PROCESSING small projects
Jun 1, 2000 12:00 PM, Alan Kruglak
In life, there are many questions that appear to be so complex that weavoid any direct attempt to answer them. For instance, when it comes to themale of our species, one question that usually goes unanswered involves aman's generalrefusal to ask for directions, especially when in the companyof the opposite sex. Contrary to what most women believe, the answer issimple - men do not ask for directions because they are afraid to show anysigns of weakness. Any indication of weakness in the presence of a woman,in the mind of the male, can only lead to the loss of more rights,privileges and, of course, closet space.
Another question that has baffled the minds of even the most advanced malesinvolves a woman's tendency to own so many pairs of shoes. The traditionalanswer has always been that they need an array of colors to match differentoutfits. The real answer, which was secretly revealed to me, is quitedifferent. According my sources, women possess hundreds, if not thousands,of pairs of shoes simply to annoy men as well as justify their need tocontrol and occupy every closet in the house. You heard it here first.
Problems with small projects
In running a low-voltage systems integration business, many companies areconfronted with similar questions for which the answers also seem ratherelusive. For instance, at my former integration company, one of the goodproblems we faced every day was the need to perform small, stand-alonetasks requiring less than 16 hours of labor - moves, adds and changes withexisting clients. Such tasks are good because they are profitable business,but they were also somewhat problematic for us because our company was notset up to handle these types of small projects efficiently. We were gearedto installing mid-sized, meat-and-potato projects that usually requiredbetween 100 and 300 man-hours of labor. Whenever we booked a small add-onto an existing client, we would encounter one or both of the followingproblems.
The first difficulty was the long lead-time syndrome. We would tell theclient that it would take three to four weeks to install the order. Thesales representative would become demoralized while the client would lookat us in complete disbelief. After hours going around in circles, we wouldrespond according to the level of bellyaching from sales and the client.The louder the grumbling, the more we would reallocate labor resources totake care of the client's needs.
The other difficulty was the job-hopping dilemma. Assuming the client wonround one, earning an earlier installation date, we would perform jobhopping. Job hopping is a common ritual among installing companies in whichyou take a crew off an existing job and reallocate it to take care ofsomething else. The problem with job hopping is that it inevitablyincreases your cost of doing business by increasing the amount ofunproductive time associated with setting up and breaking down. This wasone of the key reasons why our actual labor for a project exceeded ourbudgeted labor by more than 70%. For us, job hopping also had theunexpected side effect of causing unhappiness for the client whose site thetechnicians were evacuating. It was a no-win situation, but at that time,we had no choice but to do it.
We solved the small-add-on problem by creating a quick action response team(QART). Beginning as a two-man installation crew (one senior technician andone assistant), our QART was responsible for installing all small projectsthat had labor budgets of 16 man-hours or less. The QART was alsoresponsible for the engineering, design, scheduling, project management,procurement of equipment (from inventory), installation and commissioningof these projects. The success of QART was made readily evident by itsrapid growth. The number of QART crews grew from one to five in less thantwo years. Eventually, we even raised the number of hours for QART workfrom 16 to 72 hours. Ultimately, QART provided the following directbenefits for our company:
- Increased labor productivity: Our labor productivity increased bysignificantly reducing the amount of job hopping and the additional timerequired for the set up and break down of equipment.
- Increased small orders: Unknown to us, our sales force had been shyingaway from smallorders because they did not want to disappoint theirclients. With the QART in place, the number of our small orders increased,plus it gave our salespeople an additional competitive advantage.
- Increased client satisfaction: By responding to the needs of our clientsquickly, we were able to maintain a high level of client satisfaction.
- Path to senior management: QART provided our senior technicians with away to gain project management experience, taking them a step closer toproject management positions and increasing the likelihood of their stayingwith the company for a longer period of time.
Some questions challenge us to be more innovative and try new solutions.The problems inherent in processing small jobs represented that type ofchallenge. The solution was not derived from outsiders; it was created atthe university of trial and error. We tried several solutions until wefound one that worked, and in the end, it worked extremely well. As forwomen's shoes, I only have one recommendation - install a lock on yourcloset door.