jobs, no job numbers, and a lack of detailed drawings. So if information is missing the employee's can only get it from him.

He has recently purchased a cabinet design software but not found the time to learn it as he is frankly overwhelmed with the day to day grind of the shop. I believe that this will assist with getting more detailed drawings to the shop floor and more accurate info to the CNC. What it won't help with is how to store all the other miscellaneous information related to renovations (Plumbing, electrical, etc,etc.) in a manner that can easily be accessed by anyone working on the job.

I know that whatever is to be done must be as simple as possible to implement as patience is at a minimum due to stress.

Any thoughts or ideas on how I can help are welcome.

5/27/15       #2: Improving Information Flow ...
Rich Kuban  Member

Website: closetexperts.com

My first thought is for you to shadow him for a while and document various situations as described. Maybe start creating some simple daily systems for repetitive situations and help him incorporate them as he deals with everyday stuff.

If you can gradually reduce the issues, and help him get an hour a day freed up, then maybe he can tackle the software and you can help him develop systems for the software. He is really going to need some standardization before he tackles the software or he is not going to be successful with it.

5/27/15       #3: Improving Information Flow ...

There is a reason for plans & specifications!
Software won't help unless all the information is put there by someone. Standardization of processes/methods would also help. He needs to learn how to run a business.

5/27/15       #4: Improving Information Flow ...
Helping Hand


He is aware that things need to change and is actively looking for solutions. He has been running the business successfully for sometime. The issue is that as the business has grown it requires more communication and delegation of tasks.

I have spent some time in the shop and can see that there are a number of key issues:

1. Employees arrive in the morning and don't know what they should be working on.

2.Hardware and other items are not ordered in a timely fashion, delaying finishing of jobs.

3.Limited or no information with the jobs.

It seems to me that the there needs to be better organization at the outset of jobs. If there was more information available to employees then they could take action themselves rather than waiting for the boss to come back from site meetings etc.

My question is how to collect & share this info as simply as possible? Obviously some sort of file needs to be created that passes along with the job. Just looking for ideas on what form this takes and how to make it as automatic as possible so that it doesn't simply get skipped when things are busy.

Any ideas are welcome.

5/27/15       #5: Improving Information Flow ...
Bob Lewis

"He has recently purchased a cabinet design software but not found the time to learn it"
Sounds like the guy who was working night and day cutting down trees with a dull axe.
When asked why he doesn't sharpen the axe, he said he was too busy!

5/27/15       #6: Improving Information Flow ...

Many years ago I worked in the trucking industry. Our Terminal Manager and I (his day dispatcher) ran into a similar situation: a lot of information needed to go to multiple people. We were both terrible at sharing every piece of info...it just stayed locked in our heads. Loads were late, other loads lost, my terminal manager and I were worn down from constantly putting out fires...and top management was justifiably upset.

A VP came out to check on the issues and made a simple suggestion: 2 magnetic white boards, some dry erase markers, and 2 dozen magnets.

The board was laid out with our different situations: shop, wash bay, pre-load, loaded, etc., and the magnets were numbered with the trucks and trailers. As each driver called in, or the wash bay techs or mechanics reported in, the magnets were moved.

Pretty soon, we had a complete visual of each day's loads, what trucks and trailers were available, what needed cleaning...the whole picture. Our wash bay techs could see which trailers were due back the earliest, which loads were waiting to be loaded, and could decide in which order they needed to be washed. Our mechanics could let us know which trucks and trailers needed servicing, and which would be back in service. All in a few minutes...with all of us standing there at the board. (I, the lowly dispatcher, was the one moving magnets...grin.)

Our drivers could walk into dispatch and see where every available truck and trailer was...what loads were available...and what their next day looked like.

Late and lost loads decreased; profits and driver morale increased; and the Terminal Manager and I discovered we had a lot more time on our hands. Time we could use to schmooze current clients, and reach out to new ones. (And our current clients were happier with our performance.)

All because of a couple of whiteboards, some markers and magnets.

Perhaps your friend will find a software version of the whiteboard and magnets that he prefers. Or, for the short-term, maybe you can be the "lowly dispatcher" who fills out the white boards and moves the magnets until you can both find the time to learn the software. Either way, perhaps a large visual listing all the steps, and magnets with the job names on them moving from step to step could help.

It may take some front-end time and effort from your friend. But, it can definitely be worth it.

Worst-case: it's a "low-tech" alternative until you have the time to work out something better.

5/27/15       #7: Improving Information Flow ...
Tim Schultz

We are developing software like that for our shop right now. It operates just like a bingo board.

You can tell with a glance from 15 feet away the status of any project and what is next on deck.

5/28/15       #8: Improving Information Flow ...
Pat O'Sullivan Member

Depending on the cabinet design software, direct g-code generation is one way of expiditing that process. Operator accesses the files that he is supposed to run and loads panels, removes parts.
Depending on the size of the shop and growth plans, ERP software is the path that many growing companies are exploring. Granted, highly functional ERP is expensive but if each person who has to touch the process has one place they can get exactly what they need to do their job, from purchasing through the shop floor and accounting, you can address growth with better data management instead of additional personnel. $100,000 for software or 2 or 3 $50,000 salaries. This also gives the owner the ability to examine/evaluate each process and its value/effectiveness. Automation can provide tools to alert those who need to purchase materials/hardware with lead times built in. Design software bills of material are incorporated with ERP and real routing information which enables scheduling to be tied to lead times, etc. It doesn't happen overnight, but with a good plan in place, accountability on the part of the company and the software integration team, it is a real solution.

Yes, we offer both design software and ERP solutions. There is also a great book that you can reference called "Love Thy Data." It doesn't pitch a particular solution but addresses these common issues in a real world, easy to identify with method. You can find it on Amazon or you can go to our website and we can provide a free, pdf version.

5/30/15       #10: Improving Information Flow ...

Hey -- what about "lead hands"?

Name a few lead hands in the shop (# depending on size of shop), meet with lead hands every morning, and have the whole shops questions filtered through them?

Throw a problem at a smart person... It's good for both parties.

5/30/15       #11: Improving Information Flow ...
Dropout Member

Hey Pat

What;s your website?

5/31/15       #12: Improving Information Flow ...
Pat O'Sullivan Member

Website: http://www.rogershaw.com

The website is www.rogershaw.com .

5/31/15       #13: Improving Information Flow ...
Dropout Member


5/31/15       #14: Improving Information Flow ...
Helping Hand

Thanks for the input!

I think an ERP solution may be out of budget at this point but clearly there needs to be some better processes in place to track the flow of jobs.

I am thinking that the first step is to create a basic job folder that contains some standard information about the job and moves with the job. This would ensure that employees could act somewhat autonomously to make sure that mistakes are not made nor time wasted waiting for info.

I also think that I could create Job folders in Dropbox so that information can be accessed anywhere and photos etc can be uploaded while still on job sites.

Then I think a simple colour coded spreadsheet could be created that shows all the jobs in progress. The colours would indicate where in the process the job is. Anything highlighted red would require urgent attention. This would have to be updated daily. The question becomes who is responsible for updating given that the boss is already overwhelmed? Maybe this is where the lead hand idea comes in? Could someone be expected to monitor update the information in n the spreadsheet and still work on the shop floor? Does it make more sense to have the lead hand trained to use the cabinet software and be responsible for providing drawings and files for the CNC?

Let me know if you have more thoughts!

5/31/15       #15: Improving Information Flow ...
Tim Schultz


Re-read Joe's post.

You will be far better off with an analog method using a magnetic grease board and refrigerator magnets. At the very least it will compel you to produce a chart of accounts to better understand the work flow.

More importantly analog systems allow your crew to participate. You should take advantage of their brain power too.

5/31/15       #16: Improving Information Flow ...

To add to Tim's point, a whiteboard with the jobs and their stages helps to create the questions that need to be answered. Are the drawings submitted? Have they been approved? Are the materials ordered?...etc. The more input and feedback you can get from the people doing the work, the better it is for everyone. Eventually, it should take no more than 10-15 minutes each morning, and maybe an additional 10-15 each evening, to move those magnets, ask and answer questions, and take the notes for the following day. Possibly less as the system becomes more ingrained and the questions easier to anticipate.

You're on the right track with the cover sheet listing all the information for the job, and having it follow the job through the shop.

Lastly, if the boss is already overwhelmed, and information is falling through the cracks, the next logical step is promoting or hiring someone to help pull this information together and pass it along. Can they also work on the shop floor? That depends on the volume of work and information. It could well be a full-time position just keeping everything up-to-date and flowing to the floor. Not to mention having to follow the boss around for the first few weeks (months?) tracking down the information locked in his head. At least until that person is up to speed on the jobs.

6/1/15       #17: Improving Information Flow ...


6/1/15       #18: Improving Information Flow ...
Mel Member


Hah! I think I used about 40 words to say the same thing. There really is beauty in brevity :)

6/2/15       #19: Improving Information Flow ...

The problems your friend is facing runs far deeper than just the distribution of information, I am suspicious that morale is probably pretty low and you might have a couple of staff who don't fit the business around......... but for the sake of getting started and answering your question.

Give us more info
How many staff? What are there titles? All production workers? Any installers? A leading hand?

More info on the work you do? Kitchens? Frameless? High end, builders? Mom and pop? Ect ect

As for your information flow yes you need major changes, someone said to standardise, this is great advice because it reduces the actual amount of information you need. Everyone knows what to do and does that.

Keep it simple, joinery shops were around long before computers and most guys on the tools aren't on them every day for a reason. Build an information system for them. Focus on having small peices of information available where it's needed. It will also help with the inertia, your friend probably doesn't release information until it's all ready but he needs to be able to send it in parcels.The guys on the floor cant handle a thick folder of all the information. It's too much and it just sits in the corner collecting sawdust.

Make information sheets like cutlists with big font and clear simple instructions.

Dropbox is good for the office but it's lack of front end means it gets looked over beyond that, apps are starting to crop up now that have a nice front end easy for anyone to access the info. I use one called trellis, it's super easy and quick I just start a job board and enter in all key info phone numbers contact details site photos shop drawings appliance specs ect. If I'm on the road and the guys need info or they forget shop drawings when they go and install which is every second day they can look it up on there phone. The info is literally in there pocket.

Also pull all the guys into a meeting, tell them things aren't very good and you are in damage control stressed out of your head because you are wearing too many hats.

Do the whiteboard thing it's amazing open up communication between you and the shop floor teach them DELEGATE DELGATE DELEGATE!

6/23/15       #20: Improving Information Flow ...
Brad Moore  Member

Website: http://www.partsminder.com

Most cabinet/carpentry shops information sharing systems are still paperwork and rubber soles. There are alternatives with real dollar earning advantages. Going digital (paperless) does require some rethinking about how you share information, which culturally has to start with the boss or it won't work, but once you do you'll be amazed at how many more people on the floor know what's going on. Knowing what's going on is empowering to staff which almost always increases their efficiency, plus it's a good way to share responsibilities without giving up any real control.
That being said I would not recommend implementing a full ERP system. It's too big a change and can be quite complicated which means it's not going to get used.
There's lots of software packages that just take portions of your operations into the digital age. Think of them as digital tools designed to do one thing really well, that go well beyond a general excel spreadsheet. Accounting is usually the first system to go digital. There's systems for purchasing, inventory, project management, CAD, shop drawings and so on.
Having everyone use it is the key, otherwise stick to the old ways as you're wasting your time.
I'd look for a "cloud" or internet based solution. Cloud based, also called webware, have the distinct advantages of using the internet as your internal and external network, so you don't require any software installation, servers, and your data is always backed up even if you loose a computer. They are also generally well priced and do not require upfront capital costs. Our webware deals directly with creating purchase orders, vendor management and receiving. There's lots out there, but they can be tricky to find. Good luck.

6/24/15       #21: Improving Information Flow ...

RE: cloud
You'll have a hard time convincing me to go to the cloud system. At least once a month our internet service is down for several hours. When it is up it is slow as sin. It takes 30 minutes for a message to travel across town. There is no competition.

6/25/15       #22: Improving Information Flow ...
Brad Moore  Member

Website: http://www.partsminder.com

Larry is right, to go "cloud" you need a reliable internet connection. If you do have good internet you don't have to worry about networks, backups, software installs and updates. Plus with a cloud system you have access to all info even at home or on vacation. Most packages have free trials so don't dismiss out of hand until you try them. With all new business processes, the key to success is implementation. So whatever system you choose, high tech or low tech, everyone has to "buy into it" beginning with the boss or you'll cause more problems than you're trying to solve. Set aside time to train and monitor implementation so it doesn't become another of managements "false starts".

6/27/15       #23: Improving Information Flow ...

Take ba y steps. Pick one thing and work on that. Start with a short daily meeting with everyone. Go o er yesterday, today and tomorrow s work and who is doing what and what is expected at end of day.
put one person in charge of ordering items. Take time to go over jobs and note out everything.
software can help but if you dont have a system of any kind in place the software generally wont solve your problem. A big white board can be a lot easier and cheaper up front.

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