A system for developing systems

Most professional painting contractors understand the importance of developing systems for their business. For those who want to get out of the bucket, it is absolutely imperative. Unfortunately, developing systems can be a very imposing task, and many contractors don’t know where to start. However, it doesn’t have to be a daunting task. If they use a system, the process can be much easier and far more effective. In other words, use a system to develop systems.

To illustrate, let us say that you find your crews frequently doing work in the wrong order. They wind up wasting time and cause you unnecessary frustration. How can you correct this situation without being a baby sitter?   The first step is to identify the problem, or more specifically, the undesired result. In this case, the undesired result is wasted time. You can’t fix a problem if you don’t know what it is. The next step is to identify what actions (or inactions) are causing the result. The undesired results have a cause, and if you want different results, different actions must be taken.

Returning to our example, if the crew is doing work in the wrong order, the solution is to identify the proper order. For example, for an interior repaint this might consist of the following tasks:

  • Clear the room
  • Prep the surfaces to be painted
  • Paint
  • Clean up
  • Put the room back in order

Of course, there are many steps involved in each of these tasks. For example, prepping a room might involve drywall repairs, sanding woodwork, caulking, masking, and more. The process of painting a room might involve dozens of separate tasks and steps. And that is usually where the process of developing systems becomes overwhelming. Many contractors think that they need to develop a procedure for every one of those tasks, and they think that they have to develop all of them at once. If they feel overwhelmed, they might wind up developing none of them.

However, the chances are good that the crew is generally doing the work in the proper order. It is unlikely that they are doing the clean up before they do the prep. Usually, the problem occurs in a fairly narrow range of activities, such as in the prep. That is where you should focus your efforts. In other words, return to step one above–identify the undesired result and then identify the action or inaction that is causing that result.

Let us say that you figure out that during prep the crew is doing drywall repairs last. As a result, they wind up waiting for the patch to dry and the start of painting gets delayed. Your solution then, is to identify the proper order for prep. As an example:

  • Repair all drywall cracks
  • Sand and caulk woodwork
  • Remove switch plate covers
  • Mask

This order allows the crew to be performing other tasks while drying occurs. There are, of course, multiple ways of addressing this issue. Quick set could be used or multiple rooms could be prepped at once. The point is, identify the order that you want followed, and then document those steps.

Your preferences may seem perfectly logical to you. You might wonder why anyone would do the work in a different order. But the fact is, unless you have a highly unusual crew, they are not mind readers. They don’t know your preferences unless you tell them. They may have learned a certain order to do the work, and have never questioned it. They may not be concerned with efficiency. Regardless, until you tell them your preferences, they simply don’t know.

Once you have addressed, and hopefully eliminated, this problem, you can move to the next. For example, you may then find that clean up isn’t as efficient as it could be and should be. Develop a process for that issue.   In short, this system allows you to address the things that aren’t going right, rather than trying to fix things that aren’t broken. It allows you to address the things that are causing the most problems. And, as you reduced or eliminate those big problems, you can then move to smaller issues.   You wouldn’t try to perform every task involved in painting a house at one time. Don’t try developing systems that way either.

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