Installation scheduling

When he can't keep up with the jobs the sales staff hands him, what's an installer to do? June 24, 2001

I am the project manager at a small kitchen and bath shop. We have a sales and design staff of three, office support of two, and my install staff of three. Our company sells and orders in cabinets for our jobs, and it's my job to deliver, install, build some custom pieces, and install appliances. In other words, they sell it and we make it happen.

While some of our projects are modest, most are fairly high end. The average project has a large kitchen, an entertainment center or two, a bar, office, and endless vanities, with lots of crown, light valance, furniture base mouldings, the works. The average project is about $40,000 in cabinetry and another $20,000 in appliances. We did about 40 projects in 2000, and while we always felt behind, I felt we were in control. Our workload is still increasing and I'm starting to feel like I'm sinking.

We try to maintain a schedule, but between job site delays, customer-dictated extras, and our own sales staff over-estimating what can be done in a week, a schedule seems like a lost cause some days. We're snowballing at this point; the busier we are, the harder to finish up projects; the longer each job is open, the bigger the punchlist gets -- the harder it is to close the job.

Does anyone have guidelines they schedule with as far as what an installer can get done in a week?

Forum Responses
Boy, is this a familiar refrain! I often think we need to revise the old saying "East is East and West is West and never the 'twain shall meet" to something like, "Salespeople are dreamers, production is reality, and when will the former get with the program??"

Seriously, it can be very frustrating to head the production end of a sales-focused company, and the less stuff a company actually manufactures (as opposed to bringing it in), the more sales-focused the company tends to be. That's because salespeople, in general, are all about immediate gratification, and they figure if the company is getting stuff brought in, the job should pretty much fly together onsite. Which of course is seldom the case, as you know all too well, Brad! But once they've sold a job, they're already thinking about the next -- so your challenge is to be heard *before* each job is sold.

I get real nervous whenever I see a request for "industry averages," "ratios," etc. The answer to your problem lies not in ratios based on the experience of many companies, but in *your company's* specific sales/install history. It'll take some analysis, but the best way to show your sales staff (and company management) that you're in a downward spiral in terms of getting stuff done on time is by proving it with actual numbers from real jobs.

This means analyzing install hours across several jobs of varying types (i.e., mid-range, high-end, and ultra-tricked-out), then maybe classifying jobs into one of those categories at the pricing/proposal stage, and basing install/customization time on actual history.

But however you get it, you must, as project manager, have some input into the estimating process if you're to have any prayer of reversing the spiral, and your input must be heeded, not written off or bargained away by the salesman, as is too often the case.

It's the case because there are lots of sales-focused companies out there (dare I say "most"?) whose management just doesn't give a damn about what your constraints are. The attitude is "Just get it done, whatever it takes." Until, of course, you come in over budget, a budget that never took your constraints into consideration in the first place.

Such companies are generally owned/managed by people who came up through sales and have little or no idea/appreciation of the technical/production demands they place on you by promising quick turnaround on jobs that really don't lend themselves to quick turnaround.

If this is the boat you're in, you have two choices: try to educate them and change the culture (which may get you fired, or drive you to quit), or just bail now and save yourself a lot of aggravation.

That's not to say Option One won't work, but it'll be a long row to hoe, and the more sales-focused the company is, the longer the row will be. But the fact remains: until production has input into the pricing process that reflects realistic installation/customization costs and concerns, the spiral you're on will continue to be downward.

If you decide to try to change things, and I think you owe it to yourself to try, remember to go in with solid numbers, and to sell the benefits of your approach (more on-time deliveries, larger profit margins, etc.). Be prepared for any question they may ask of you, and any complaint they may have (and they'll have plenty of 'em).

Finally, a thought from Robert Ringer: There are two types of preparation. Factual/tangible preparation (numbers, a solid presentation), and mental preparation. Be sure you've got both on your side.

Anthony Noel, forum technical advisor

I have just been hired as an installation manager for a large millwork company that is starting to provide turnkey packages. I am somewhat in the same situation. I am making progress by providing solid numbers and I have very good communications with the entire team. It may not look promising to the management in the short term, but long term it will benefit them. Within my division, I track and log histories, and you would be amazed when you throw the ball in the other guy's court as to why efficiency is not increasing.

Another avenue for both residential and commercial is contract installation--there are many advantages. If you can find dependable contractors and train them to your standards (two big ifs), you can expand and contract your installation force with the workload, fix your costs to a great extent, and really schedule. Contracting forces you to have your act together, because your contractor will be charging you for extra trips and mistakes. There are a number of liabilities to contracting too, but it's worth investigating. We install all our own work and we have a small, skilled in-house crew and a large number of excellent trained contractors and we're finding this works very nicely.

The root cause of your problem, if I understand what you are saying, and your company is like most I am familiar with, is the unit of measure.

Salespeople are measured on sales dollars; you are measured on "On time delivery, installation execution and completion”. The first is an infinite number; the second is not. In other words it may be said that the unit of measure for one is mutually exclusive of the other. I would sit down with the numbers that Anthony suggested you collect (no small task), the salespeople, and the company owners and see if everyone cannot agree upon a single unit of measure that provides each group with the same goal.

It may sound like an over-simplification, but profitability may be a unit of measure that everyone can benefit from using. Keep in mind that under the current system, the salespeople are probably paid a commission on total sales, which is why they currently are driving you into the ground. If you can persuade all parties involved to engage in the process, and brainstorm over this issue, your entire company should benefit, the lines of communication will open all by themselves, and the salespeople will be forced to look at each job for it’s profit potential. The end result will be a sales force that is focused on better sales rather than more sales, and they will be compensated based on that philosophy, as will you and your team.

I agree that there has to be a meeting of the minds on sales vs. production/installation, which is why I'm in charge of both in my company! This still hasn't kept us from getting overscheduled occasionally, but it has helped. We get into a bind when I forget that there is a finite capacity for production and an infinite capacity for sales. I schedule pretty carefully, by week and by department, and I avoid bidding in those time periods when we are clearly full.

The thing that production has to remember is that there is a minimum break-even dollar volume that the business must meet every moth or it will fail. The business has to know what that minimum is and exceed it every month to make profit. If the minimum plus x for profit amount is lower than what you are selling, then you may have to face the hard fact that you don't need one or two of your salesmen--this harsh fact is a disincentive for the sales force to even discuss the problem. It's a question of balance.

That last (and eloquent) post prompts one more thought that I'd urge all who manage sales/production operations to remember:

Just as sales are an infinite number, so is pricing. If a client really wants something at a given time, and a given quality, *you* get to name the price. This tends to be truer of custom operations, as I wrote in the piece linked below, but in a robust economy, even non-custom and semi-custom operations have more leeway when it comes to pricing.

The rule is simple: If a customer is gonna insist on being "leapfrogged" ahead of another, or ahead of your realistic timeline, they'd best be willing to pay for it.

The PDQ Rule

Anthony Noel, forum technical advisor