Articles

Balancing the Busy Business Schedule

by Christian D. Malesic, MBA, CAE, CMP, IOM

Scheduling jobs is a juggling act. As long as all of the balls are in the air, the act is going smoothly. Oft times, however, when one ball is dropped, the juggler may drop a few more balls while attempting to pick up and add back into the routine the first one that fell. Scheduling becomes even more complicated when implementing a diversification strategy by mixing in various sized jobs (juggling different sized balls). Diversifying the company by simultaneously performing small, medium, and large jobs can reduce risk significantly.

Large jobs have "all eggs in one basket" benefits and associated problems. All of the crews are working and life is good when the job is going well. However, when a significant supplier delivery is a few days late, the whole job may come to a screeching halt. Even more importantly, if the owner does not pay fast enough, the company's cash flow and finances similarly stop on the dime. Smaller jobs have the opposite pros and cons. Checks flow regularly, though smaller, and there is much more flexibility in the schedule when parts are delayed or sickness plagues the workforce. Medium-sized jobs are the perfect balance - there are just not enough of them out there for a medium to larger contractor to keep busy. The answer is obvious: a healthy mix of all three job sizes. But, how does one schedule such a mess?

A mind's eye visual can bring the scheduling process into full clarity. Imagine a large glass jar into which you must place baseball-sized rocks, marble-sized pebbles, and sand. If you put the pebbles in first, the large rocks will sit on top and the sand will overflow the brim. It is a puzzle analogous to job scheduling; wherein the rocks represent large jobs, pebbles the medium jobs, and sand the smaller jobs. The solution, both to the jar puzzle and to job scheduling, is the creation of holes.

First, place into the jar (the schedule) all of the large rocks (large jobs). As you peer through the side of the jar (the weekly or monthly schedule) you will see plenty of holes and dead space. Next, finesse in the pebbles (medium jobs) by adding a few into the mix. Then, gently shake the jar (massage the schedule) to allow the pebbles to sift into the available holes. Allow the medium-sized jobs to fill in the holes created by the ebbs and flows of the large jobs. Once all the pebbles are in the jar add in the sand (smaller jobs) using the same approach. The smaller the job, the easier it is to find a hole in the schedule.

Creating such an intricately woven schedule can no longer be easily accomplished with a paper desk calendar and a pencil. Contractors must turn to software applications to sort various sized jobs while also managing the milestone tasks on each job. Almost all PCs with basic office application software come standard with Microsoft Outlook, which has a simple and easy-to-use calendar tool to accomplish basic scheduling for the small to medium contractor. Outlook can be customized using colors to represent crews; so, jobs can be easily moved as the days pass and schedules slip or accelerate. Outlook does have its limitations and can be quickly outgrown.

Companies that like the feel, colors, and flexibility of Outlook; but have simply outgrown it, can switch to any number of commercially available applications; such as: Milum's Office Tracker Scheduling Software. Programs like Office Tracker have a larger capacity while still performing the same as Outlook. Additionally, such applications allow conference rooms and large/specialty equipment to be scheduled along with crews, Project Managers, client meetings, and inspections.

The sophisticated contractor will want to add a detailed scheduling layer to manage tasks within a particular job (demolition, framing, wiring, insulation, drywall, etc.). Again, there are many software choices from which to choose. Microsoft's Project, which allows advanced users to produce calendars, schedules, progress completion, and Gantt charts to track each individual task or trade within a project, has dominated the marketplace for years and is the industry's benchmark for comparison purposes. No matter which application is chosen, scheduling software is clearly a must-have tool for all contractors.

Project Management is no longer just about providing parts, pieces, and manpower. As jobs become more customized and the customers' options continue to increase exponentially, the mastery of scheduling the jobs themselves and the tasks within each job is essential to achieving customer satisfaction at every phase of project completion.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Christian D. Malesic, MBA, CAE, CMP, IOM provides insight on nonprofit management, executive decision-making, business operations, personal finance, marketing, construction issues, and occasionally, on political philosophy / history. To see more by Christian, visit www.Malesic.us or to receive notice of the newest articles written by Christian, follow him Parler @CDMalesic or on Twitter @CDMalesic.

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