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The Unconventional Guide to Work

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Workflow 411 with Steelcraft Engineering

Workflow 411 is a regular column here on the WorkflowMax blog. Here, we get a company to walk us through their workflow process. Every company is different, and every firm has different methods and processes for managing their projects. Our hope is that by studying what others do, you can find techniques to improve your own workflow.

Today we talk to Jason & Darren Goerge, from Steelcraft: an Auckland-based machining and fabrication company. With more than 30 years in the industry, Steelcraft have a reputation for outstanding quality and innovation, and they also have the dubious honour of being the first ever WorkflowMax clients,

About The Company: Steelcraft

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Darren and Jason George

Jason - My father started this business in 1982. I was an apprentice for my dad and I continued the business. Darren came on board in 2004, which helped us get more clients and grow the business dramatically. When we started, we had 6 people working for us. Now we’ve up to 80. It’s a mix of contractors and casual workers. They may do 2 or 3 days per week. About 50 out of 80 are full time.

Darren - Prior to joining the business I was playing professional rugby, but I had done an apprenticeship beforehand. I used to do a lot of maintenance work for my dad during school holidays.

Jason -- I did a NZC -- plumber and engineer, not a engineer degree. We both are trades qualified. We’re more hands on; welding, fabrication, mechanical fitting.

What have been your main challenges when it comes to workflow?

Duncan - In the beginning, there were only a few people, but a lot of jobs. So we couldn’t track them, and couldn’t put allocated time next to the job and then invoice it. It was all quite hard.

Jason -- We were using a customized solution built in Microsoft Access. Sometimes the excel spreadsheet stuffed up and we would lose track of invoices; we had nothing to bill to the client. That was terrible from a business perspective. It was crazy. We couldn’t track the status of the jobs-- which jobs are current, which jobs are finished, it was really hard. Tracking everything was quite terrible.

There was no quoting. It never all came into one package. Quoting was done on a separate piece of paper in Microsoft Word, and we just made up any quote number - tried to guess what was the last quote number was and pick the next one. We were working on the shop floor during the day, and then coming home at night to do invoices and quoting. We love being engineers. We do this because we love doing engineering, but we hated running the business. It was a necessary evil for us. The best thing we ever did was to employ Cathy -- our financial administrator.

The biggest problem we had was that we would invoice people and they would forget to pay us. Because we weren’t checking up on it, there is no notification or anything saying “This client hasn’t paid.” 6 months could pass and then we’d finally notice he hasn’t paid us. Then we’dl invoice him again and he’d say “What’s this for? I haven’t worked with you in six months?” It is really hard for us to get money out of them.

Darren -- We weren’t reconciling anything. So we didn’t know who was paying for what. It would all come in as a single payment - like 90K -- but we didn’t know what that payment was for. It was a mess.

How Have You Solved These Challenges?

Jason -- Now that we have WorkflowMax, we just get one person - Anna - to enter time for all our employees. All of our employees write how many hours they have worked on a timesheet and then Anna enters all of it into WorkflowMax. We tried to get our guys involved in entering their own time, but it was a mess. Some of the guys are not very good with computers. Before WorkflowMax we used to have a diary. Everyday you will write down your hours, your names, and then the job he worked on. And then at the end of the week you summed it all up and you send it out.

The other major problem for us was that we were losing a lot of material from places because we were so rushed to get the job done, a lot of those materials & their costs were forgotten about. So we didn’t bill for them, which meant that we were losing money as we were not tracking our material costs.

So now we use a job number to track all this. If we have a cost against a job, we just input that directly in the system. Everybody knows the job number. We are not writing it in scrapbooks and bringing them all book and they get lost. We have lots of jobs going through the system, so it becomes impossible to track all that.

The other thing is the quotes -- you can actually bring up your actual quote, and then you can see how much you actually spend on a quote. That is incredible -- in the old days, we never knew if we’re making money or losing. Now, we can bring that up and see it straight away. Thats really really handy for us

Darren -- In the old days, You just didn’t know. You could be running at a loss, and you’d have no idea. You will have to wait till the end of the year to know your results. When you start growing, this is a huge problem.

How do you use custom reports?

Darren - There was a client we had who wanted some information for which we built some custom reports -- they wanted to know when things were breaking down, how much it was costing, which machines we are spending most of our time on -- so we used to do quite a substantial financial report for one client. We did a bar graph of operator error, or a report on tasks/job that took over 4 hours and we were able to do all that in WorkflowMax. We can’t even imagine doing all this stuff without WorkflowMax.

If you want to find anything about your business and if you’ve the right data in the system, then you can do whatever you want with it within WorkflowMax. Once you’ve created your reports, you can easily save them as favorites and they are a click away. You can then easily run them every month

The Invoicing Functionality is really important to you. Why?

Jason -- Everything in the old days was left for the end of the month. During the month, we’d just work work work. At the end of the month, we got everything together and sent out all the invoices In 2009, our clients started asking for invoices weekly -- so that they could keep up to date with their financial numbers.

Darren -- With WorkflowMax, we are able to start invoicing weekly, and then they started to ask for more details; “oh, can you attach a job number next to that? Can you add staff hours in there? Can you do this, can you do that?” and we were able to do all of that within WorkflowMax.

Jason - One company wanted to know hours from the monthly stats -- so we built a custom report and it’s now just a click away. Imagine doing that in the old days -- you’ve got to go through and calculate everybody’s hours. It would have been a giant pain in the ass.

What do you Love Most About WorkflowMax?

Darren - WorkflowMax enabled us to grow as a business. We would have never been able to grow as rapidly -- going from 6 staff to 20, then 40, and now 80 staff within 2 years. It would have been impossible to track and then invoice. We could never have done that in the old system.

Jason -- In the old days, I’d go home and do the accounts/finance stuff at my house. I was working in the office during the day, and doing my accounts at night. I was pretty burnt out.

WorkflowMax has given me family time back. I can spend time with my kids, friends and loved ones.

Back in the old days, it would have easily saved me 2 or 3 hours a week. But that’s just with 6 people in the company. With 80 people, it’sa whole different ball game now.

If I hadn’t implemented WorkflowMax, I wouldn’t have seen my kids grow up. It’s that simple, and you can’t put a price on that.

Thanks Jason & Darren! If you’re running a company using WorkflowMax and want to talk workflow with us, then drop us a line at steff.green@xero.com and we can interview you for Workflow 411.