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Database/project management software4/2/15
We are a 3-man custom cabinet shop, and even at our small size I need to get the project details out of my head and into the computer. Better organization and communication is the goal. We don't have thousands to throw at a turnkey suite. I am considering building our own using FileMaker or preferably some kind of cloud-based product. We would like to integrate time tracking, scheduling, materials, documents/submittals, estimating, change orders, i.e., as much info as possible.
I've looked at Intuit's Quickbase but the minimum monthly fee costs far more than FileMaker in the long run. Basecamp looks like an option but I don't know if it's flexible enough, even with the plug-ins that are available.
Filemaker is good stuff, Schultz talks about it all the time, one of the things he is RIGHT about.
For scheduling I would look at google calendar and sharing it on your cell phones.
Time tracking is not that big of deal these days. Get something that works on your cell phones.I think you can get some free ware or an app.
For the other QB is hard to beat, it will work at multiple stations.
I get that you want to integrate everything but that costs money, and the opportunity cost for not just the software but the learning curve is not worth it for a smaller shop.
I think for estimating the key is to have unit pricing for whatever you are bidding. I.E. not per ft prices but a box price and a price for the add ons.
Be careful that you don't end up in an eddy that is trivial to your main purpose.
Check out xTuple Postbooks
When we used to track time*, one of the biggest time wasters was going back and trying to figure out the right time when someone forgot to enter stop or start times.
So my advice if you're going to track time is to use something that is easy.
*Most of our operations (steps, routing processes) are fairly repeatable, so we now use standard times for 99% of our jobs. For the occasional one-off - once or twice a month - we print the Work Order on orange paper instead of white, as a reminder to track time.
As to the other points, I'm afraid I don't have any direction, except to echo Pat's advice to not let management become your business. Custom writing a database, while potentially very rewarding in terms of giving you what you want, can be extremely time consuming.
In another life in another industry we had a guy write a simple database for us. It worked great but wasn't near worth the man year of lost production from the high priced engineer who did it.
I started using Smartsheet. It's simple, intuitive, project management type spreadsheet on the cloud with Gantt charts. Can attach files etc. for easy reference, share portions of it etc. I view the business as one long ongoing project where start of one project is contingent on the completion of the last etc. Previously used Microsoft project. It's similar with the Gantt charts. I would't try to do every aspect of the business in one program.
I've thought about cloud based programs. Seems to be the in thing now. But given our 3rd world internet provider it doesn't seem like a good idea.
As Pat & others have stated, database systems can really help you leverage your management dollars. A well formulated database can free up your shop foreman to actually spend his time managing production rather than just play whack-a-mole.
Producing a database that will drive two or three guys on a local area network is a pretty simple process. Building something that is scaleable and still performs well when it has a lot of records is a completely different project.
We have been developing a management software that works well for any industry but is specifically targeted for the cabinet shop that wants to implement lean manufacturing. The package we are working with is useful to the 1-3 man shop but scaleable for the shop with 20 or more guys. It's written to take advantage of smart phone technology and is optimized for iPads as well.
It will actually allow you to be the guy driving the cart instead of the one pulling it.
Tim Schultz- can you give an example of what kind of solutions smaller cabinet shops (less than 5 guys) have come up with? I have 3 guys- simple enough- but at any given time we can have up to 20 jobs at various stages. This means guys walking into my office all day to pick my brain on the details of a job. This makes things hard in the office. I picked up a trial copy of FileMaker and it seems pretty slick but before I invest lots of time building a solution I'd like to see if there are any other ideas I should consider before making that investment. Thanks.
Not sure your product mix, but Business Partner by True 32 is wonderful. A new version is in the works, but won't be released till Las Vegas. It will have the same function as the current version, just updated, and on a much more up to date version of FileMaker. IMO, it would be worth it to get the current version, get moving with it, you'll pay for it in a job or two. Like all tools, the better you implement it the better the communication of at least some of the details should be between you, client, and shop. Or put ALL the notes on your shop drawings and don't leave ANYTHING to their imaginations.
Apart from expensive ERP solutions, this is one of, if not the best bang for your buck things out there.
You're never going to get realistic ERP software out of a database program. You could get closer with SQL but Filemaker all by itself is not going to make that happen. It's easy to fall into the trap of trying to create the big brain be all - do all package but this approach will eventually collapse under it's own weight and complexity.
That being said you can get a lot of useful help out of simple databases linked together. If you spend a little bit of time on this yourself you will soon learn the basic rule of database development is that you don't have to be terribly smart, you just have to be slightly smarter than the guy that hires you.
You do, however, get out of it what you put into it. If you are willing to go deep you will get more utility out of the program. This does take a commitment of time. It almost has to be a hobby. A well informed vision is really helpful. Filemaker is conversational. Anything you can imagine you can write code for.You have to really understand the business you are coding to get the most out of it.
Job costing & estimating projects is one component that Filemaker does well.
Think about the crab boat fisherman who makes $80K in the first month of the season but $30K for the year. A well built database can keep this from happening.
Hi! Maybe you should try a specialized project management software, such as, Comindware Project (https://www.comindware.com/project/)? I use this program for 2 months, and pleased with the results.
You may try Fluxes. It's a powerful yet free web based tool loaded with all the features you need. Create project boards, add tasks, track, report and communicate with team members, all at one place.