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Setting Schedules: Creating Service Out of Order

Late signs or are your jobs off schedule?

By Staff

Sign shops don't generally decide to be late with a sign or the installation of a sign. For a variety of reasons, job just get off schedule.

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  • How does it happen? Well, your shop has been growing more and more. What started as a one-man operation has grown into a multiple-work station, multiple-employee job site.

    In fact, you have so many employees now that your work schedule is full of paperwork for various government agencies, for the health care, for the insurance, and for so many other things that you can't remember them all.

    When it was just you painting wooden signs in your basement, you knew what had to be done, when it had to be done, and when the job had to be installed. Collecting your money and paying your bills was a Texas-two-step.

    Now confusion reins. You are lucky to remember which employee has the day off, let alone what job has to be done when. It is time for your business to get scheduled and organized. With many employees and multiple jobs going on at the same time, creating a scheduling and organization system is often harder than making the signs.

    If your shop is not getting its work done on time, it may need some careful attention to scheduling. Once you get a system going, it becomes a daily routine, like brewing the morning coffee. But like the coffee, a scheduling system can get your shop going and can keep its employees and projects on task. Your customers will be happier.

    Starting a system isn't even that difficult. Just start on Monday. With each new job that comes in, be sure to put it into your new system. In no time, the whole shop will have an orderly schedule. Work will be completed on time as promised.

    Let the chaos end.

    Here's what you need to do. Start with an order book or an in-take book. An efficient in-take book should have spaces to write down when the job was taken, when the job is to be finished and installed, who is to be billed, and what the job requires.

    It will also be helpful if the book is used to assign invoice numbers for each job. This numbering will be important later in the organization process. The important thing is that everything is put in writing.

    Make sure that the invoice number stays with the project or work order. The in-take book and the numbering system will keep you straight about each and every job. This comes in handy when you have so many projects going at the same time.

    After you take the phone call or customer order down in the in-take book, fill out a work order. There are several ways to handle work orders. You can operate off of one copy of a work order. However, some shops use as many as five copies and send a copy to each department or employee.

    Perhaps the most effective way to handle work orders is to have two or three copies. With this system, you can give one copy to the production manager (most likely the shop owner or foreman) and attach a copy attached to the job. Make sure that the work order and copies all have the invoice number on them.

    A third copy of the work order could be sent to who will do most of the required work. This allows some planning in the use of employees, equipment, and materials.

    Changes to the work order or changes in the job specifications must be noted on all paperwork connected with this particular job.

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    Devise a system for recording these changes. Try using a brightly colored stationary for the notations to an amended job. Post these changes in a central location so that employees can check this notations.

    Those currently with the designated job are responsible for adding the latest amendments to the work order. Make sure, however, that the original copy (usually the one for filing that you, the foreman, or a supervisor) gets amended as well as the production copy (the one that accompanies the work).

    Keep the each day's work orders posted in a central accessible location so that everyone in shop knows what is to be done on a given day. The best way to post orders is on a dry erase board.

    There are, of course, again several ways to do this. One is to post columns for the days of the week and then place invoice numbers in the appropriate days that the jobs are to be done.

    Another more technical way of posting jobs would be to run four copies of your work order. Place the fourth copy on a corkboard that has permanent columns for two weeks' worth of dates. This system allows for employees to look at the entire work order rather than just looking at an invoice number. It permits sign workers to see how the whole week's schedule looks.

    This system is also a lot easier to alter if an order's due date is changed. (Of course, if a job is amend, make sure that the amendments are noted on the posted work order.)

    If you do decide to actually posted the work orders, you may want to devise a system of marking the job's progress on the posted work order. For example, once the vinyl gets cut, the cutter should make the work order with a colored check mark, stamp, or sticker it so that the other people working on the job know that the vinyl has been done. You will also want to mark jobs that are to be installed and jobs that are finished.

    An adaptation to the dry erase/corkboard scheduling board is an installation board. This can be a very important tool to getting jobs completed.

    Sometimes sign workers lose track of which jobs are to be installed at what time and by whom. On the installation board, mark columns for the days of the week. Then note when a job is to be installed (by invoice number), and who is to install a job. This will prevent a lot of confusion and inevitable delays. Your employees will thank you; your customers will thank you.

    Some sign shops use meetings to communicate what is going on with scheduling the crew. Meeting should be kept very short. They should go over all existing jobs-what they will require and their deadlines. Those jobs that aren't to be started until later in the week shouldn't take long to get through.

    However, the jobs that must be completed soon will take a little longer. Let employees know what they should be doing on a particular job for the day. Make sure they understand where they are in project's process and when the whole project has to be completed.

    If you do this, you can be more comfortable with leaving your employees for the day to go meet with potential clients. These shop meetings will also allow your employees to feel a part of something bigger. They can know how their role is important to the finished product and that the shop may be depending on their completing their assigned work on time.

    Many businesses have gone high tech in the field of scheduling. Some shops generate several spreadsheets to cover one job. However, this tends to be unnecessary and ineffective.

    For the most part, computer spreadsheets involve closing out existing projects, opening files, and entering data. These are three steps that can be cut out by simply writing down the information and putting the appropriate documentation where it belongs. That is, of course, assuming you do not have a data entry specialist.

    Remember, invoice numbers are very important in scheduling and organizing jobs. Invoice numbers should be on every document concerning a project. These numbers make clear the filing system (for hard copy files and for computer files such as graphics.

    If you start organizing and scheduling your business today, your business will run much more smoothly in no time. Organization brings structure, and structure brings order.

    These organization techniques are rather low maintenance. If you can't do them all, pick out the ones that would be most beneficial to your business and use those.

    Not every shop requires all of these techniques. But every shop should have some system for scheduling and organizing the work.

    Late jobs and lost jobs can be expensive. The sign industry is service-oriented. Good service is good business. An appropriate scheduling system and organizing system helps ensure good service regardless of your shop's size or how much you wish for the old days.

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