I own a shop that produces stairs, cabinets and what we call shop supported finish carpentry. We build a variety of items, both in shop and installation on site. We serve a resort community and it is pretty high end. I have been building for 30 plus years, have been in business for a good number of those years and have worked for others.
What techniques do you use to communicate with your employees? There is communication via drawings. You know - plan and elevations. Drawings are necessary, but not sufficient. There is communication or instructions about how to, i.e. how to take a pile of rough wood and turn it into a finished product. What step to take first, what step to take second, etc. Instructions or coaching about how to work as a team, machine setups, running machines, accuracy, how much time things should take. It goes on and on.
Some of the tools we use are:
A. Flow charts. We, as a team, write down the steps in order for the task at hand. The flow chart lists the steps, shows the order, indicates when the order is not critical, shows when steps can be done simultaneously and shows non-sequence-dependent steps. We write the flow chart on dry erase boards and hang them where the team can see them, refer to them as they work. We produce new flow charts for every task, every time. I could produce flow charts for all tasks while setting at my computer. But I want my team to own their flow, to engage their brains and think about how we are working. I think if I just handed them the solution, they might read it and they might follow it, but there would be no ownership of it, they would not necessarily buy into it. The look of the flow chart varies some based on the number of people on the team.
B. We use cut sheets that I produce on the computer. We have started to separate the cut sheets based on components. For example, if we were building cabinet doors, we would have a cut sheet for stiles, a cut sheet for rails, a cut sheet for panels and a cut sheet for the boards that make up the panels. These cut sheets would be sorted from longest to shortest or biggest to smallest. Sometimes the cut sheet will have a drawing on it showing how the piece looks at that step.
C. We use what we call process validation at each machine. That is a map of how to run that particular machine or work station. How to make sure that the work being produced at a given station is correct. Correct quantity, correct size, correct shape, correct material.
Even with these tools, we have some mistakes. Not a huge amount, but some. I think if we added people, the disconnects would increase exponentially. What do you use? What do the companies that employ 15-50 people use? How do the big boys communicate with all of those people?
(Business and Management Forum)
From contributor P:
Your system sounds good, particularly flowcharting. We use plans with comprehensive cut lists on them. Each machine has instructions attached to it (if it's complicated) and each also has a person assigned to it for maintenance and answering questions. Mistakes are bound to happen in any large and complex custom environment, but your system should minimize them. The other thing that we do that maybe you don't is have a floor foreman - our best and most experienced guy - whose primary duty is to answer questions about how to do things, to keep an eye on the less skilled people, and when necessary, to outline the best procedures to our newbies. Minimizing the turnover of your employees will also help minimize errors. The guys who have been with us for 5+ years and really know their job make the fewest mistakes.
As far as info back to the office, that is a good question. We have a column on the cut sheets for checking when a component has been made. And we write on the cut sheets "complete," date it, sign it when we have completed a cut sheet. Additionally, our cut sheets all have titles indicating job, phase or production run and what the cut sheet is for. This really comes in handy when we have to dig back through the paperwork to remake something or check if something has been built or shipped.
I am not sure if more detail is the answer. Personally, I get hung up on the details about everything. Whether you say "vacation" or "cabinets," my mind immediately sees all of the details associated with those activities.