Scheduling for Success

April 1, 2012
Want to cut cycle time? A critical approach to scheduling will help.

About two years ago, with Moreno Valley Auto Mall Collision Center under new ownership, manager Louis Simpson was challenged with finding new ways to improve operations.

One area Simpson saw potential for advancement was in vehicle scheduling, an area he hadn’t analyzed before. Instead of simply assigning repairs and letting technicians finish them when they could, he decided to take a more critical approach, evaluating employee efficiencies and using those to set deadlines in each department. So far, the change has shaved five days off of the shop’s cycle time, bringing it to 8.8 days.

“If you’re just one-day oriented … from the estimator all the way to the detailer, it doesn’t drive or hold accountable any portions individually,” Simpson says, noting that many shops only consider the day the vehicle is due without evaluating how it will get there.

“All of my technicians have to have bought into a culture that we have here. ... We all work for the common good and the common goal of doing the best job that we can as quick as we can on every job to make that customer happy.”
—Gerry Baugh, owner, Baugh Auto Body

Gerry Baugh, owner of Baugh Auto Body in Richmond, Va., agrees that well-thought-out scheduling is crucial to success, both in terms of customer satisfaction and maximizing key performance indicators (KPIs). An efficient scheduling strategy that takes into account technician efficiency, shop capacity, repair severity and potential problems contributes big to Baugh Auto Body’s remarkable two-day cycle time.

“All of my technicians have to have bought into a culture that we have here,” Baugh says. “And that culture is we all work for the common good and the common goal of doing the best job that we can as quick as we can on every job to make that customer happy.”

Baugh, Simpson and industry consultants Mike Anderson, of CollisionAdvice, and Brian Evison, of Bemack Planning Services, weigh in on how to structure scheduling processes for optimal efficiency.

“The first rule that shops that schedule well take into consideration is labor load leveling for technicians or teams,” Anderson says. “You know that a certain technician or a certain team can produce so many hours of labor per week or pay period, so your goal is always to keep them at capacity.”

Knowing your shop’s labor capacity requires knowing your technicians—their efficiencies and what skills they specialize in. The only way to figure this out is to monitor technicians closely and track the speed in which they finish individual jobs. In shops that have management systems, this can usually be done automatically.

Baugh says each of his technicians clock in and out of specific jobs through his shop’s management system, which calculates their efficiencies based on work history. Those efficiencies are used to determine how many billable hours a technician can work in an average day. Baugh uses those averages to determine how many hours the entire shop is capable of working on a given day, and he plugs those into his management system each morning based on available employees.    

As he starts flowing vehicles into the system, it will use the labor hours he entered, along with projected repair times to determine capacity. It will display a green light to show the shop is under capacity, a yellow light when it is nearing capacity, and a red light when it is over capacity. 

“Once we reach that point, we talk about it,” Baugh says. “Every morning we look at these cars to see what’s there and see how we can reduce that red or yellow to keep us in the green. … We book heavy every single day with the amount of billable hours that we know that we can get done. And potentially we know every day that we can get an extra 20 percent out of the end.”

Baugh uses his intimate knowledge of each technician’s skill set to accommodate that additional capacity. For instance, he might move a technician to do teardowns or trim-out—any task he knows an employee is particularly quick at—to squeeze in additional hours that the management system’s averages can’t account for. Baugh Auto Body’s incredible touch time of 11 hours indicates just how well his technicians are placed; they’re always working on a vehicle.

“My whole shop is one team,” Baugh says. “How we break that down is different on a day-to-day basis.”

Knowing capacity is important, but so is a firm understanding of severity, or how quickly one technician or a team of technicians can move through light, medium and heavy hits, Anderson says. Many shops today have added two additional categories of severity—ultra light hits and light heavy hits—to further help guide the assignment of vehicles.

Say a shop has two teams and each team’s capacity is 1,000 hours. Both teams reach 75 percent of that capacity in terms of hours, but one has three heavy hits and the other has one. Based on their capacities, either team could take the next job, but this is where efficiency averages need to be broken down beyond daily capabilities—how long will it take the technicians on the team with three heavy hits to complete those jobs? And what complications might come up with those jobs that the team with lighter hits won’t experience?

“You have to take into consideration a combination of the labor hours a team can turn, which comes directly from efficiencies and how many hours are worked, in conjunction with the types of hits,” Anderson says.

Setting deadlines for each department based on efficiencies is the next step toward more efficient scheduling. Evison, of Bemack Planning Services, says the strategy helps provide accountability for staff.

“We get so busy fixing cars. That’s what we do. We put our head down … and try to keep customers happy, and keep employees happy. We become almost like a tail wagging the dog,” Evison says. “You have to plan to make money. You can’t do it by chance, or by accident as some people say, because that’s the business we’re in.”

Simpson, of Moreno Valley Auto Mall Collision Center, says creating deadlines based on staff efficiencies has made a big impact on his business. When he opted to revamp his scheduling process two years ago, he began tracking each of his employees’ efficiencies, looking at what they could produce in six months to a year for various jobs.

He uses that data to distribute repair jobs and set expectations for completion. As new jobs come in, he evaluates the type of repair, his employees’ workloads, their efficiencies and their individual skillsets before assigning vehicles and setting deadlines based on all of that information. Simpson, like Baugh, considers his shop’s capacity, as well as the needs of the insurance company and customer.

Evison says accurate scheduling is only one aspect of running a successful shop, but it’s an important one that shouldn’t be overlooked. Running a profitable shop requires more than hard work, he says. It takes ample planning and a critical thinking.
“We know where we’re going,” Evison says. “How are we going to get there?”

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