Coordinating is harder than doing

As you’re turning off the lights and shutting everything down at the end of the day, you see your finished product sitting by the shipping door. You look at it and think to yourself, “It’s five pieces of wood put together into a box with two doors on it, how could this possibly take so long?” And if you’re anything like me, the next little bit of math going through your head is how long I think it would take me, and it’s usually one quarter of the time the factory is producing it in, at least in my head.

But why is reality so far askew from what I as an experienced cabinet maker think is possible? I believe it’s because when we think of building something, it’s typically in a perfect world. We’re standing at the bench with all of our tools. We have all of our parts, and any machines we need are available. So, in my head, I slap that cabinet together in 10 minutes, hang the doors, and I’m done.

Reality is different
But in reality there is a much different picture unfolding. These are things we don’t always see, and some are very hard to quantify.

I have come to believe that it’s far more difficult to coordinate the building of products than it is to actually build them.

It’s staggering how complex it is to build a custom kitchen, and it never ceases to amaze me that for the most part, we woodworkers figure it out and have happy customers. Every factory we visit to help kick off their lean journey has similar problems. Here are five things you can do – wait – should do, to help with this massively complex business you’ve got yourself into. Albeit none of this will reduce the complexity, but it will sure help free up some brain power you didn’t know you were wasting on trivial stuff.

Five tips for better coordination
1. Information up front. Get the information as far up the value stream as possible as soon as possible. If you’re letting your customers pick colors and handles after you have started building, you’re setting yourself up for failure. Remember the farther up your value stream you push problems the cheaper they are to solve. Create job-specific checklists (not generic) and have go-no-go points throughout the checklist where you have determined if we don’t have this information by this day the project stops. Being clear and educating your customer on your process will save you tons of time in the end.

2. Simplify your purchasing. There are so many weird and wonderful things that customers want built into their kitchen that require some purchasing brainpower. Stop wasting your purchaser’s time on trivial stock items. It might seem like no big deal to order screws, glue, pencils, and toilet paper, but the reality is those things to take time, time that could be better spent focusing on more difficult tasks. Put a Kanban system in place immediately. I promise you won’t believe the benefits. Search the archives here on FDMC for our article on Kanban or go to our blog page at

3. Create standard work documents for all your processes. I know this sounds insane and like a lot of work. Don’t stop everything to try to accomplish this. Just commit to one or two a day, and before you know it they will be everywhere. Your people are spending their valuable time and brain power explaining things over and over again to new hires, and those poor folks are trying desperately to remember it. Our little human brains are not designed for remembering, only creative problem-solving. That’s why you find yourself saying, “I told them this three times already!” Save yourself and all the people around you a ton of frustration and create some standard work documents. Cover everything you do from keeping the bathroom clean to building boxes. Pictures are worth a thousand words.

4. Make sure you are measuring! Measure something, heck measure anything. Your team needs to know if they are having a good day or a bad day. Count cabinets per day, pieces per day, dollars per day, or make some kind of point system. Just try not to get too deep into the weeds making it perfect. You are not using these numbers to submit your taxes! It’s just a guide to help make decisions on the shop floor level. Measuring like this lets everyone know if their improvements are making a difference. Get everyone behind moving the needle in the right direction, and they can’t do it without a target.

5. Training training and training. This is probably the bane of all of our existence. Finding the time to do it right seems about as likely as locating Bigfoot. But if you do a half decent job of your standard work then your training time will be cut in half. If you want to take that to the next level, include videos with your Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs). Don’t think you have to hire Steven Spielberg to get those videos done, pull out your phone make the video and you’re done. As you start doing this, you’ll see the benefits, and like everything else in your factory, it will just gradually get better.

I hope some of these tips help you on your lean journey. The fact that you’re reading this article means you’re in the 2 percent. Remember: If it were easy, everyone would do it. Get out there and make some improvements. If you need any help advice or just some words of encouragement, visit us at and tell us your story. We’re here to help.


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About the author
Brad Cairns | President/Owner/C-Level

Brad Cairns is the senior principal at Quantum Lean and is dedicated to improving the woodworking industry in North America using lean methods. He also owns Best Damn Doors, a cabinet door manufacturing business in St. Thomas, Ontario. You can reach Brad at 519-494-2883 or [email protected].