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Scheduling Chaos

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Darrell Amberson's Column

Have you ever experienced a collision repair business scheduling system that works to perfection? I can’t say that I have, even though I’ve worked with or seen many different systems. 

I’ve seen both extremes, from managers who schedule based on the height of the stack of scheduled estimates to complex custom automated systems costing over $1 million. Of course, the latter works far better than the former, but neither is perfection. The reason is that we work in an industry with an incredible amount of variables, including job variances, hidden damage, parts issues, insurance claim issues, staff issues, weather and market conditions, and on and on. You understand. The key is determining what is right for your operation.

Let’s take a look at some scheduling concepts and key factors.


Scheduling by number of vehicles

The concept is that of taking in a set number of cars per day or per week. The assumption is that the size of the jobs averages out and therefore the schedule remains consistent and controllable. This is a very simplistic system. Some consolidators use this philosophy. Since the size of the jobs varies it is wise to give a shop manager some authority to make adjustments. If you’re looking for a new system to start with or one that is the easiest to grasp, this is a good choice. A good option for this plan is to also schedule the number of vehicles leaving to control a steady work flow. Assuming your work in process (WIP) is at an appropriate level, the number of cars leaving on average should match the number of cars arriving.


Scheduling by number of flat-rate hours

This is the same philosophy as the plan above except it is more precise in understanding the size of jobs scheduled. In theory, this is a more accurate way of scheduling. A big variable is scheduling a job that does not yet have a complete and thorough estimate. This system requires more effort to log the number of flat-rate hours for each job. Your management system may do it for you. If you are looking for more precise data than simply relying on numbers of cars, this could be a good methodology for you. It could be handled through some management systems or a simple log, such as a spreadsheet, or even a written document. 


Scheduling to a specific WIP capacity

WIP can be measured by number of vehicles, dollars of work in process, or flat rate hours of work in process. This methodology relies on a specific WIP or an ideal range, and adjusting the amount of incoming work to maintain that WIP. This will be more complex than the above plans. Your management system may provide the data for you. The beauty in this system is that it addresses maintaining a consistent WIP in addition to scheduling incoming vehicles. In other words, it will help prevent your WIP from getting away from you. This is a good solution, especially if your management system provides the data.



Some shops allow for some specific variables. A good example would be tow-ins. The idea is to assume you will receive a certain number each week or day. Often they are more likely to appear after a weekend or holiday. Plan for it.

Some shops have a specific priority relationship with a dealer or insurer and reserve a certain number of schedule spots for them each day or week. Some also use this philosophy for unexpected drop offs—those customers who simply bring their cars in and tell you to fit it in when you can. These are the people who are hard to schedule out because they often would rather leave the car at the shop than drive or store it themselves. Often we choose to take on such jobs rather than risk losing the customer to a competitor. 

Seasonal adjustments can be prudent for many shops. For example, for those of us in states with significant ice and snow, we often see an increase in severity as well as in unexpected tows. In this case, it’s wise to adjust the amount of scheduling capacity accordingly.


Slow season vs busy season

With rare exception we all have our busy and slow times. You can count on the marketplace changing on a regular basis. Customers tend to understand this. Perhaps the weather or economy make it obvious. Perhaps it’s because they shop around. I find it wise to adjust scheduling philosophy accordingly, especially understanding the variables we deal with and knowing that scheduling is not a perfect science. When it is slow, try to capture every job as promptly as possible. I am more inclined to risk overscheduling to some reasonable extent, knowing that it will be hard to get more jobs tomorrow and that any job that is a no-show or total loss will be hard to replace. In the busy season, I prefer to slightly under-schedule. In those times I am more confident that a lost job will be easier to replace. I also know that in busy times it is easy to let WIP get out of control, getting us in trouble with customers and insurers.


Consistent workflow

For many years, we’ve talked about the importance of making our weekly schedules as consistent as possible, taking in the same number of jobs later in the week as we do at the beginning. For many of us, the benefits are intuitively obvious. Repairers know it, industry consultants and experts know it, and most insurers know it. Yet we still seem to struggle with taking more work early in the week and scheduling light for the later part. I understand the concerns over weekend rental expense. But, have you calculated the lost revenue and expense of inconsistent work volume? It makes it worth our while to find creative solutions to take in more of our repair jobs later in the week.

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