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Work Status

by Art Little

Transmission Digest Magazine
This article appeared in the June 2013 issue of Transmission Digest.

When I was a young manager I went to work for a shop that required me to manage workflow. At that time in my career that was unusual because, everywhere else I had worked , they did not want me to even entertain the idea of managing workflow.

At all the other shops, they called me the manager. I had on a white shirt but, I was far from the manager. I was what is commonly known as a front man. It was my job to sell, handle the customers, and collect the money. I was not allowed to manage workflow. The techs let me know what the status of a repair was when the customer called and asked. That was pretty much my job description for the first few years I was in the business. You get the picture.

So, now I am the manager at my new job and I am not just the front man. My job description here is to sell, handle the customers, manage the shops workflow and collect the money. I liked the change because I worked on commission . It put me in control of my paycheck for the first time.

Now, instead of sitting in the office and waiting to see what was going to be delivered, I was the quarterback. It was more work than just selling but, I was willing to take on the extra responsibility because I felt like it gave me the control I needed to make more money.

My new boss was a very successful multiple shop owner. All of his shops had great locations and a lot of leads. He paid his managers more than anybody in town but ,he also expected more from his managers than anyone else in town . It was pretty simple. He expected you to be accountable for everything that happened in the shop. Every manager he hired had to go through a training and testing process that was designed to cull out managers that were not qualified.

His philosophy was to invest company time and money into management training in order to produce high quality managers. Then, he would consistently enforce the company policies and procedures on a day to day basis. That is what made him different. He trained the managers and then, he managed the managers. That is also a big part of what made him so successful.

He knew that training was not enough. Anybody can train managers. He knew that managers had to be managed after training in order to get the most of of them. If he taught you how to do something, you had better do it because he followed up on it. He was very resourceful and had many management techniques that would keep us managers on our toes but, I think his best management technique by far was the famous " fifty dollar walk".

This guy would just show up at any moment and you would be asked to take what he called a fifty dollar walk . The fifty dollar walk meant that I had to immediately stop what I was doing and walk with him through his shop and out into his parking lot and tell him the work status of every vehicle on the lot. If I could not do that, he would take fifty dollars out of my check. A simple but, effective management technique that worked pretty well on me.

I made a game out of it. I made a promise to myself that I would not fall prey to his fifty dollar walk. He was not going to get my fifty. He might get fifty from his other managers but, not me. All I had to do was know the status of every customer all the time. That was the challenge and I stepped up to the plate. I became the "Workflow Commander".

As I got into it , not only did I know the lead flow and workflow status of all customers , I just kind of fell into becoming an expert at work flow strategy. In an effort to get the maximum productivity out of the techs, I would look at status categories and then figure out the best time management strategy for each employee's work day . Guess what? Productivity increased and I started making a lot more money. That was a major turning point in my career for me, because that is when I became a real manager and not just a front man. From that day forward, when I put on a white shirt it meant something.

You know, sometimes you just have to trust people to have the solution and be willing to learn and apply what they teach you. Sometimes, you have to make a change in order to move forward. So read on if you would like to change the old way of doing things and learn something that will move you forward. Who knows, you might become a workflow commander too.

In last month's article, we broke the lead flow cycle down into 7 lead status categories .This month we break down the work flow cycle into 7 different work assignment categories.

The categories are as follows:

Waiting Diagnostics The vehicle has been entered into workflow by the manager and is now waiting to be diagnosed.
Diagnostics Manager & diagnostician are in the process of diagnostics and service recommendation
Remove After the service recommendation, the Installer begins the process of removing the drive train component.
Parts After the installer has removed the drive train component, the builder and manager begin the process of ordering parts and getting work authorization
Build After the work is authorized and the parts are ordered, the builder begins the process of building the drive train component
Install After the builder finishes his work assignment the installer begins the process of installing the drive train component
RTG ( Ready To Go ) After the installer finishes his work assignment the manager and diagnostician are in the process of performing a final road test and delivering the vehicle to the customer.

Employee members at the TransTeam website have told me that it seems like every shop they relocate to has a different workflow system . So we know there are many variations of workflow systems in use today. The main thing is to have a system in place at your shop that empowers the manager to keep up with the current leadflow and workflow status of every customer. Real managers can not plan production efficiently without it.

If you would like to get things organized and under control, it starts by being honest with yourself and answering a few basic questions. Do you have the lead flow and work flow management tools the manager needs in place? Are your employees trained? Are they working smart? Are you sure the manager has a good production strategy to maximise shop productivity every day?

Try to understand what I was taught as a young manager. Total control only starts when one knows the current lead and work status of all the customers. That is only the first step. Knowing the current shop status only lets you see where you are. Knowledge of where you are now allows one to plan shop labor time more efficiently. The next step is to create the best strategy and issue work assignments.

You can plan a work schedule for each employee and coordinate the work to be completed at a certain time if you know the work status of all customers and have a good plan. It is like cooking. If you get good at it, everything comes out of the oven and off the stove at the same time. Same thing goes for the manager of a transmission shop. If he plans well, everything gets delivered that day. If not, the money is delayed.

Now days, when TransTeam goes into a shop for management support, the very first thing we do is take the fifty dollar walk with a manager or technician. We enter all known leads and all the vehicles on the lot into the lead flow and workflow categories . It takes less than an hour and like magic, we are all looking at the current lead and work status of the shop. This allows us to evaluate all the known leads and current work in progress so we can start planning a solution.

Shop organization and planning is critical in our business. Over the last several years our industry has seen a lot of shops go out of business. I often wonder how many shops could have been saved if the manager had been using an organized workflow system and making intelligent production decisions every day . How much money was lost ?

Poor management is the main reason shops fail. Knowing the current status of every customer has helped to increase profits in every shop I have been in since I started using it back in the 80's. It is not too late for you. Organization and planning is timeless. So, as a matter of historical fact, you have a fighting chance to make good money in todays marketplace if you tune into controlling production .

Not sure if you need to? Let me help you out a little bit. Is there a test to determine if your shop needs to get organized and focused on productivity ? Well now, yes there is. My old boss came up with it about 30 years ago. Go out in the shop and do a fifty dollar walk. You will quickly find out for yourself. That is the acid test. One more thing. If you guys can't do the fifty dollar walk, I want you to cut me a check for the fifty.

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