To determine the tools and incidental materials we would need, I wrote detailed outlines for each task before starting the job. Preparing these task outlines also helped me organize the workflow and delegate responsibilities to my crew.
From these outlines, I created a series of forms that we bundled into job “packets” (see slideshow, previous page); when we started work on an apartment, we taped one of these plastic-sleeved packets to the door (see sidebar). Each contained layout info, pull sheets, checklists, and other information to help guide workers and subs and measure our progress. The packets also served as an indicator of where we were working — something we all quickly came to appreciate after realizing that every floor, wall, and apartment door looked alike from the hall or elevator.
Following the advice of several seasoned production carpenters (thanks to the JLC Online finish-carpentry forum), we worked one floor at a time, rather than focusing on a specific layout (the building consisted of four tiers, with the apartments in each tier sharing the exact layout as the ones above and below). Moving between floors can be a big drain on time, particularly if you have to wait for elevators. Adopting the floor-by-floor approach allowed us to stage materials in one hallway instead of several, minimized elevator trips, and made site protection and cleanup more efficient.
Schedule. We were permitted to work from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, but the contract called for no kitchen to be without running water for more than three consecutive days (almost all of the apartments were occupied). So we tackled multiple kitchens at the same time, removing and preparing the first set of kitchens on Mondays, completing them on Tuesdays, and repeating the process on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Fridays were left open for deliveries, pickups, transfer station runs, and similar tasks.
The first two kitchens took approximately 14 1/2 man-hours each to complete, while the next two were closer to 11 1/2 man-hours each. With each successive kitchen, we tweaked and fine-tuned our methods until we finally reached a plateau of between eight and nine man-hours per unit from about the 10th kitchen on.
Shaving time off the schedule became a game of sorts. We looked at every aspect — from packing the elevators more efficiently, to using a heat gun to accelerate the drying of patching compound, to scheduling the subs tighter so that we could reduce their trips to the site. Boosting production allowed us to increase our weekly workload — first to five kitchens per week, then to six after the fourth week. We maintained this schedule for the remainder of the project, starting three on Mondays and Wednesdays and finishing them on Tuesdays and Thursdays respectively.
Since our original goal was four kitchens per week, this job turned out to be very profitable for us. Delegating specific tasks to certain crew members — something we’ve only experimented with in the past — certainly was a factor in our success, as was our focus on preproduction planning. Having good systems in place increased our production and made us more profitable, and now we’re developing similar systems for every part of our business — something we never really even thought about before this job.
Greg Burnet owns Manor Services, a design-build firm that specializes in finish carpentry and millwork in the Chicago area.