Your worst employee isn’t an employee at all, but it does cost you an “hourly wage”, misrepresent your company with it’s ugly face, and is standing in the way of your success. It’s common, and even popular in our industry to neglect “office stuff” and because of that, this ugly “employee” is likely one of your slowest, most ineffective “employees”. His name is data flow.

We like to spend our time doing “things that matter”, physical stuff, the things you can touch and move. It’s not an area that we like to pay attention to, but data flow is a vital and necessary part of your business, whether you choose to acknowledge it or not. The good news is that with a little tweaking, you can turn this bad “employee” into a well oiled machine that will put you ahead of the rest.

First, let’s get on the same page. What are we even talking about when we say “data flow”? Don’t get scared away with words. Data, tech, information systems, blah, blah blah. In a nutshell, you already understand data flow intuitively. Consider this familiar scenario: An employee walks in the office and interrupts you with a question about an order. You begin shuffling papers, read a post-it, and shoot back an answer, “let me call them and see.” The employee turns, walks out the door across the shop and begins working on something else. You call the customer, interrupt what they are doing, they look at a post-it, and finally give you an answer. You walk across the shop, interrupt the employee with what he is now doing, and give him the answer. Once in your office, you try to resume, and just when you get back in the zone, the door opens with another question.

The worst part of this scenario is how common it is. This happens a considerable amount, at almost every business. Let’s get technical to prove a point. How much time does this common scenario waste, and what is that time costing you? Let’s say the employee took 30 seconds to stop what he is doing and walk across the shop, you took another 20 to answer, 30 until the customer answered the phone, 20 for them to get you an answer, 30 for you to walk to the employee, and 30 to walk back to your office.

So, just over two and a half minutes for one piece of data. Let’s pretend that it actually did happen that fast, that you didn’t get distracted anywhere along the way (preventing the stress consequence that would come along with it). Let’s also pretend that you can quickly get back to what you were doing without losing any productivity - remember, even just sitting there in a momentary daze, trying to recover from a distraction and get back on track is an opportunity cost all it’s own. All those unforeseen circumstances aside, let’s even assume your shop is small, your customers and employees speak quickly and always answer the phone on the first ring - so we can take that time down to two minutes. Two minutes for one piece of data, and let’s be serious, how much data is needed to run the place? So, multiply that number by that factor, and you’ve got a serious amount of improvement to overcome.

What if Amazon.com took two minutes to load, or the bank teller stared at you for two minutes before answering your question, or what if your calculator took two minutes to give you an answer? You’d KNOW they were broken and you’d do something about it. For some reason, we allow our businesses to run with these types of inefficiencies all day long, over, and over, and over. The above scenario happens more times a day and in more varieties than you can even imagine, and it’s costing you big time.

Generally, people react a few ways when they hear this. Most people justify it. “it’s just how things are”, or “my business is too custom” (If I had a penny for every time I’ve heard that one). Some ignore it, some deny it, and some recognize it as a huge opportunity. Which one are you?

It’s 2015 at the time of this article. I can shut my garage door from across the country, and read my kids a bedtime story from my hotel room, in four clicks from a device in my pocket. It’s incredible if you think about it. I can do those things because I can leverage amazing systems that people began building years ago, which are just mine for the taking. It’s an amazing world! Systems like this are available to you as a woodworker or business owner, and if you don’t take advantage of those systems you’re choosing to make your business more complicated than it needs to be, you’re missing out on huge opportunities and will be swallowed up by those that do, as they laugh all the way to the bank.

Since you already understand data flow and you already deal with it all day long, it’s time to give it an upgrade, just like changing the layout in your shop. Take some steps:

  1.   Start to recognize the data flow between your employees, customers, and vendors, and machinery.
  2.   Write it all down, draw a diagram of how it flows, who has to know what, etc.
  3.   Look for tools that connect and simplify tasks you already do using technology. There are a myriad of free and paid tools alike in a wide array of configurations. Try some after you’ve diagramed it all out.

Sometimes, the time it takes to implement a new system keeps people from making those improvements… You’re “too busy chopping wood to sharpen the ax”. Most data flow improvements require systems that take a bit of time and effort to implement in the beginning, but save you time every day from then on, making them more than worth it.

Among others, Allmoxy is one tool designed for the woodworking industry to improve data flow. It’s free and you can get started in a few minutes.
 

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