Our remodeling company produces between 70 and 100 projects a
year, from handyman work to whole-house remodels. We used to
have a hard time scheduling that many jobs, but over the last
two years we've developed a system that brings some harmony to
There are all kinds of computer programs for scheduling jobs.
Our company already uses some very sophisticated software for
bookkeeping and job costing, but we do our scheduling with
dry-erase markers. The dry-erase boards cover one entire wall
of our production manager's office. We prefer this manual
system because it's easier to administer than a computer
program and it puts the information where everyone, including
staffers who don't use computers, can see it.
Instead of using the standard-size dry-erase boards from
office-supply stores, we make our boards from 4x8 sheets of
Masonite — the kind that comes prefinished with a
smooth white surface. The sheets cost about $15 each. We cut
them to size, hang them on the wall, and run strips of tape
across them to create the same kind of grid you would find on
an Excel spreadsheet. The tape allows us to erase the contents
of the "cells" without erasing the grid.
We use four categories of boards: job boards, lead boards, a
long-term outlook board, and a board for future
projects. Some are attached to a particular spot on the wall,
but most are held in place by Z-shaped aluminum channels, which
makes it easy to remove and rearrange the boards.
The job board consists of one job information "sheet" and 10
weekly calendar "sheets." The job information sheet is 48
inches tall and about 16 inches wide. The calendar sheets are
48 inches tall and about 8 inches wide. All together, they take
up a 4-by-8-foot space on the wall.
The boards are divided into columns and rows. Each row
contains the schedule for a single job. We do a lot of jobs at
one time, so to be on the safe side we made 20 rows. The job
information sheet has columns for the name of the lead
carpenter, the job number, and the name of the homeowner. The
calendar sheets represent weeks and are divided into five
columns, one for each workday.
Tasks are scheduled a week at a time across the calendar
sheets (see Figure 1). Every week, one of the boards becomes
out-of-date because it represents the previous week. If the
schedule were written on a single giant grid, the only way to
update it would be to erase and rewrite 10 weeks' worth of
information. But because we cut the board into pieces, we can
pull last week's board from the channels and slide the other
boards to the left. The old board is then erased and inserted
on the right, where it becomes week No. 10. This allows us to
schedule active jobs 10 weeks out.
Figure 1. The framed
boards on top show where each carpenter will be for the next
six weeks. The boards on the bottom show what will be happening
on each job for the next 10 weeks.
Just above the job boards there are six moveable lead boards,
each representing a single week. Each board is divided into six
columns. The first column lists all of our carpenters; the
other five are for the days of the week. We use the lead boards
to list which job individual crew members will be on each day
for the next six weeks. Our crews work a four-day week, so
Friday is usually blank.
As with the calendar sheets, one of the lead boards becomes
out-of-date each week, so we pull the board that's obsolete,
slide the remaining boards to the left, and insert the old
board on the right, where it becomes week No. 6.
The long-term outlook board contains a list of lead
carpenters. It shows how far out we have them scheduled based
on all the jobs that have been sold. We can determine when they
will be free by looking at the job board, but we list the
information here because it's more convenient to have it in a
single, easy-to-find location.
When it's time to schedule a new job, we can go to the
long-term outlook board and see when the next lead carpenter
will be available. We update the information on a regular basis
so we can push jobs forward or backward depending on when
personnel will be available.
The last board contains a list of future projects. On the
left-hand side is a list of jobs that have been sold but not
scheduled. Once we schedule a job, it's erased from this list
and written on the job boards. The right side of this board
contains a list of projects we expect to sign contracts for in
the near future (Figure 2). If the board is filled, we know
there's a lot of work in the pipeline. If there are too many
empty spaces, it tells the members of the sales department they
need to sell more jobs.
Figure 2. The upper
portion of this board shows when lead carpenters will be
available to start new projects. The lower portion shows jobs
that have been sold but not scheduled and jobs that are likely
to sell in the near future.
Managing the Schedule
Once a week the production manager updates the job and lead
boards based on changes that occurred the previous week. At the
same time, the sales department puts together a list of jobs
that have a high probability of selling in the next few weeks.
Then, the production managers and sales department sit down
with the owners to have a "felt-board" meeting. We use this
meeting to confirm the current schedule and look at upcoming
This process makes it easier to finish jobs on time because it
prevents us from agreeing to start projects before crew members
will actually be available to work on them. We can tell at a
glance whether a slowdown is coming or whether there's so much
work that we need to get some extra help. It also makes it
easier to identify gaps in the schedule where we can fit in
It took some time to get this system up and running, but it
was worth every dime of overhead. The beauty of the system is
that all of the information is up on the wall where everyone in
the company can see it. It's a whole lot easier than looking
things up on a computer screen. When employees come to the
office they can see where they will be working for the next six
weeks and confirm that the schedule for their current job is
accurate. If it's not, we can make the necessary
I knew this system was working when I went into the production
manager's office and found our tile subcontractor studying the
schedule. I asked him what he was doing and he replied, "Just
seeing when you need me so I won't overbook myself."
Cory Eckert is a project
developer for the Artisans Group, an Olympia, Wash., remodeling
company. He has been in residential construction for the last