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Schedule to Reduce Cycle Time

Sit back and let me tell you the story of a shop that improved its scheduling processes…and improved its cycle time.

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Hank Nunn is a 35-year collision industry veteran. He is now retired.

The collision industry continues to focus on reducing repair cycle time. While some have found great success, others are stuck.

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What’s the key to reducing repair time? Well, there isn’t any one thing, but if pushed, I would say that cycle time, in many shops, can be significantly reduced through improved scheduling processes. NOTE: I said processes, plural. Highly efficient repair facilities schedule everything, not just drop-off dates.

A Quick Fix
To illustrate the concept, we’ll sit in with Brian, owner of Logjam Collision, and Bill, the manager. They’re meeting with Mike, an industry consultant.

Brian and Bill agree that they need to reduce repair cycle time. Brian explains that his customers, insurance carriers and employees are all frustrated by his high, double-digit cycle time. He has met with other consultants, and one suggested a “lean implementation” beginning with a “5S” process for the entire shop. Another explained the Theory of Constraints (TOC).

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Brian explains, “That’s all good stuff. We 5S’d the place, but cycle time didn’t improve and a month later we were right back where we started. I understand the Theory of Constraints, but I don’t have the time or patience for it. I need a quick fix!”
 
Mike responds, “Brian, lean concepts and the systematic elimination of constraints are good and valid concepts. Sadly, I’m not aware of a ‘quick fix.’ But let me look around, talk with your people and we’ll see what we can suggest.”

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First, Mike spoke with Logjam’s lead estimator, Lindsay. Lindsay is selling $80,000 per month. She explains, “Honestly, I’m about ready to quit. I mean, the pressure to get more out is unbearable. Everyone wants it faster, but I just can’t do any more!”

“Okay, Lindsay, I understand. There’s a lot of pressure. But if we think about it, $80,000 per month is $4,000 per day if we’re working a 20-day month. At an average RO of $2,000, that’s only two ROs per day. You can do that pretty easily, correct?” Mike reasons.

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“Sure, two per day would be great. But that’s not what we do here. It’s more like 15 on Monday, a few more during the week, then close the ROs and deliver cars all day Friday. With calls to angry customers, dealing with parts, adjusters and supplements, plus techs who complain about not getting supplements in time, it’s too much.”

Mike speaks with the lead painter, Chuck, who says, “Man, they all want it yesterday! Most of these jobs are late before I even get them. Then the pressure is on me to get ’em done quick! With our booth, I can paint five per day, but they want me to get 10 shot on Thursday! Seems like every week, I have one ready to shoot and Brian or Bill comes out and wants me to do another ‘hot’ one first. No wonder we have quality issues.”

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Bob, a metal tech, shares his frustration. “I mean, cars come in, I tear them down, then they sit for three or four days before I get my supplement. Then there are parts delays. I’ve got 16 ROs in process right now. And they all have to go Friday.”

Mike shares these concerns with Brian and Bill. “It sounds like we’ve got some problems here at Logjam Collision. I’ve asked a lot of questions and performed some root cause analysis. The root cause of a lot of the problems here is with the way work is scheduled. How do you guys schedule repairs?”

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Bill answers, “We don’t. I mean, you can’t really. Everyone wants to drop off Monday and pick up Friday. Insurance companies don’t want cars here over weekends, and you have to maintain a backlog so that you can work through parts problems. We tried scheduling once and it didn’t work.”

“Bill, what do you mean, ‘tried’ it?” Mike asks.

“Well, we tried to schedule eight per day Monday through Wednesday. But my estimators are on commission and they just grabbed the keys and ignored the schedule. Scheduling just doesn’t work in an auto body shop. Heck, look at Lindsay. She’s coming apart writing $80,000 per month. I know estimators who write double that! A lot of our problems start with her. She should be able to do better!”

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“Yes, Bill, I know estimators who write over $200,000 per month and maintain great CSI. I could have told Lindsay that, and a few years ago I would have. Today, I understand that’s not relevant to her. She is stressed. I can tell you how those high achievers make it happen.”

“Okay, I’ll bite. How do they do it?”

“They control their workload through efficient scheduling. Like I said, there is no quick fix. But efficient scheduling is the key to improving repair cycle time. I know, you tried it and it didn’t work. That’s good! You learned that the way you tried it did not work. Shops with low repair cycle time schedule everything.”

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Showing his frustration, Brian responds, “Mike, you didn’t hear Bill! We tried it and it didn’t work!”

“Brian, you learned that the way you did it did not work. Think of it like this. Your doctor just found a suspicious spot on your skin. He tried to freeze it off with liquid nitrogen. You go back six weeks later and find that the spot came back. They do a biopsy and find that spot is skin cancer. Do you just give up because you tried something once and it didn’t work? Nope, you try something else, and something else until the cancer is gone. This business has cancer and you need to treat it right now!”

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Concerned, Brian responds,“Mike, I see what you’re saying. So, tell me what we need to do.”

“Brian, it’s not that simple. Every shop is different. If I tell you what to do, your team will feel like something is getting rammed down their throat. We need to have a meeting and draw some ideas from within your team. Your people will support what they help create. Let’s have a meeting with Lindsay, Bill, Chuck and Bob. I will run the meeting. We’ll come out of the meeting with some ideas for scheduling work, estimator scheduling, scheduling parts, scheduling blueprints and scheduling the booth.”

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Mike continued, “Brian and Bill, your job is discipline. At the end of the meeting, everyone will agree to some systems. Your job is to discipline the systems for 30 days. That’s how long it takes to establish a habit. No cheating! Each process will be outlined on a flip chart. Each will be simple. Accountability will be assigned and consequences spelled out for violations of the process. You really need to commit to that!”

The meeting takes place the following morning. The shop’s team comes up with several processes, all handwritten on a flip chart pad:

Incoming Work Schedule Process

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  • The goal is to schedule 20 ROs per week.
  • A schedule board will be hung in the office.
  • There will be six available schedule openings Monday and Tuesday.
  • There will be four available schedule openings Wednesday through Thursday.
  • If a date is fully booked, no additional work will be scheduled that day.
  • If anyone schedules an additional RO, that person must wash the car for delivery.

Estimator Daily Schedule

  • Estimators to attend morning release meeting at 8 a.m. daily.
  • At release meeting, status of in-process ROs is reviewed.
  • Go list for today and tomorrow is created and updated.
  • Following release meeting, estimators to call all customers and update status.
  • Following update calls, estimator to create blueprints.
  • Estimators pre-close all scheduled deliveries.
  • Drive-in estimates to be scheduled by receptionist, one per hour per estimator.
  • Avoid scheduling estimates before 9 a.m.

Parts Process

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  • All parts deliveries to be scheduled after 10 a.m.
  • All parts orders to be filed electronically.
  • After blueprint, goal is one parts order.
  • Partial orders will not be accepted.
  • All incoming parts to be checked in to assure they’re correct.
  • Incorrect parts will not be accepted; replacement invoice to be issued.

Blueprint Process

  • Body techs to be given a list of ROs to be torn down for blueprint at end of shift.
  • ROs requiring teardown for blueprint will be torn down first thing in the morning.
  • Estimator to work with body tech to create complete blueprint immediately after status updates.
  • Repairs will not begin until all parts are in and correct.

Booth Schedule

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  • Manager to provide list of ROs to be painted next day by 3 p.m. every day.
  • Changes to the list are allowed, with at least two hours prior
  • notice
  •  Goal is to have two vehicles prepped at all times.
  • If a vehicle is moved in front of others, manager making the move must call delayed customers to tell them their car has gone off schedule.

Brian and Mike review the results of the meeting. Brian comments, “Mike, this is pretty simple stuff. I mean, there are a lot of questions in my mind. I don’t see how this is going to work.”

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“Brian, I hear you. But what you have is just the start. You and your team will grow from this. But the important thing is to stick to it. Keep a chart of problems that occur with these systems, then review the issues every month. You can change any of it, but not until you’ve done it this way for a month.”

“Mike, where do we go from here?”

“Brian, I know shops that schedule for vehicle movement between work stations every 45 minutes! You’re just getting started, and you’re headed in a good direction. It won’t be long before you’ll use your management system’s scheduling program and refine everything.  Remember, it’s a continuous improvement plan. That means you’ll constantly be reviewing what works and what doesn’t. Your job is the most important one. You have to lead by example. I mean, you have to discipline the process. You, especially you, cannot break any of those rules just because you’re the boss.”

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Two Months Later
Two months later, Mike returned to Logjam Collision. The first person he spoke to was Lindsay.  

“How are things going, Lindsay? Are you still planning to quit?"

Lindsay laughs. “No, still here. The changes have been kind of tough. Every day, we’re tempted to squeeze one more in. So we adjusted the process so that we can bring in an additional small job with Bill’s OK. To be honest, I’ve had to wash a few cars. Calling customers in the morning really eliminated most of the incoming customer status calls. Getting out to blueprint first thing in the morning has cut the amount of time cars wait for estimates, and my supplement ratio is down. But let me tell you about the best thing: I have over $100,000 scheduled to go this month!”

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“Lindsay, great job! Keep it going!”

Mike moves on to see how things are in the paint shop.

Chuck reports, “Man, that schedule really helps us spend our time more efficiently. I can see what’s coming and the order it’s coming in the day before it hits. We’ve got the time to do it right! Brian and Bill still try to slip one in at the last minute, but when I remind them that they will have to call the delayed customer, they usually take a look at the schedule and we work those hot ones in.”

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Bob, the metal tech, is still not convinced. “Mike, things seem better. At least we’re getting better estimates from the blueprint process and the supplements are down. I don’t have a big backlog anymore. To be honest, I look at that backlog as job security. It’s not there, and I’m not feeling very secure.”

Mike listened to Bob and asked, “How are your flagged hours
looking?”

“Hey, they’re up about 10 percent. That’s the good thing. The cars are moving faster and I’m making more money, but I’m just not sure, you know? I don’t know.”

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Mike paused and commented, “Yeah, I know. Bob, I think you need to stick with it. You’re flagging more hours and the cars are moving faster. That’s probably why your backlog is down. But I checked the schedule board in the office and the next couple of weeks are booked! I think you’ll be fine!”

Finally, Mike sat with Brian and Bill. “So guys,” he began, “how’s
it going?”

Bill was the first to talk. “Well, Mike, the scheduling process seems to be helping. I mean we still have problems and it’s hard to schedule cars on Thursday. Some of the adjusters are upset that we’re writing better estimates. We still have issues, but things seem better.”

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Brian offered, “The big issue is cycle time. We’ve knocked two days off of our cycle time in the past two months! Yeah, some adjusters want to blackball us for writing better estimates, but others are thrilled to see the supplement ratio go down. Our DRP coordinator came in and told me that he was glad he didn’t have to take us off the program because we’re improving our cycle time. Oh yeah, and our CSI is up. Best of all, it looks like we’ve got a record month scheduled!”

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Brian asked, “Mike, I’ve heard a lot about lean. When can we start implementing it?”

“You already have. Leveling the workflow is one of the basics of lean. So is gathering ideas from your team and looking for ways to constantly improve. You’re trying new things and writing processes but not casting those processes in stone. That’s all lean stuff! Remember, lean is a journey. In your case, the journey began because you needed to improve cycle time through scheduling.”

The End
So our story ends…or begins. Perhaps it’s time to change the shop name from Logjam Collision to Rapid Repair Collision Center?

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Logjam Collision is a fictitious business. But the people, problems and solutions are real. For most in the collision repair industry, improved scheduling of work processes has an immediate and positive effect on repair cycle time.

Hank Nunn is a 37-year collision industry veteran. He may be reached at [email protected]

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