If you’re running a shop, there’s no doubt you’ve heard: “What’s your lead time?” “If I give you an order, how soon before I can get the top installed?” “The other company told me they could have the work done in five days.”
Perhaps we shouldn’t use the expression “lead times,” but, rather, “customer wait times.” To my mind, this makes a lot more sense. Usually, the customer has been waiting for a lot of things to happen: a phone call or e-mail back to initiate the job, measurements and then a price quote. All these things happen before the contract is even signed.
So much happens before a product is ready to hit the floor. If certain processes aren’t done correctly, then the pressure really starts to build and the rush to complete the job falls onto the production team’s shoulders. If you can objectively look at all your processes, you will see that many of the questions mentioned at the beginning of the article won’t be necessary. More importantly, your company will be more productive, you’ll see an increase in profits, and you can brand your company as one that really has its act together.
Let’s look at some processes in a shop where improvement can be made to shorten customer wait times.
In our shop, any process that slows the work down is called a cluster point. For example, any of the following areas can cause a potential hold up in the work: estimating, engineering, material ordering, scheduling, etc. When things go wrong in any of these departments, customer wait times increase.
You could compare the situation to chicken farming. The chicken farmer may know he has 45 chickens that can produce approximately 80 eggs, so he can without doubt tell his customers how many eggs they can get each day; however, if he’s not paying attention, a fox could invade the coop and then he’s down to 40 chickens. Some customers are not going to be happy — and now he has egg on his face. (Sorry, had to get that in there.) You see the point. You as a manager have to know how all of your processes are operating in order to deliver what all of your customers need, when they need it. It’s really not that hard to do.
Let’s look at estimating first. We all know it is standard policy to get three quotes before you start a job, but studies show the first quote received will be the one used 50 percent of the time — regardless of who’s cheaper. If you get your quote in first, you stand to gain a competitive advantage. But this isn’t the only part of the estimating process that’s important. You also need to know your success rate. If you’re winning too many bids, you might be pricing too low, in which case an adjustment might be in order. Here you might have a cluster point.