How to keep track of scheduling is an important question business owners often ask each other in hopes of finding the perfect formula.
But why is scheduling important in the first place? According to our findings, scheduling will increase profits, minimize scheduling conflicts, and lower employee stress. When a job ends up taking more time than you originally bid for, you suddenly have less time for upcoming projects. You may not always have the financial and human resources to complete two or more parallel projects. As stated in the Entrepreneur:
“If you don’t decide what matters in advance, you’ll spend it all doing things that aren’t moving you forward.”
The Hassles of Scheduling
A millwork shop owner illustrates the act of juggling tasks quite well. He shares the story of customers who postpone an installment day. The shop owner often finds himself in a position where there are not enough millwork installers to go around. It is unpleasant for the customers who put them at the end of the pipeline, despite them being late. As a result, the shop owner has to juggle between too many gigs, and too little time and resources. The customers who were on time are now penalized because of the customers who were late.
We’ve heard this story way too many times. David, who’s running a one-man show, says scheduling is the most difficult task for him. To mitigate the risk of double booking himself, he has started scheduling projects months ahead, leaving room for last-minute gigs to take up his time. This doesn’t always work to his advantage though, as customers expect a shorter wait time for a job to start.
It seems like there are so many mistakes that you can make with scheduling. Although scheduling will not act as a magic stick to fix all mistakes and errors, it is necessary to help you keep track of all the projects you undertake. By scheduling, you can make sure that problems that do arise, more often than not, are not a result of your mismanagement.
So, you may be thinking, how should I keep track of scheduling exactly? Let’s dive into some practical strategies to help you keep your business in check, and your stress levels low!
1. Let’s Start with Bidding
Now, this may not sound exactly like a scheduling matter, but hear us out. You may be setting yourself up for problems from the very start by counterproductive bidding habits. This is where the famous “underbidding” comes in. You may have heard of companies like Connaught, who have damaged more than their reputation through the dangerous maneuver of underbidding.
When bidding for a job, it is tempting to overestimate your capacities and try to get a job done in a short amount of time. However, this strategy is not sustainable in the long run. Regardless of what industry you’re in, you should always be prepared for calamities that stretch out your budget and schedule.
For instance, the construction industry is so dynamic, it’s a real challenge to keep track of scheduling. Those with a lifetime of experience in the industry explain how even if you have the best plan, something always comes up. Even if you have the most sophisticated safety equipment, an accident is bound to happen. It’s no surprise that projects in construction are often overrun and overdue.
A sustainable scheduling strategy starts with realistic bidding. Save yourself the trouble by drafting a feasible schedule for a contract, and always leaving some leeway for things that might go wrong. As the old saying goes:
“It’s better to underpromise and overdeliver than overpromise and underdeliver.”
2. Data or Intuition?
In the management realm, there is often the debate of data vs intuition. When we say intuition, we don’t mean some unexplainable belief that is not founded on rationality. We use intuition to refer to the set of lessons you have learned through experience and mistakes. That sort of intuition is useful. We don’t support the dichotomy between data vs intuition.
To get a holistic understanding of your business, combine the wisdom you have gained through the years with the wisdom that your data is pointing you towards. For instance, you have had so many projects of varying nature, you already know what kind of commitment will be needed from your part as soon as you pick up a new project. You have also seen so many things go wrong, in so many different ways. Hopefully, you have also developed, at least mentally, a contingency plan for when things go wrong.
See Related: Capacity Planning for Small Businesses
Your experience is of utmost value to your business. However, we advise to not rely solely on this knowledge. After all, you are only human, and humans are very prone to mistakes. To illustrate how costly human error can be, consider the case of Amazon’s Web Services who went down for only a couple of hours. Amazon estimated that companies who were affected lost around $160 million.
To ensure that you are making informed decisions, complement your knowledge with actionable data. This way, you can document the experience over the years. Got a new demolition project? Well, it’s a good thing you’ve got the reports from your last one. Have a look into what roles were on-site, how many hours they put in, and very importantly, how often do you deliver on time?
Business owners may use a variety of tools to keep track of their scheduling. There is a body of apps and software available for use, and a little research will help you find the right tool for your business needs. We’ve also done some research and will summarize two main tools every small business owner needs.
🧰 Calendar Planner
In scheduling, a calendar is the first thing that you will need. This is not a new tool for you. You’ve probably been using a calendar-based agenda ever since high school. Remember those? Some business owners like to use paper planners while others appreciate digital alternatives.
Studies show paper planners help retain memory, avoid distraction, take better notes, and reduce stress. On the other hand, digital planners save money, are editable and portable, offer useful features, and foster collaboration.
Whether you use one or the other, or a combination of the two is totally up to your preferences. The main takeaway is that the use of a planner, such as Microsoft Project, will help you assign projects to specific employees and dates. When you get a new project, you open your agenda, there is a visual reminder of which employees are available.
Remember the millwork shop owner we mentioned earlier? He likes to play around with Google Calendar to avoid those double bookings he’s been struggling with. Every time he gets a new job, he uses the platform to assign it to one of the shop’s installer’s calendars. This way, he is always up to date with who is doing what, and when.
🧰 Time Tracking
Time tracking is a simple and elegant way of staying on top of your schedule. Amongst others, time tracking has been praised for its potential to help you:
Understand resource capacity
Let’s have a short overview of what time tracking is for those of you that know. Time tracking is the method of recording employee hours, including hours spent per specific project. By tracking productivity (using work hours), you have visual data about how many hours your employees are putting in, what percentage of their work hours goes to which project, letting you calculate how much each resource is costing you.
To keep track of scheduling, it is only natural to integrate a time tracking tool into your processes. For instance, Atto’s team activity feature records your team’s daily activity and transforms them into detailed reports. As a manager, you now have real-time data to make informed decisions about how many hours and resources you typically dedicate to a project. Now, you can make forecasts about what should be allocated to upcoming projects. Taking a look back will inform future decision-making.
See Related: Best Time Tracking Apps for iPhone in 2020
3. Communicate Often
We first advised you to bid realistically so you don’t run out of time. We then advised you to track that time so that you allocate it efficiently. We will now focus on the last but not least advice of the day. It is the word you have heard so often, you may sigh a little every time you see it - communication.
We cannot stress this last one enough. Good communication will take you a long way, and cannot be replaced by any tool that you invest in. Companies with effective communication experience return that are 47% higher than their counterparts.
Let’s focus on two communication channels that are important to your scheduling needs.
Communicate with your Team
Employees, contractors, subcontractors, should all be part of a communication loop. Sometimes, it may take a few phone calls to avoid a costly mistake. Notify employees as soon as possible when they’ve been assigned to a job. You may do this through the planner tools discussed earlier. If you’ve been double booked, notify your subs immediately that you will need them on-site. Don’t wait until it’s too late and you’re left having to prioritize one customer over the other.
Communicate with Clients
Every business owner knows the value of keeping clients in the loop. Dave from Cook Contracting says that keeping in touch with the customer is the best scheduling tool. And we believe him. If at any point, you have scheduling conflicts, which may come at the expense of the customer, you should already be on the phone trying to make arrangements with the customer.
The longer you wait, the less flexible they can be to accommodate your change of plans. Similarly, if the client is running late and might need you to postpone the job, such as an installment, the sooner you know, the quicker you can assign the team that’s on hold on another project. The only way you will know is by keeping in touch with the customer.
A long-time construction business owner advises being a little ambiguous when communicating with clients, when appropriate. Instead of saying, “we’ll start on Monday”, you can say “we plan to start at the beginning of next week, so please expect a follow-up call”. This way, you have the flexibility to rearrange, if need be.