(picture from His Life Woodworks)
Focus on Cabinet Makers and Their Unique Concerns
At Master Solutions, we have a lot of experience working with organizations in the "Secondary Wood Products Industry" (as opposed to the "Primary Wood Products Industry"?) . The Genesis of our Software Toolkit was in a Custom Cabinet Operation.
At the time we started working with them, they were growing fast, and were hitting all the normal walls that businesses hit with high growth rate. These are just some of the real, daily issues:
- Cash Flow Crunch: Every payday was a "fire drill". The nature of being a subcontractor to residential construction simply creates a cash flow problem. Most builders are taking monthly draws at best, and yet the Cabinet Makers are paying out payroll and materials weekly. In essence, the operation is a bank, lending their customers capital for weeks, even months at a time before truly getting paid. Add growth to that equation, and the problem is even worse.
- Administrative/Overhead Issues: There were 2 full time people (out of 5-7 non production people, and 15-20 other production staff) who didn't "make sawdust", yet it was never enough. Just importing the time punches from their time collection systems and calculating payroll took 2 days. The rest of the time was Accounting, Writing Bids for Sales, Answering Phones, and managing the office and Human Resources.
- Critical Data Access: Each Job was a large folder, which go handed around to different key people. The folder held critical information, however wasn't accessible to anyone else. It was not uncommon for someone to go desk to desk looking for important details about a job several times a day.
- Data Integration: The key data elements were in folders, and there was no comprehensive view of data. For instance, all open jobs and their status was on a wall, rarely updated, and had no ability to compare key data to each other. If it was in some software based form, it was an excel spreadsheet someone wrote, and it was always unclear if it was up to date, it was single user, and would occasionally get contaminated or even get corrupted forcing a rebuild.
The 3 key elements of the organizational problems were Efficiency, Data Accessibility, Data Integrity
Lets look at each element a little more in depth, and subsequent articles will detail how we addressed Business Processes to improve these 3 key elements.
This term has several different aspects, but the main idea is using any resource (employee time, machine time, capital/cash, materials etc...) as effectively and minimally as possible while not compromising on speed or quality. It's not just getting more done faster, because doing the wrong thing or the unprofitable thing faster just increases failure. So it is striking the right balance between doing the right things (or doing things right), as quickly as possible.
Do the math: 5 employees, 5 days a week, 50 weeks a year.
This concept means simply getting information to the right people. Just a simple piece of information like a contact (phone number, email, correct spelling of a name etc...) which can be very critical, is a prefect example. Or the last vendor used to purchase the melamine. Or the status of that hot job you promised would go out Friday.
The main point is for the right people, to have the right data, when THEY need it. This is an Efficiency issue certainly, but it also supports user effectiveness, and accuracy.
It's not uncommon for employees to avoid doing things that are hard or frustrating, or leave them incomplete if it is too difficult to get the right data.
This puts an emphasis on Centralizing. Data needs to be accessible centrally, meaning in one easy to reach place. Having the ability to share information, but having data scattered about in 50 different users computers, sub folders, and formats won't work. Data needs to have a central location, with clear and simple paths.
Just getting Data to the right people, as quickly as possible, isn't enough if the Data itself is inconsistent, out of date, or cannot be maintained easily. The accuracy of the data, as well as its stability, and its structure is critical.
The Great Spreadsheet Trap
A classic technique is for a user to make spreadsheets, with ever increasing levels of automation (macros) and formatting. This data might even live on a centralized server. However, a spreadsheet isn't built to handle data that changes often. It is a fantastic tool for analysis, charting, calculations etc... but is a snapshot of data. And it is all one file, that must be saved all at once. As well, a spreadsheet isn't multi-user. Multiple users can VIEW, but they cannot interact with it.
If key data is stored in an individual users spreadsheet, there are too many opportunities for the data to be out of date, mis-managed, corrupted, or isolated.
The Out of Date Trap
Even within database systems, data that isn't current can be very problematic. It is vital that all data be accurate and current. It is even better when the data is getting updated from the system rather than waiting on a user to go in and take an action.
The Duplication Trap
A problem with poorly designed systems (and processes) is the ability to create duplication of key data. This can be simply poor design, or it can be from a user not being able to find key data, and assuming it is not there and entering it a second (or third or fourth) time. Classic examples of this are Contacts, Items, Sales Orders, and Purchase Orders.
The Formatting Trap
Many database systems use key data elements and sort on them for reporting or display. Punctuation sorts very differently than text. Text sorts very differently than numeric values. Without proper formatting, many lists of data become hard to manage, and lead to duplication, or out of date scenarios.
We will look at each of these issues above, and put them into context for the common cabinet maker, and walk through how to address them in a series of in depth articles to come.
Want to know more?
We are very interested in talking with you about your needs. We want to make sure we are a good fit, and understand what you are trying to accomplish, and the best way we know how is some quick discussion. Please contact us via the link to get the process started.