Over the years, we all deal with many gradual processes or progressive changes in our personal lives, as well as in the workplace.
We ultimately learn to incorporate these changes into some type of comfort zone that we find appealing or productive. This allows us to determine our successes and, to be honest, makes us feel good.
Pick up any collision publication and scan through the articles. You will probably find a widely diverse collection of techniques and procedures explaining how to deal with the ever-changing repair complexities that automotive manufactures have designed into new vehicles.
As you read through these articles, you may often start feeling a little apprehensive about certain repair procedures that may have worked for you in the past, but may not necessarily work for you now. How unfortunate.
It’s like stepping up to the plate in a baseball game having perfected the art of hitting a slider out of the park. Then along comes a pitcher who puts a little different twist on the ball. Three strikes and you’re out.
Kind of a goofy analogy, but I relate it to a certain vehicle model that you have seen or worked on many times. Next model year, along comes a new version of the same model with many similarities, but with different build characteristics and new features.
The old way just doesn’t seem to work and now you must adapt to the changes through education or just trying to figure it all out. Unfortunately, this will cost you, your business and the customer time, and time translates into dollars.
OK, you may have found a magic shortcut, but it still slowed you down and may have cost you or the shop the price of a broken part. Multiply this scenario by the number of new vehicles you see in a week and it quickly adds up.
Remember Newton’s Third Law? “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” After spending the majority of my life in the Collision Industry, I have come to realize that overall it is largely a reactive industry. In some cases we cannot change this; in some cases we can.
Readily responsive to a stimulus
Let’s look at a typical scenario in a collision center. I will describe this from a higher level without getting into details.
A customer drives in for an estimate. We can look at this part of the process in two different ways: You disassemble the vehicle to inspect for possible hidden damages, OR you write it up without disassembly. Here’s how it often plays out:
1. The vehicle is assessed for damages, based on the skills, knowledge or experience of the person performing this task.
2. Parts may or may not be ordered.
3. Based on the shop’s criteria, the vehicle is immediately scheduled for production or for another repair date.
4. The vehicle moves into production.
5. The technician reviews the estimate or repair plan.
6. The technician starts the repair or disassembly, based on their knowledge skills or experience.
7. The technician may discover, object, or negotiate additional repairs, processes, parts or times on the job.
8. The vehicle may or may not stop in production due step 7.
9. The repair is completed and the customer is contacted to pick it up.
10. The vehicle is delivered to the customer.
Can you see any reactive scenarios that may have occurred? (Hint: Steps 6, 7 and 8)
When I speak with shop Owners, Managers, Technicians and Estimators, I always have them explain their shop flow to me so I can understand where opportunities exist to improve or reduce the overall cycle time. I guess you can call this a lean way of thinking. I have spoken to shops that incorporate lean processes, non-lean processes or a combination of both. In roughly 99% of the cases I find a consistent scenario.
Broken – Fix It.
That’s what we do best. It’s why we are involved in this Industry.
In the previous shop scenario, there are many areas where we could have improved productivity, but the place to start is at the beginning. I think of it like an assembly line.
If you were going to mass produce a widget on a large scale due to the demand, how would you accomplish this?
Would you wait till the assembly line broke down and then, while everyone is waiting to buy your widgets, develop a plan to fix the problem?
Or, prior to starting the assembly line, would you examine ways in which the assembly line could break down, and develop a plan of action before it happened? The same questions apply to your business.
Determine the areas where a vehicle may hold up production and develop ways to eliminate the stoppage. Incorporate tools and processes to build good habits and constantly reinforce them.
Pre-planning is the key, and skills, knowledge and experience can play a significant role in achieving a successful outcome. How you and your staff acquire these skills, knowledge and experience is another story.
I wrote earlier that we ultimately learn to adapt to changes and create some type of comfort zone that we find appealing or productive. While this may be true, it does not protect us from change. But change, no matter how difficult, can be a good thing.
So where am I going with all this?
Take the skills and experience you have and enhance them with up-to-date processes, repair recommendations and techniques prior to something breaking – before a vehicle stops in production and you lose time and money. Even more importantly, before your customer has to deal with the consequences. Old ways may still apply, but new habits need to be developed.