5 Steps for Building an Effective Production Board
Randy Miller noticed his team and general productivity start to slow. The parts process was a mess and the area was unorganized. And, he realized if he kept managing the shop floor production by himself, it could get even worse when he was gone for a day or more.
In 2010, Miller, owner of Collision Specialists Inc., a $2 million facility in Austin, Minn., that pumps out just over 60 cars per month with a staff of 10 in an 8,300-square-foot facility, focused on going lean and thus developed a completely new production board set-up.
The shop revamped its outdated production whiteboard into an in-house, electronic production board.
Miller since has seen a reduction in cycle time, which is now only 4–5 days. And his employee productivity has translated into a positive work attitude.
Rich Altieri, owner and consultant at Autobody Management Solutions, says that creating electronic production boards—whether it’s one available in the market or one created in-house—is a simple way to improve communication and cycle time, if implemented correctly. Altieri and Miller outline the steps any owner needs to take to implement this system in his or her shop.
Miller and his team researched other production boards on the market, like CCC ONE and Mitchell, about two to three years ago. The team didn’t gain anything from the set-up of those boards because Miller did not have a designated production manager to handle the scheduling of the jobs.
Instead, the team created their own production board that can be mostly controlled by the estimators. Jobs are now scheduled every day and the whole team is involved in the process.
Altieri says the employees need to be thoroughly involved in the process and the shop owner should spend at least a day walking them through a new process.
Then, the employees need to be given an outline of the predicted metrics and cost of the new change, he says. Overall, will it affect the staff salary?
Miller’s team collaborated on an Excel and Google Sheets document. The document is then projected on a 60-inch TV screen in the shop floor.
The team decided for the estimators to be in charge of mainly interacting with the customer and scheduling the jobs into the first two categories on the board: speed-lane jobs and hard-hitting jobs.
And to further help the estimators manage the job board slots, each estimate is scheduled only for around 45 minutes to an hour.
“There’s no such thing as a quick estimate anymore,” Miller says.
Altieri says a scheduling process for the board needs to take into account how many hours are available per day and to schedule by job family. He recommends categorizing the jobs by small repairs, mid-size driveable and non-driveable heavy lifts.
For Collision Specialists Inc., the week is only a four-day week, which means jobs are scheduled best by how long the estimator believes the job will take and whether that job is 20 hours or less.
The shop’s two estimators will work behind the front desk and determine whether the repair will be a speed-lane job or a hard-hit job.
The new scheduling process mimics a doctor’s office or a dental office. Instead of working around the customer’s schedule, the front office team will only schedule work in the open time slots on the schedule.
In order to successfully start a new process, Altieri emphasizes the importance of a pilot program.
A shop owner cannot just walk into the shop and say, “Here is how we are doing things now.”
Instead, a process needs to be tested with a small number of people before it goes to the group at large, he says.
For example, the board should be tested by one estimator and one technician for a a few days or a week at minimum, Altieri says. He says most pilot programs work best if tested for about three months.
Now, the team meets two times per day to plan the jobs for the day. The entire staff of 10 will meet at 6:15 a.m. and again at 12:30 p.m.
Then, at the two meetings, each technician will have a chance to choose on what jobs they want to work. For example, if one technician excels at bumper repair, that technician will usually opt for those types of jobs.
Each employee is able to choose his or her slot on the main production board screen through their computers or phones. Every staff member is identified on the board by a specific color.
Altieri says for this process, it is best for the team to meet twice daily at only about 15 minutes maximum. Then, the team should meet once each week for a 15-minute performance review discussion.
In the performance review meeting, the team can touch on topics like hours billed, vehicles delivered, CSI and cycle time, Altieri says.
The whole team needs to meet for a “debriefing” of the test program, Altieri says.
The small test group needs to meet after the period is over and explain the process’ pros and cons to the rest of the staff.
In the end the shop needs to go through four different stages in order to seek the best output of a new process: plan, brief, execute and debrief.
The owner needs to know whether the process brought the shop from bad to good or negatively impacted business operations, Altieri says.
Miller not only needed to implement an in-house production board, he also needed to gain his employee’s trust in the process and the new technology. The buy-in proved somewhat difficult because the technicians vary in employees who have been with the company for 20–30 years and a couple employees who have just joined the shop from technical school.
First, Miller scheduled monthly meetings with his team.
“Nothing changes without a meeting around here,” he says.
The meetings were a way for each employee to voice an opinion about the new process and offer solutions.
Altieri recommends leaders meet each month over lunch with the team. These meetings are an opportunity for the team to discuss materials, like additional articles on the production board process.
Second, Miller had to wait for the return on investment.
Change was not instantaneous for the shop but the staff agreed it would try to achieve a 6-hour touch time on jobs and then wait to see the profits. Over the course of the next two-and-a-half years, the shop’s revenue did increase closer to its current $2 million.
“ROI is not a short-term win,” Altieri says. “ROI is the end game measure and we work toward it but may not achieve it sooner or later.”
Third, Miller gave the employees more power and time to be held accountable. He reduced his work week from six to four days.
People cannot be held accountable unless they are given defined measures to achieve, standard operating procedures (SOPs) and defined objectives of success, Altieri says. Create SOPs to achieve KPIs like cycle time and efficiency.
The team still works a 40-hour week at 10 hours per day but now has more time to spend with family and work on their own hobbies, Miller says.