Scheduling your workload effectively

A business can succeed or fail on effective scheduling, so it’s really important to have a procedure in place for planning upcoming projects – setting timescales and managing operational delivery of work.

My previous blog post ‘Order! Order! How an order book can help keep your business in line’ discusses how essential it is to set up and maintain an order book, documenting all current projects and placing them in a monthly schedule of works to be completed – but there are steps you need to take to ensure your order book works effectively.

Here are a few tips on scheduling your work – so that you are able to set realistic deadlines that you can stick to!

Take a comprehensive brief
This should be a given – that you understand exactly what is required of you before you even put in your proposal or quote.  All too often, however, sales teams fail to take a comprehensive brief, which leads to all sorts of problems down the line.  Not only can this cause your quotation to be askew, if you find out later that more is expected of you than you thought, it makes scheduling impossible. Make sure you understand, in as much detail as possible, what the client wants!

Monitor how long different project tasks take
To schedule your workload effectively, you need to understand your output levels. How long does each task take? Do you need to allow extra time to troubleshoot any problems? Is your work dependent on receiving information or products from others that could cause delays? Try and set a maximum delivery time for each project task.

Match projects to work hours available
To ensure you meet deadlines, you need to schedule new work into your existing production programme.  If you don’t have the man hours to start work on a project for a couple of weeks, make sure you take this into account when calculating your deadlines. You will need to consider staffing levels, allowing for holidays etc.

Communicate with your client!
One of the most vital steps in scheduling works is communicating your plans to the client to ensure your potential deadline meets with their expectation.  If they have a distinct deadline, you need to know you can meet it.  If you can’t, you need to tell them – it’s just good customer service.

Monitor your schedule regularly
Things do crop up in business that can mess up even the most meticulous plans. Unexpected staff absences, urgent jobs that must be prioritised, unanticipated delays, the list goes on. Regular monitoring of your work schedule is, therefore, essential. You may need to shuffle tasks around, speak to clients about moving deadlines or enlist more help to get work completed – so ongoing management of scheduled works is vital.

Update your order book accordingly
Make sure you keep your order book updated! Add in new work according to your planning, with a realistic deadline. If you have to shuffle tasks, change the details in your order book so that it doesn’t throw your invoicing or cash flow predictions out.

For more in-depth advice on project scheduling, take a look at Doug’s practical guidebook ‘Getting Down to Business’ or speak to him direct about the support he can offer.

Order! Order! How an order book can help keep your business in line

Some may think it’s an outdated practice, but keeping your order book in order can really help you keep your business in check.  It may be seen as an ‘old way’ of doing things, but my argument has always been – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!

On my initial visits to clients, I often hear they have no order book system in place.  Very much like the sales board I advocate for tracking your sales pipeline, an order book is essential to track and plan your operational delivery.

Whilst updating the order book is still seen as an essential process in the manufacturing industry, to keep a check on how much output you need through the production line each month to fulfil your orders, it is often overlooked in the service industries.  Keeping an order book, however, is a useful tool in any business.

Here are just some of the ways it can help you:

1 – Scheduling client work
One of the worst things you can do with client work is over-promise and under-deliver.  This often happens when we set unrealistic deadlines for completion of client work – and are left struggling to fulfil orders as promised.  But there really is no excuse for mis-scheduling!  An order book allows you to check your current workload in any given month, so you can schedule new orders around it.

2 – To do list
An order book will help you plan your task sheet, or to do list.  Let’s face it, if you have no easy way to see at a glance what jobs you have on your books each month – how are you going to plan the delivery of the work?  Instead of writing a day-to-day to do list, and risk missing tasks in the process, an order book will help you plan your work production in advance.

3 – Forecasting cash flow
An order book helps you predict your company’s income – a necessity to ensure you have enough work to sustain you.  It allows you to see exactly how much you should be able to invoice in any given month.  As long as you understand your break-even figures, you can work out whether you are meeting that as a minimum each month.

4 – Marketing and sales activity
A glance at your order book will tell you in an instant where you need to focus your marketing and sales activity.  You might find you’re stacked out with work for the next three months, but then have nothing – or you’ve pre-booked loads of work for three months time, but have nothing now.  Use this information to focus your marketing and sales activity.  Run a marketing campaign that encourages orders in your quiet months, maybe running a short-term offer, or prioritise the sales calls you think will bring work in when it is needed most.

5 – Invoicing
Your monthly invoicing will be so much easier if you have a record of work completed each month.  When work is signed off as delivered successfully, mark your order as complete in your order book and date it.  This then becomes your working document to charge clients for finished projects.

These are my top five reasons, but I’m certain that once you start using an order book system, you will discover many more benefits.

Doug’s book ‘Getting Down to Business’ includes a more in-depth look at how to set up and maintain an order book – as well as covering other essentials of business success. Buy it here now!