One of my favorite cooking terms is mise en place. It’s a French term that can be translated a few different ways, but it basically means that you have all your ingredients out, measured, cut, diced, etc. before you start cooking. Committing to getting all the ingredients prepped and accounted for at the start of cooking has made me a far better cook (Writer’s note, though: just because I love it, doesn’t mean I’m great at it. In fact, I’ve been known to take a recipe that calls for 45 minutes of work and turn it into a two-hour ordeal. Just ask my wife about a certain 10:30 p.m. Valentine’s Day dinner!). I can relax and focus on technique instead of looking for that jar of dijon mustard that’s hiding in the back of our fridge—or worse yet, realizing I am missing an ingredient altogether.
So, why am I mentioning cooking and mise en place? Well, I actually believe it really correlates to our industry. How many times have we started on a repair without all the parts, or the OEM procedures, or the paint mixed? How about working on a vehicle without having all the hardware needed to put it back together? Before I get ahead of myself, I do admit that getting all the ingredients prepared and ready before cooking is an easier task than doing so at the start of a collision repair. However, I’d argue it’s far more important and valuable to do so in our profession.
Set Yourself Up
To answer what is surely the next logical question—“Why isn’t it done more often then?”—I believe the simplest answer is also the correct one: We’ve done things a certain way for far too long and developed poor habits.
I believe our industry's greatest strength, the ingenuity of the technicians, is also our greatest weakness. You can put just about any challenge in front of a body tech and they can solve it.
If we can get by with the way we’ve always done things, it makes it more difficult to see our full potential if we made improvements.
When I work in the kitchen, I don’t possess the same skills to get myself out of jams like our technicians do. If I have the temperature too high on the pan, I tend to overcook, instead of adding oil to bring down the temp or adjusting the flame. But our highly skilled, highly trained technicians? They can easily adapt when we don’t have everything in place for them—they’re our seasoned line cooks, if you will.
The issue, however, is that we can’t solely rely on the skills and quick thinking of our technicians anymore. Whether you are focusing on being more profitable in 2021 or moving in the direction of repairing a vehicle per OE repair procedures, the effort at the front end of the repair process is becoming more critical. We can no longer afford to not make all the decisions needed on the front end, or we’ll suffer a chaotic, potentially unsafe end to the repair.
For example, if we don’t determine what calibrations are needed on a vehicle before we start repairing it, we will likely make costly decisions at the end of the repair. Taking a vehicle for a test drive and confirming that the blind spot monitors are working is not an accurate assessment that we did the repair correctly. Using a scanner, reading OE repair procedures, and/or using a service like adasThink on the front end helps ensure that we include a line to calibrate the blind spot sensor post-repair on the estimate. This prepares us to make consistent, profitable, and safe repairs.
When it comes to parts, there is a long list of ways that shops decide the timing of allowing a vehicle into production. The old way was to start the job when some parts arrived. On the other end of the scale I knew of a shop that would test fit every single part, including nameplates, and wouldn’t start work on the vehicle until it had 100 percent of its parts, including info labels.
While the first example seems archaic and the second example might seem insane, the bottom line is you have to define the system that will work best for your company and communicate it well enough that everyone completely understands.
At our shop, we don’t allow a vehicle into production unless we have all the parts needed to get the vehicle through the paint booth. If there is a missing info label or a decal, we will proceed while waiting for those parts. While that might not be a perfect system, everyone here can understand it and follow the rule. You will use less time and energy to complete a profitable, safe, and stress-free repair.
Early in my cooking journey, the kitchen would look like a bomb went off upon finishing a recipe. That’s before I understood the value of mise en place. The other night I finished making a meal that I had never made before only to find that the entire kitchen was cleaned up before the meal was even finished. Mise en place made all the difference.
Similarly, I can remember a time when it felt like a fire drill getting last-minute items done as each vehicle neared completion. Panicking to find a sublet vendor to get a dash light cleared or driving 45 minutes to pick up the last part was the norm. Now, the research procedures completed up front and the parts system we’ve put into place have allowed a peaceful end to the repair. Again, mise en place made the difference.
Whether you’re cooking a meal, or performing a collision repair, it pays huge dividends to make all the decisions up front and make sure you have everything you need to complete the job.