How to create a custom workflow?
AN EXAMPLE WORKFLOW
In the last video, we discussed what a design workflow is. A workflow is our charted path from start to finish and what we need to accomplish to do a design well. It's an outline and a checklist and really the guide rails to help us stay on track and knock out a project efficiently.
We use design as an example but a workflow really applies to any type of role where we're doing repeated project type structure jobs. So we know what a design workflow is, but what's an example? Well in this segment, I'll show you what I personally use to go from start to finish when I'm doing shop drawing level sprinkler design.
Here's my workflow from start to finish, and I'll go through this in more detail here.
But, real quick as a disclaimer, this looks a whole lot fancier now than it did when I started.
NEED FOR DATA
When I first started out creating a step-by-step process, I really didn't think of it as a workflow. What I was trying to do at the time was figure out where I actually spent most of my time in the project process. Just so that I could figure out ways of delegating certain tasks, buying software to speed up certain tasks, or simply find better ways of speeding up my process overall. I needed to know where my time was being wasted. And in order to figure that out, I had to figure out where it was being spent in the first place.
Well, to figure that out, I had to figure out what I actually did on a typical design. The data for me was really important for me on where I was spending time on jobs. I had just started working for myself in my own practice, and more than ever I really needed to know where I was not being efficient through my design process.
In other words, I could make a whole lot more money if I knew where I was wasting time and being inefficient during my design process.
So in order to track that data, I first had to know what exactly I was doing task by task to complete a project. And yeah, I was crazy enough to actually track this and make this data happen.
So when I started out building what I now call a a quote-unquote workflow, I wrote a start to finish list on the steps that I thought I needed to take in order to complete a project from start to finish. Probably the most important part that I learned well much later was the order in which I completed each of these tasks that made a huge difference.
There's other details too, but the order was really important.
Now, this seems really boring and really dumb.
Why waste time figuring out what we do on a step-by-step basis on how I actually do my job, when instead I could just be doing my job?
And I totally get it, this seems way too formulaic and way too corporate. I totally get that. Personally, I hate company standards. I hate company standards. I hate standards that address processes that try to dictate on me how do I need to operate and do my job well. I feel like as an individual that's my terrain, the process and how I complete my job, you know, that’s my say. How I do my job and how my processes work shouldn’t really matter to my employer if I'm doing it really well and really efficiently.
I totally get that. So this whole workflow concept, for me, really came from it in. I personally wanted to figure out what my process was so that I could track it and then improve it.
Again for me, if I’m gaining a 20% boost in productivity, that means I’m billing 20% more. That means I’m making 20% more money. I mean, not to say that everything is revolving around the profit process, but this became really important to me when I worked on my own. I needed to address where I was being inefficient and where I could help improve my overall process.
So when I first started out, I put things like create a project folder or add the project to our accounting system, or set up the project backgrounds as the very first thing I needed to do.
On the very first job I tracked, I typed up my list, printed it out, and used that pretty much as a checklist.
Each time I checked a task off the list and moved to the next one, I wrote down the time, like literally the hour and minute, that I finished that task.
I'm an engineer and so naturally I like checklists. I get it. Nerd ball. Checklists are nice way to stay organized, help me identify how far along I am on a project. But they also helped me remember to do all of the different things I need to do on a job.
So anyways, when I started out on that first job, trying to figure out what my tasks actually were and then tracking that task by task, I found that my list had a lot of issues. Some things were not included, so I kept having to scratch in new tasks and pencil those in the ones that I needed to be doing on every job. Things like check the drawing north arrow and update the title block and make sure to detail the fire department connection. These were things that I learned as lessons from neglecting them on prior jobs. So every time I made a mistake and thought, I need to remember this for all future jobs. Boom. I put it on my checklist.
Now we say like, Joe, how could you forget updating a north arrow? Now north arrow is a really easy thing to remember, but I’ve had projects that were more or less a giant square. Right, didn’t update the north arrow and it just cause a ton of confusion when it came to and review and people trying to check out what I was actually intending for the design. Design was right but the service century was shown coming from the wrong direction. Why? Well, because my north arrow is wrong.
So long story short, updating the north arrow, not that hard to do. But now that it’s on my checklist, I know to look at it, I know to address it, correct it, move on. That’s the whole point.
The other thing that changed over time aside from just adding tasks that I was forgetting, was doing things in the right order.
I wouldn't have thought the order would matter at all. If I got a job done, well, that’s all there really is to it. It’s done. Move on.
However, that really just wasn't the case. Initially, when I actually was getting the data back after tracking time over a course of project, I was finding that as much as 30 to 40% of my time was actually doing rework of things that I had already should have completed. It was totally wasted time. I would get a set nearly done and then realize I forgot to add a remote inspector’s test, which I would then have to go back, cut in an outlet or T draw the pipe, detail it the connection, update my pipe tags, update annotations, then add a hanger, update my hanger schedule.
One small change would have a trickle-down effect of four or five following that I needed to do afterwards, just because of that one change when I had to go back and make an adjustment. While I was doing that constantly with all kinds of things, right when I was thinking I was about done with a job, I’d have all these little small tweaks that had a trickle-down effect, right to go back and update all these other things.
I realized early on that tagging pipe links, just as an example, should wait till the end of the job. I should only be doing that task one time, and just do it once all the way through. Doing it one time from start to finish all the way through would allow me to be more consistent in how things are being shown. But also it helped me not waste time by constantly updating things like pipe diameters and pipe lengths as I'm working on a job.
So, every time I figure it out something like this, here’s my epiphany, I know the order that is really should be in. I had to rearrange it in my workflow. I take my checklist. I put some arrows on it where I need to put that task and I make that change on the next job. That was really it.
Now, before I started the next job, I’d make the changes that I had from the last checklist, and I’d print that out, and boom, I now start in that new order.
THE IMPORTANCE OF ORDER
I kept out this method going.
And I took it a step further too, tracking the time I spent again on each of these tasks down to the minute. Why? I wanted to know where I was wasting time, and where I could speed things up.
So I ended up tracking time on 58 projects, spanning a period of 18 months. I’ll get into the results and the outcome of that later on in this series and the next. I think the data and the improvements there that are quantifiable get kind of interesting if not super nerdy.
But I later found out that was so important, and it really can’t understate this, was that the order and how I did things made such a difference in preventing rework. There’s a lot of wasted time in doing rework.
There were also things I discovered that were pinch points on a job that were just so much better addressed earlier in my design process. What is the very first thing that I start with on every single job? Think to yourself, what is the very first thing that you try do on your job every single time?
Is it setting up your base backgrounds? Is it looking over a proposal? Checking the scope of work? Is it creating a job folder?
Well for me now, it's figuring out water supply information. If I need a flow test back in order to do my job, then that is literally the very first thing I am figuring out on a project. Before I even set up a project folder or set up backgrounds, any of that, I am starting to hunt down water supply information immediately.
Some projects take me just two days to get a flow test run. Some projects won't even need a flow test. Other projects that are in the middle of winter, it might actually take me a month and a half before temperatures clear up and we can fit in a new flow test. If I'm not hunting that down the information immediately on every single job, then that could back me up and cause a major delay. Flow test information is just something I cannot wait until the end of the job to ask for.
In hindsight, well, that's obvious. Yeah, thanks Joe. That's a really helpful point there. I get it. We all need water supply information and we gotta ask for it early. But for me, I'm pretty hardheaded and I had to figure this out myself. Adjusting the workflow and getting things fine-tuned so that I was asking for things just in the right order at the right time. Well, it saved me countless hours and help jobs go smoothly that for sure would not have had I not asked for things at the appropriate time.
So, wrapping it all up, how do we create a custom workflow?
Well, we write out our process from start to finish each task. If you want to use mine as a starting point, do that.
Then, we use that list as a checklist on each job, mark off each task as you complete it. If something needs to be moved? Move it. Something needs to be added? Add it. Removed? Remove it.
Then, before each new job, we use our edited list as your new starting point. Constantly tweak and improve your process.
In the next video, I’m going to detail my process for sprinkler design, step by step, as an example. Then we’re going to hit on why this is so important, and why it all even matters in the first place.
I'm Joe Meyer, this is MeyerFire University.
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