Previously, we shared several of the 14 revolutionary process improvement principles of respected management expert W. Edwards Deming. In this issue, we continue to explore Deming’s insights and how you can use them to improve your business.
DEMING PRINCIPLE #5
Improve constantly and forever the system of production and design.
Always look for processes that need improvement. This applies to all aspects of a business—from work in the field to work in the back office.
You may have to watch areas of your business over time to detect recurring patterns. For example:
- Do material failures coincide with weather patterns?
- Do office mistakes happen more often on Mondays?
Even small changes can have a big impact on the quality of your service and productivity.
Caution: Avoid the knee-jerk reaction of adjusting work systems at the first sign of a problem. Spending energy on what may be a one-off issue is a poor use of time and effort. Instead, focus on issues that occur regularly.
According to Deming, “The greatest waste in America is the failure to use the abilities of people.” Training employees on the job will help you understand their potential and prepare them to perform at their best. Recognize that people learn in different ways—training may need to take different forms for different employees.
DEMING PRINCIPLE #7
Adopt and institute leadership.
Your business’s supervisors (foremen, lead carpenters, office managers, etc.), must understand the work they are managing. They must also be able to delegate work so that they can focus on the big picture. This may seem obvious, but many companies violate this principle.
Also, resist managing solely by the numbers. Realize that many factors can cause even superstar employees to have down days.
DEMING PRINCIPLE #8
Drive out fear.
Fear impairs performance and can lead to team members lying or fudging numbers when things don’t go as planned.
“I’m scared what the boss will think or do, so I’ll say the deck installation went great. We can blame the homeowner’s Labrador retriever for the scars made from the screw gun.”
False information won’t give you a true sense of what’s going right or wrong in your business.
Also, keep lines of communication open between you and your employees so that they feel comfortable coming to you with questions and concerns.
Read more about Deming’s principles at deming.org.
We are now stocking Fast-setting Quikrete® Cement. Specially formulated to set within 10 to 15 minutes, it is ideal for repairing edges on curbs and concrete steps. It’s also a great match for setting posts in small fencing projects and building footers in areas that don’t require a footer inspection.
According to a survey by BrightLocal (a marketing software development company), 86 percent of consumers read reviews for local businesses. As a contractor, you’ll want to pay attention to this statistic. Most people look at online reviews before they decide what products and services they will buy and from whom they will buy them. Therefore, online reviews are essential for doing business in this digital world.
Some customers—being proactive—will post reviews on websites such as Facebook, Google My Business, Yelp, Angie’s List, Houzz, and others. But some may need prompting.
How can you get more of your customers to share about their stellar experience with you?
Seventy percent of customers that are asked to write a review will write one, according to BrightLocal’s survey.
ASK PROMPTLY. Customers will be more likely to leave a review when the details of their interaction with your company are still top of mind.
SEND A REMINDER. If it has been several days or a week since you requested a review and none was written, consider sending an email reminder.
MAKE SURE ASKING FOR A REVIEW IS ALLOWED. Although some review websites encourage businesses to ask for reviews, some (Yelp, for example) prohibit it. Read a review site’s terms of service before asking customers to leave reviews on it.
A study found that 75 percent of people suffer from some degree of dehydration. Add the hot sun, high humidity, and sweltering temperatures into the mix and you get a recipe for disaster.
How can you know if you are dehydrated? Early warning signs include:
- Dry mouth
- Muscle cramps
More serious symptoms such as no longer sweating, rapid heart rate, confusion, and difficulty walking can occur as dehydration worsens.
Keep plenty of water (and other beverages with water) on the job site and drink them gradually throughout the day. Also, pack fluid-rich foods (such as fruits, vegetables, salad, and applesauce) for snacks and lunch.
The amount of water people need varies from person to person, but according to the Mayo Clinic, the general rule is eight 8-ounce glasses of water each day. Keep in mind that heavy sweating will increase your body’s need for fluids, so you may have to drink more in the heat of summer.
In the last Homestead Post, we shared three productivity- and quality-boosting principles from management consultant W. Edwards Deming. In this issue, we’ll talk about another important Deming concept: End the practice of awarding business on the basis of price tag alone.
When choosing vendors, price means little without considering the measure of quality and efficiency that you get. Securing value when purchasing tools, equipment, materials, or services requires long-term thinking beyond the dollars and cents on a price sticker.
Buying goods or services from whoever gives the lowest price may seem to be a cost-effective way to do business. However, it can backfire.
- Jumping from one vendor to the next based on prices requires a good deal of administrative time and may result in getting inferior materials.
- In comparison, having a single, trusted source for a product or category of products helps ensure consistency in quality and availability of materials to meet your needs and deadlines.
- Dealing with one vendor simplifies accounting, minimizes paperwork, and streamlines ordering.
In today’s competitive business environment, you can find a lower price on almost anything that you want to buy—but that doesn’t ensure value. Value comes from forming a long-standing relationship with a vendor that is dependable, trustworthy, and dedicated to satisfying your needs.
To learn more about Deming’s principles, visit The Deming Institute website at www.deming.org.
Do you have a question about a product or want tips to help manage a certain aspect of your business more successfully?
We welcome you to suggest topics for our future newsletters. Email your ideas to Ken Burkholder at firstname.lastname@example.org.
When you’re in the business of building decks and doing other exterior work for homeowners, requests to do fencing work are inevitable. Installing vinyl fencing—one of the most popular options—isn’t difficult, but you do need a few specialized tools to tackle the project.
- Tool for digging holes: Either an auger attachment or a dedicated hole-drilling unit will do the trick. (You can rent them at an equipment rental company.)
- Fence rail notching tool: Although it’s not an absolute must-have, it comes in handy when cutting sections to size. (You can borrow one from Homestead Outdoor Products.)
- Concrete: The type will depend on the size of the job and might require anything from hand-mixing to bringing a metered concrete truck to the site. For the typical backyard, a portable sack concrete mixer and a wheelbarrow offer a middle-of-the-road solution that’s cost-effective and fast. (You can purchase QUIKRETE® from us.)
- Fencing material: Homestead Outdoor Products has a wide selection to suit your customers’ needs: vinyl fencing, chain-link fencing, aluminum fencing, and wood-tone fencing—all made by the best brands in the business.
Not overly familiar with fencing installation? No problem! In our next newsletter, we’ll step you through the basic process of installing vinyl fencing.
A customer’s reasons for wanting additions or renovations often have multiple layers. Peeling back those layers is critical for proposing a design that will truly meet and fulfill your customer’s unique vision. How?
ASK, “WHY?”— MULTIPLE TIMES
For example, let’s say Customer A and Customer B both approach you with “I want a deck.” But why do they want a deck?
When you first ask “Why?” both Customer A and Customer B answer, “I want to spend more time outdoors.” But that doesn’t mean the same deck design will serve both customers equally well.
When you drill down further by asking, “Why do you want to spend more time outdoors?” Customer A answers, “Because I want a quiet, peaceful place in nature where I can read and meditate”; while Customer B says, “Because I love inviting friends over for cookouts and parties.”
Aha! Now you have the information you need. So, for Customer A, you might include a secluded nook for reading and a relaxing water feature; and for Customer B, you might include a built-in bar area, fire pit, and space for a big-screen TV.
The moral of the story: Ask “Why?” repeatedly to get to the root of a customer’s wants and needs.
The job site isn’t the only place where efficiency is important. When contractors also have their administrative tasks in good order, they can boost productivity and profitability. Here are two tips for making your back-office run like a well-oiled machine.
PLAN YOUR DAYS
In addition to scheduling your work for customers, also make a note of other tasks you need to take care of. Block out time for preparing estimates, creating invoices, returning phone calls to prospective customers, and other business must-dos. Whether you use a written calendar or the one on your smartphone, reserving time to tend to administrative tasks will help ensure they don’t pile up and become overwhelming or slip through the cracks.
BUILD IN SOME “WIGGLE ROOM”
There’s a saying that even “the best-laid plans of mice and men” often go awry. Sometimes, projects take more time than expected, customers change their minds about what they want, a traffic jam delays your arrival to a job, or some other unforeseen situation occurs. As you’re planning your schedule, consider building in some buffer time between projects and tasks to give you some breathing room when things don’t go your way.
The more organized and efficient you keep all aspects of your business, the more successfully you can manage everything you have to do and the better you can serve your customers.