“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the ax.”  — former U.S. president Abraham Lincoln.

At Raymond Building Supply (RBSC) we make a constant effort to improve. But like any business operating for more than 50 years, we have experienced many changes. As business and technology change, so does our approach to analyzing and streamlining existing processes.

My current role at RBSC is as a process analyst. Early on I learned that while ownership and upper management would easily justify the value of replacing an older piece of equipment—such as a saw or a truck—they were sometimes skeptical regarding the value that might be recognized from streamlining a process through implementing a new piece of software or using an existing piece of software in a different way.

Mothers of Invention

Plato was the first to dub necessity the mother of invention, and rightly so. In my experience, most long-standing processes are established based on similar concepts. 

Existing processes are most often reviewed because of customer service issues. Although the tools and processes I use when analyzing an existing process may vary, I will most often interview all the parties involved and create a flow chart for analysis of the existing work flow. I assign cost to each step along the way using the average current man-hour rates. In order to control expectations I keep my analysis conservative using the lowest average pay rate for the employees involved.  Although many issues may eventually involve middle or upper management, I have found that a conservative analysis makes for an easier sales pitch once we have decided upon a solution. A conservative approach also makes the numbers easier to validate once the solution has been implemented.

The first step in improving a process is not always a high-tech solution; often it is very low tech and may be as simple as combining a few steps in the process or reorganizing a work flow. Further streamlining may be done by implementing electronic forms in lieu of paper forms or bringing electronic information to the employee based on the task they are performing via PCs, tablets, or handheld devices.

This Is How We Do It

The first question I ask when interviewing an employee about his or her part of a process is, “Why do you do it that way?” Sometimes their response is, “That is the way we have always done it.” Other responses are more involved and will include the pride an employee takes in his or her work.

Departmental employees are part of the entire process—from analysis through implementation—since there is often a degree of trepidation when you start to analyze how and why they perform a task. They are often concerned that they will be “phased out” when we start the streamlining process. Their buy in is as important to the success of an implementation as ownership or management’s nod to move forward. 

Once the overall concept of a new solution has been defined and approved, we use lunch meetings with employees to begin the development/implementation process. We use this venue to introduce the solution and to keep them informed as we progress. Their feedback is a key part of a successful implementation.

Most projects do not end at implementation. Once a solution has been implemented, we periodically conduct lunch period meetings to review and fine-tune the enhanced process/procedure.  

As building contractors continue to adopt new technology, we will strive to keep pace by using the latest methods to further enhance our customer service. We believe outstanding customer service to be the foundation of our business.

—Candy Loweke is a process analyst at Raymond Building Supply in Fort Myers, Fla. She has worked in contractor sales and service since 1977 and has done everything from estimating/material take-off to managing a truss plant. Contact her at [email protected] or 239.731.8300, ext. 6347.