Organize your workflow and production

Published On: March 1, 2011Categories: Features, Management

A fabricator shares his system for effectively communicating assignments and organizing schedules.

I purchased Weaver Canvas, a successful marine canvas shop, in May 2002. As we started to grow the company and add employees, it became clear that our work order process needed to be improved.

I had always been impressed with the work order process of one of our boat dealership customers. When I visited the shop, the work orders were visible, neat and orderly. I asked them about their process and if they would show me how it worked. They graciously agreed, and the service manager spent a couple of hours showing me the logistics and organization. He had previous automotive experience and played a big role in developing their process.

I took what I learned from the boat dealership and combined it with what I needed for the canvas shop. The result is a hybrid process based off of the automotive, boat service department and marine canvas shop processes.

This system helps us to clearly communicate assignments, work scopes and technical details, as well as organize work priorities and schedules. The work orders stay visible so everyone can see the big picture.

Process overview

Figure 1 in the box above shows a basic white copy of the work order. The front of the white copy is where the work scope and all of the technical details of the job are recorded. Fill out the front of the white copy when the phone rings with an inquiry or when meeting the customer for the first time at the boat.

Use the financial worksheet on the back of the white copy to quote the job. If using QuickBooks to create an estimate, write the estimate number (not the dollar amount) on the top left front of the white copy.

When the job is awarded (by deposit received or by management decision), fill out the landscape section on the white copy. We use a black Sharpie marker for the landscape since it is bold and easy to see when sitting in a work rack. Note: If the landscape information is not filled out, then it is an estimate, not a job. When the landscape information is filled out, then it is a job. When the job is awarded, the job is a “go.” We also create a QuickBooks invoice at this time and record the invoice number on the top left front of the white copy.

Administration and assignment

A white copy that has the landscape information filled out with a black Sharpie is an official job. We then make a blue copy and a yellow copy of the work order using blue and yellow colored paper (Figures 1, 2, 3 in the box above). Note that the blue and yellow copies are just copies of the front of the white copy. The blue copy is preprinted on the back with a section to record time and materials. The yellow copy is a blank sheet of yellow paper.

We place the white copy in the office file cabinet. Financial information about the job is only recorded on the white copy to keep it from floating around the shop.

Next, we place the blue and yellow copies in the workflow racks. At this point, the assignment, prioritizing and scheduling of the work order is very visible (see image on in the box at the top of the page). The shop manager assigns and schedules work using the placement in the workflow racks. We mounted a planning calendar beside the work racks to assist with scheduling. The employee holds the blue copy while the work is in progress and records actual time spent and materials used on the back of the blue copy.

The yellow copy is a visual place holder and never leaves the workflow rack until the job is complete. The yellow copy provides a continuous visual display of all work in the shop. This is essential when assigning, prioritizing and scheduling work.

The workflow racks can be labeled and organized in whatever way benefits the shop. Work can be reassigned or priorities changed by simply repositioning the work order in the work rack. I recommend that rules be put in place as to who is allowed to reposition work in the rack. The most important rule is that the yellow copy stays in the work rack.

Close out

When the installation is complete, the white, blue and yellow copies are rejoined. The manager then reviews the work order and invoice, and compares the actual hours and materials recorded on the blue copy to the quote that is recorded on the white copy. This provides valuable feedback to our pricing and quotation practices. Final invoices are forwarded to the customer using QuickBooks. We use the QuickBooks reporting functions to track open invoices and accounts receivable.

This article uses a lot of words to describe a very visual process. Take a look at the pictures of the three-copy work order, the work racks and the planning calendar. Being able to see the entire picture is one of the key benefits of this system.

Chris Patterson is owner of Weaver Canvas in Wilmington, N.C.