7. Establish a consistent job workflow - and schedule more than just templates and installs

The most important problem that JobTracker solves is helping you  keep track of Templates and Installs. If you don't have a handle on that yet, work on that first. Also, make sure you're keeping all your job-related information in one place - JobTracker.

JobTracker can track just about anything related to a countertop job - but recognize that there's a cost to everything you decide to track. Tracking more information will make your jobs more complicated. Each new piece of information makes it slightly harder for employees to find what they're looking for on a job and makes it a little harder to train new employees.

That said, if it's important to schedule a certain activity or remember when something happened or make sure some task gets done, then by all means, make new activity types as described below. But before doing so, recognize the types of problems you can solve without adding new activity types. Specifically, you can

These are valuable goals to achieve, and they require few if any changes to JobTracker settings. If you haven't achieved all of these goals, consider working on them first.

Finally - when you're ready (have I cautioned you enough?) - you can start thinking about your workflow beyond just Template and Install. Maybe you want to make sure you order needed material. Maybe you want to make sure your completed jobs have been invoiced in your accounting system. Maybe your shop manager is outgrowing a production spreadsheet, and you'd like to track steps like Cut, CNC, and Polish in JobTracker. All of these can be tracked in JobTracker.

Take a few minutes to think about the repeatable tasks your employees do each day to complete jobs. In other words, what are the steps needed to complete each job? Before making changes in JobTracker,  write those steps down on a piece of paper.

After you break down your process into the most important tasks your people do, focus on the ones that involve your customers or a hand-off within your team. Your list will likely include these at a minimum:

  • Schedule templates
  • Confirm templates
  • Template jobs
  • Order material
  • Receive material
  • Fabricate counters
  • Schedule installs
  • Confirm installs
  • Install jobs
  • Handle job issues
  • Invoice jobs
  • Handle repairs / service calls

Again, all of these steps can be tracked with just the following activities (though you might name them differently):

  • Template
  • Fabrication
  • Install
  • Repair
  • Invoice

You don't need separate activities for scheduling, confirming, and performing the Template - you can just use one activity and change the status of it from Estimate to Confirmed to Complete. Typically, the Template activity gets created when you create the job, then your scheduler looks at views to see which templates haven't been scheduled and which have been scheduled but not confirmed. Your templaters also look at their own calendar views and mark Template activities complete in JobTracker as they complete them in real life. This example shows how it works. Installs and Repairs work similarly.

Now consider the following additional steps:

  • Order Material
  • Receive Material
  • Create Slabsmith file
  • Program machine files
  • Cut
  • CNC
  • Polish

For each of these kinds of tasks, ask yourself whether you care about the precise date and time it happened (or other details about the task itself), or do you just want to make sure  that it happened. For example, for ordering and receiving material - do you have multiple people who do this? Do you care how long it takes? Do you need to schedule it on a calendar? Or do you just need to make sure it gets done? 

If you don't care about details of a task (like when, who, or how long) then you can just use a checkbox on a form (here's  how you create and add fields to a form), as shown here for ordering and receiving material on a Job Summary form:

NOTE: you can  view the change log for the form if once in a while you need to find out when those boxes were checked and by whom.

You can also  create job views that filter on these checkboxes - for example, here are jobs where the material has been ordered but not received:

Using a checklist like this is a simple way to track what gets done, especially for "intermediate" steps. What are intermediate steps? They're things that need to get done before a higher level activity can be completed - and usually they're completed by the same person (or at least the same person is responsible for making sure they're completed and checking the appropriate boxes in JobTracker).

For a more thorough example, let's say your shop manager currently tracks intermediate fabrication steps like SlabSmith, Programming, Cut, CNC, Polish, and QA (quality assurance) on a spreadsheet, and only completes a Fabrication activity in JobTracker when all those steps are complete (a common and reasonable approach). If you want to move away from the spreadsheet and track those intermediate steps in JobTracker instead, you could  make a form called something like "Fabrication Checklist" or "Production" and add it to each job (by adding it to your Job Template):

Then your shop manager can work from a view of  all jobs where Template is done and Fabrication is not done and check off the boxes for the intermediate steps as they are completed:

When the production checklist is complete (confirming this requires some good old fashioned human judgment), your shop manager marks the Fabrication activity complete, and that job gets filtered out of this view, since now it's ready to be installed.

The checklist approach is simple, but it might not be adequate. If you want to schedule those intermediate steps (Cut, CNC, Polish, etc.), or you want to assign them to specific machines or people, or you want to track how long a job spends in each step; then it's better to create new activity types for them (here's how to create new activity types).

It's not significantly more work to set things up this way: first,  set up new activity types for SlabSmith, Programming, Cut, CNC, Polish, and Fabrication QA and then make a job view showing each activity type as a column:

This also lets you see activities on  calendar views:

This approach is particularly useful if you have a predictable flow of work through your shop (similar to the approach  Aaron Crowley describes in this StoneTalk interview) - this predictability can be very powerful.

To implement this highly predictable approach, let auto-schedule set the dates for each step. In this example, when you schedule a job, you first set the Install date with your customer and then let auto-schedule set the Template 7 working days earlier (1 day for each step in your process). You verify both dates with your customer on the same call. Auto-schedule also sets the date of each activity in between Template and Install. Your activity types and dependencies would look something like this:

And you would add Template, SlabSmith, Program, Cut, CNC, Polish, Fabrication QA, and Install to your  Job Template as well. Then all you need to do is set the Install date to know when everything else on the job is going to happen. Very powerful.

Activities for this example before setting Install date: 

Activities for this example after setting just the Install date to 8/4: 

As powerful as JobTracker is, there will usually still be some tasks that you manage outside of JobTracker. Perhaps you use a spreadsheet to manage your inventory or your production tasks. And you likely use an accounting system to manage your invoices. In these cases, it's useful to track the  hand-off to or from those systems.

To use another production example, let's say your production manager uses a whiteboard to manage the steps of turning slabs into countertops (a tried and true approach). There's still a point in that process where the countertops for a given customer are "done" - at that point, you probably erase a row or column on your whiteboard, and we highly recommend changing something in JobTracker, too - the obvious choice in this example is to complete the Fabrication activity in JobTracker (since it has just been completed in real life as well). This communicates to everyone outside the shop that the job is ready for install, which is a  better way to coordinate your team.

Here's another example - after you install countertops for a customer, they might still owe you money ... and you want to make sure you get paid! You used JobTracker for tracking everything up until that point, but now it's time to track the customer in your accounting system. It's useful to track this transition. The most intuitive way is to schedule an activity like Invoice - when you create the final invoice in your accounting system, then you complete the Invoice activity in JobTracker. That way you can see a list of jobs that  need to be invoiced:

... and you can be confident that your accounting/collection process has been kicked off when each Invoice activity is completed in JobTracker. If Invoice is the last step in your process, then when you complete it, The job as a whole will be complete as well, and it will no longer show up in your views of Active jobs (of course, this only works if you  complete activities in JobTracker when they are completed in real life).

In summary, you can track just about anything on a job in JobTracker ... but don't go crazy with it - everything you track requires mental energy from your employees, so make sure it's worth it. 

The most important types of job activities to track are:

  • Anything scheduled with a customer, like Template and Install. Do you schedule SlabSmith reviews or material selection with your customers? Do you do a satisfaction visit or call a week after Install? If so, you should make new Activity Types for those
  • Steps involving a handoff to or from another system, like Invoice or Fabrication

For intermediate steps, consider creating a checklist on a Job Form instead of Activity Types (for example, you might have a series of steps you want your templater to perform during a Template visit - use something like a Template Checklist form instead of creating separate activities for those) ... but if you care about the  when, who, or how long of a task, then go ahead and create new Activity Types for those.

The important thing is to make sure everything that needs to be completed on a job gets done  in real life. Using JobTracker, you can track the flow of work through your shop no matter how complicated your process is. It'll help you manage your team to make sure that each job gets completed in real life and in a predictable way.

Getting all your views, activities, and forms set up "just right" as shown here can be challenging - don't hesitate to reach out to support for help.

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