Three Proven Processes for Improving Scheduling

Oct. 1, 2017
Perfecting scheduling at your shop is a true process. There’s no silver bullet that works for everyone, and you have to find the right scheduling strategy for your shop. Here are three tried-and-true approaches that have made huge differences for shops in the industry.

Every shop owner realizes the importance. Each industry professional knows it must be constantly tinkered with and improved. Everyone understands how fickle it can be.

But when it comes to actually perfecting your scheduling process, says Ron Perretta?

“In my opinion, scheduling is something that the majority of the shops in the industry don't do very well—and typically admit to it,” he says.

Even Perretta—whose renowned shop, Professionals Auto Body in Duncansville, Pa., boasts a 5-hour touch time with 30 employees—has had his troubles perfecting scheduling at his shop over the years. And that’s highlights a universal truth: There is no silver bullet that works for everyone. You have to find the right scheduling process for your shop.

FenderBender put together three stories where industry professionals found solutions that made huge improvements to scheduling.

Talk to Your Team

While there are numerous changes a shop owner can make to a scheduling process, Steve Trapp, North American services manager for Axalta, says it’s not a decision to be taken lightly. Evaluate your scheduling system with staff members, identify weaknesses, and then mix and match the processes shared in this story where they fit.

Case #1: Eliminate the Monday-to-Friday Format.

Insurance companies are always pushing the Monday-to-Friday, vehicle-in-vehicle-out format—and the sooner you disregard it, the sooner you’ll gain control of your scheduling, Richard Rhoades says.

“That's a broken system that never works,” he says. “So, we schedule all week long.”

For Rhoades, president of Perfection One Collision Center in Chillicothe, Ohio, a “week” is any five-day period, not just between Monday and Friday. That mindset was employed in an effort to “take the randomness out of the repair process.” From parts to insurance companies to customers to back-and-forth between employees, many factors can halt production—but if you’ve scheduled weeks in advance, you’re better prepared to handle the “randomness.” By doing so, Rhoades improved his shop’s touch time from 1.6 to 3 hours, “almost immediately.”

The first step was scheduling beyond what his technicians could handle over a five-day period.

“My technicians will turn 300 hours in a week, but we don't schedule 300 hours because you're going to have supplements, you'll wait on insurance, you'll have tow-ins,” Rhoades says.

Rhoades typically schedules 350–400 hours of work per week, and then rolls over leftover work into the next week. He actually knows exactly the jobs that will carry over because he segments the week’s jobs into three time categories:

  • 15 hours or less
  • 15–30 hours
  • 30-plus hours

If the job takes 15 hours or less, Rhoades will try to get the job out in the same time frame, whether it came in on Monday or Thursday. He can count on that being a three-day repair.

For 15–30-hour jobs, it’s possible to get them done in a week, but there is more of a discrepancy. If he knows what parts he needs and everything is pre-ordered, he can usually count on getting the 15–30 hour jobs out the same week.

For 30-plus-hour jobs, Rhoades counts on them rolling over the five-day threshold because the repair process can vary heavily.

“Say you bring in $4,000 of parts, but you need a $50 part that has to go out first and you can't get it for three days,” he says. “Well, now you're tied up for too long. So, we look at the dollars and cents tied up at the same time.”

For Perfection, over a five-day period, Rhoades usually schedules 10 jobs: four 15-hours-or-less jobs; four in the 15–30 range; and two more in the 30-plus segment.

“You have to constantly monitor how many hours you have on hand and what's tied up and what's available to work,” he says.

Case #2: Schedule Backward.

Axalta Coating Systems has formed a four-step production process for the shops it consults. Steps two through four involve strategic repair planning, creating a visual production system and forming a job calendar.

But none of it works without step one: scheduling.

Well, scheduling backward, that is.

“We're basically advocating Friday-to-Monday scheduling,” says Steve Trapp, North American services manager for Axalta. “You try and fill Friday first. If it gets to be close to Monday and it's empty, then we're going to fill the empty slot on Monday. The idea is we want that consumer coming in on the days that are deemed less desirable.”

Trapp uses this example to illustrate how it works:

Working backward starts with setting the end goals first. Say you want to produce $200,000 per month, and 50 percent of sales is body and paint labor. Your daily paint and body goal is, then, 100 hours.

“The entire system is predicated on that number,” Trapp says. “So we schedule that number, we repair plan that number…and we make sure each department produces that number every day consistently.”

If you wanted to cut one day off a 7-day cycle time, and 100 hours per day is the goal, then that means you’ll want to produce those 700 hours in 600 hours. So, when you schedule, everything—from the car count to the work in process (WIP) to each department hitting its target hours—has that goal in mind.

A huge part of that is determining the optimal work mix. That largely depends on both your market and your talent.

“If you have the pick of the litter, then you set your technicians' capabilities to drive it,” Trapp says. “If you don't have the best techs in town, and you get a lot of dealer work or smaller jobs, then you have to staff to try and accommodate the work.”

Back to Trapp’s example: If you have 100 hours available each day, and your average job takes 20 hours, you know to schedule five jobs each day.

Case #3: Schedule by Money—Not Hours.

Perretta, who has owned his business for 38 years and has consulted shops for 17 years, can break down most scheduling issues to one problem: everyone schedules by hours.

“Scheduling by hours is a disaster,” he says. “Hours in the business are fictitious. When shops are being suppressed for the hours they charge or don’t charge for, how is it possible to schedule by hours? And think it's a viable mechanism for success and customer satisfaction?”

But once you understand your shop’s numbers? Once you’ve gained control of your management system? You won’t have to schedule by hours—you’ll “schedule by money.”

“Traditional systems use suppressed, inaccurate data and don’t take into consideration the daily obstacles a shop has,” Perretta says. “My system uses accurate detailed data that is specific to each business individually.”

Take this scenario as an example: Your shop prepares an estimate that contains 40 hours of labor. When the insurance company writes its estimate, they cut it back to 25 hours—essentially “suppressing” 15 hours on that job.

“So, now the shop is going to use the 25 hours for scheduling,” he says. “How can that be accurate when the insurance undercut them 15 hours?”

In this case, as Perretta says, the hours are “fictitious.” Instead, he studies his shop’s historical data and determines what work will keep his shop profitable. He figures out what is needed to cover costs and what will produce the highest profits. He says it's less fragmented, easy to figure and smooths the scheduling process out.

“They need to know what the hourly rate is they need to charge. All shops are different because each shop's costs are different, and they have to know how to figure this,” he says. “They need to know what their detailed expenses are, not only as a dollar amount, but as a percentage.”

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