New Hires and Production Problems

Adding new employees to speed up production can have exactly the opposite effect. Here's a case in point. July 20, 2011

I have been operating my shop with 3 employees... Including me! That may not sound like a big deal, but we are turning out an easy kitchen every two days and big jobs take us 4 or so. So I hired two new people, and everything went to crap. The current project involved a townhouse project with four, 4-bedroom units. We are doing the kitchens and all the closets. It is a tough deadline as well. The first kitchen went so bad that I gave up and told them to pile all the cut parts in the corner and start over. It is around 20 sheets worth of material and the associated hardware. The three cabinets we finished are the worst I have ever made in my life.

A lot went wrong in the beginning with suppliers and machines. This resulted in me telling them to "cut, groove and band all the parts" so we could get started. That created a huge mess. As I have said on this forum before, we usually flow out our cabinets one assembly at a time, not batching by operation. The result was a disaster. My client (our first project together) will be pissed.

I have learned something from this (it is the second time it happened - I am a slow learner). Don't tell people you can meet deadlines you can't. I can fool myself into believing things sometimes.

Forum Responses
(Business and Management Forum)
From contributor M:
Sorry to hear of your pain. At the same time, remember how lucky you are to be so busy in these times! Good luck with the new hires - maybe you will have to work side by side with them a little longer.

From contributor C:
It was a mistake. I made the same just a few days ago and was lucky it only cost $200.00 or so. I like your system, and I have one a lot like it, but I'm going screen to machine and nested for the fact that once it's drawn and approved, field dimensions checked - fire away. And, in the long run it really isn't that expensive compared to the repeated mistakes. Hell, Cabinetvision Ultimate will even cut your p-lam top blanks, build up and place the draw bolt areas where we want. It's a no-brainer!

No matter how many times I have been down your road, the same shit has happened and it's a bitch I know. No matter how hard we try, you cannot give someone the same experience we have, and I have turned into a real S.O.B. lately counting change and telling the guys, I don't want to pay for mistakes. "So slow down, think, and don't make the same mistake twice."

By the way, when we build units as you mentioned above - like 14 exam rooms, three procedures, a reception area and such for one job, it's maybe four rooms at a time, then the next four. It's absolutely amazing to watch the blinding speed develop. This includes tops, too. Small chunks of the pie, daily. Allows all the drawings to be complete, and keeps the cut lists cleaner, the waste down, and the production full tilt.

From contributor C:
I ordered some laminate panels for a bank vault and put brown paper on the back. The vault is a sauna and the panels are warping like crazy. A huge mistake for not listening to my gut. Slow down, turn the parts into nailers and adjustables, and complete a couple kitchens a day.

From contributor I:
Many of us have been there. Learn a valuable lesson and let it help you make a better business from the experience. What happens now is what separates the pros from the wannabes. What your new partner needs to hear from you right now is a realistic deadline for completing the work as it should be done. I find most people can work with you even when mistakes are made, but they need to hear the truth. Good luck on pulling this off. A rule of thumb I use when adding employees is only add one at a time, and never add another while someone is still in training. That way your other trained employees can guide and teach the new person without you having to carry the burden. Also watch your existing employees and how they either help or don't help with absorbing new people. When everything goes to hell because one or two new guys can disrupt 3 or 4 trained people to the extent you have described, you may need to take careful consideration to how well your existing employees are working. And I am probably talking more towards attitude than actual skills.

From contributor B:
I couldn't agree with contributor M more. I have found when a new hire isn't working out it usually has as much to do with the other employees as it does the new guy. At one point we went through three guys that were "useless." The fourth was reported to me to also be no good. Instead of moving him out, I took over his training myself. He has been a valuable employee for three years now. Makes me kind of wonder what potential we lost in the other three.

Sorry to hear that you are in a bind with your schedule. The last time it happened to me the contractor was not pleased we were late, but letting him know that the reason we were going to be late was because the product didn't pass QC and we were doing it right for him helped. A little honesty always goes a long way.

From contributor P:
You violated your own policy. Go back to what you were doing before - flow one assembly at a time. I suggest you create a target of a certain amount of cabinets per day, so everyone knows what is expected. Whenever you hire someone new, that person creates confusion. It is okay to hire two guys but only keep one.

From the original questioner:
Thanks, guys. It is nice to hear your positive messages. Today was better (my clock is 12 hours off EST so I am finally going to bed). My wife worked with us today. She is a PT but after all these years of attending the shows and listening to me drone on about the technical details, she knows a thing or two.

I have very high expectations from myself, my company and my employees. But sometimes I oversell myself, and I take the shop down with me.

From contributor K:
I agree with others regarding training. In the interim, consider short term outsourcing for parts while you are training these guys so you can get your schedule back on track and keep the customer happy and minimize the PR damage from this.

While the parts are being cut for the short-term product need, you can be working on the next set after this one with your employees to make sure your quality expectations and processes sink in. It'll be cheaper in the long run (at least you won't have a 20-sheet pile of miscuts on the floor, right?).

From contributor B:
I'd like to encourage you about how lucky you are. I can tell that, for you, this was only a bad day; you're usual method of lean/one-piece-flow probably prevents too many of these. Your daily expected batch size instantly clued you in to how bad the day was and exactly how many days would be required to fix it. Remember the old days, when you never really knew where you were at? Back then, you may have had issues like this compounding, and only a queasy sense in the stomach about what a recovery schedule might look like, or even how bad all the compound damage really was to longer-term schedules - and to profits, as well as time!

Of course, the worst case scenario is having a long string of what seems like decent days of mediocre progress, where everyone seems busy and the shop sounds noisy. These are the days that can kill you - the ones that are really just bad days in disguise, that secretly wash away gains of any good days. You are lucky that none of this is a regular problem for you, given how you now operate.

In fact, I would argue that you can consider the occasional bad day a gift! You are far too smart to proceed into a day where the high risk of failure is clear, so you must have had good reason to think you were violating your own efficiency rules only in peripheral ways, and that it would okay. The gift is that maybe some hidden qualifiers were exposed. Something surprised you that was of a greater negative impact than you had considered. Now these little, under-estimated deal-breakers (the constraints behind the constraints) are in full view, specifically and conceptually - a gift indeed.

My guess is that it was the need for conversation that got you (maybe only 20% more than normal). The new guys were probably given seemingly straightforward tasks, but still the instruct time slowed and distracted all staff. And in the end, the on-the-spot training was insufficient to yield good quality anyway. This may reveal the exact minimum degree and type of understanding required to do these particular tasks. Maybe only slight tweaks are required to be successful with inexperienced guys next time. I think perfecting the ability to plug in and unplug new people and temporary help can be a huge driver of profit, and for exploiting pop-up opportunities. So I would not identify doing so as the core problem here.

Perhaps you were also a little tempted by the dark side because you seem to have foregone the usual schedule time-buffers, which may have allowed enough time for re-dos.

From the original questioner:
Thanks, everyone. I hope you know that my BS on this forum about my wonderful production is different from the daily reality. I do believe my shop is amazing in its output and quality for the size and number of employees. But the pile of miss-cuts and the miss-banded parts and the backwards bored panels are a constant struggle.

I broke the bank to build this shop. There was no money left. So basic things like a label printer for the shop are missing. Grease board markers and our own archaic code system is all that separates us from the beasts. Soon I will be buying a CNC boring machine and that baby will change everything! No more staring at the damn line borer trying to figure out which side is up and front.

You are right about me spending too much time talking to the new hires. Except it was not 20%, it was 50%, and the other 50% that I was not talking to them, they were making mistakes.

An interesting observation. You know you have a good employee when he looks at the finished job with a smile and has visible pride. The shop owners in this country do believe it is possible to be this productive, and the workers think the same way. So when my first hires start seeing the possibilities, they are amazed not only that it is possible, but that they are the ones that did it. I tell them all the time, "We are the best shop in the country and you are the best cabinetmakers."

Unfortunately there is no shop to outsource to. There is a shop (one of my bigger competitors) that has a nicer edgebander than mine, but outsources their banding to me on nicer jobs because they can't get their machine to work right. I have offered to tune up their machine and train their operator, but I asked for a lot by local standards, so they are content outsourcing.

Things here are a real challenge when it comes to making quality cabinets. The nearest good sharpening service is 100 miles away by plane. There are no vendors of shaper tooling, high end saw blades, wood glue, laminate contact adhesive, glue bottles, etc.

I have to have three sets of scoring blades because of the turnaround time on sharpening! Luckily there is a Hafele distribution center here, but the employees are clueless and ineffective. There is no Home Depot where everything you could need is in one place. There is one place that sells hoses, one place sells pneumatic fittings, another for electrical, another for panels, another for screws. None of these places advertise and there is no real directory. Luckily most of the main industrial supply shops are located in a certain area. But it is a maze of unnamed narrow streets and Chinese is the main language spoken! A real adventure.