Centralize and Automate Your Scheduling

Most builders manage their in-house production schedules quite well. But scheduling subcontractors is different story.

By Noelle Tarabulski | February 27, 2001


Noelle Tarabulski


Most builders manage their in-house production schedules quite well. But scheduling subcontractors is different story. Subs are often pulled in a lot of different directions if decisions of where they should be, and when, are not centralized. Resulting problems include missed critical dates like customer walk-throughs, closings, and construction frame checks. Usually builders begin feeling these effects more acutely when they build 75 homes or more per year. And as the organization grows, more and more employees need to know the status of each home. In truth, any-sized builder should make schedules available to others in the firm.

The good news is that technology tools can come to the rescue quite nicely. In fact, scheduling software is easier to use and more powerful than ever before. Some of the available applications are very user-friendly. Indeed, the software is finally at a point where all builders, big and small, can start to use scheduling applications effectively.

One of the primary benefits of a clear, well designed computerized scheduling system -- one that is updated to reflect events that occur each hour of every day -- is the ability to quickly send new information to all affected parties. For example, it can run reports that show where each trade needs to be for the next two weeks. Moreover, information can be customized, automatically generated, and faxed from your computer. And in some instances, field personnel can update schedules by hot-syncing laptops and hand-held computers with the network. The system can then auto-dial each trade to update their schedule via fax or e-mail. Even wireless technology can be used to update schedules, but this is still in its infancy.

Another significant benefit of centralized scheduling on a network is that it tends to be a once-and-done process, which is key to overall organizational effectiveness and to reducing cycle times. That said, it takes a lot of work, first to centralize your scheduling and then to put it on a network. Only then can these benefits begin to occur.

Getting Started
In most companies, scheduling is a source of consistent, low-level frustration that normally accelerates as volume increases. In order to be effective at scheduling, you first need to understand how work-processes are related. Experienced builders know how to compress the home building process in ways that novices wouldn’t consider. So the way to transform your scheduling is to include all the accumulated knowledge of your team into a technology tool that can track events and communicate with others easily.


Steps to Transform Your Scheduling Process

1. Establish a well-defined, functional schedule for each product type built.
2. Get group-consensus on the tasks, duration, and events of the schedule.
3. Establish key requirements of the software.
4. Review and, if possible, get a 30-day demo of the top two software programs you select.
5. Make sure the software is compatible with your current system.
6. Assign a person to learn the software and become a champion of the software and its capabilities.
7. Create a clear process-flow for the management of the scheduling systems.
8. Use effective management reports and summaries to help keep the process in working order.
9. Use your network, fax, wireless, hand-held or laptop computers to track, update, and distribute information.
10. Create and update a read-only schedule on the server so everyone can view the schedule as needed.

It all comes down to working out a plan for your schedule and then communicating and coordinating with others. Builders typically evolve through stages of the scheduling process. The fact is that as companies grow, problems impact your schedule much more than if you are only managing a few homes.

Many builders create schedules in their head, write it in a daily planner, and then develop a critical-path schedule. So it is no surprise to anyone that real progress on schedule times can be gained when you look at critical items versus non-critical items and schedule simultaneous events. The key here is getting the assistance of experienced field personnel. You need to take the combined wisdom that is available in your firm and funnel it into your operating system.

I always recommend that builders begin with a well thought-out schedule, carry it on a clipboard, and update it daily. The discipline imposed by using a manual schedule first, as a working tool, is a requirement before you can effectively use a computerized schedule. If the schedule in your head and daily work practices do not impose the necessary order, a computerized version of the system will have the same flaws. And by using a manually imposed process first, your field management will have the learned behavior required when it comes live on the network. Software and technology can only reflect the clear, or not so clear, thoughts of your processes that are in place.

There is another complication when a builder’s production grows. Old processes tend to become convoluted and obscure. It is important that each member of an organization understands and accepts that an undisputed schedule is required in order to use technology to leverage it.

For many builders, this is where the whole process comes to a grinding halt. Everyone is truly looking forward to a centralized, organized way to understand the status and delivery time of each home. Many times internal debate is intense and outside experiences from a third party are needed to quell the fervor that may erupt. The person leading the effort should be good at meeting facilitation and understand the scheduling process.

Once you work through the internal differences -- and you will have them -- you can apply the scheduled events into the software package selected. There are packages that are stand-alone, some that are integrated into a complete operating system, and still others that can be customized using a database product. When selecting a package, I highly recommend that it be very user-friendly and capable of processing high volumes of data.

Many software vendors talk about using the backdoor of your web page for operational issues. This is a great concept, but you first must be well grounded in your processes, no matter what technology is utilized. The key to web-based management tools is very reliable access to the Internet at all times. If the web goes down, you go with it. Reliability and consistency of service are critical to the stable and consistent operation of your business.

Basically, the technology available now makes it possible for all builders, from custom to high production, to update their schedules daily, or as events occur. The proactive management of your scheduling process will reduce cycle-time, reduce field errors, reduce office errors, and increase customer satisfaction. As we know, nothing makes a customer happier than a quality home, delivered on time. You’ll wonder why you hadn’t improved this segment of your business sooner.