Staying in the Game

The Situation

stephanie_maching_bay_web_readyExecutive Millwork Inc., a Calgary-based commercial cabinet millwork manufacturer, celebrates 25 years in business this year – quite the feat for a small company with just under 50 employees. Although much has gone right for Executive Millwork, there’s always room for improvement. Like many busy companies, the manufacturer has a complicated work flow, which, at times, has led to shipping, accounting and efficiency issues.

“We’ve got a 30,000-square-foot building with all the automated equipment for us to manufacture all our cabinets, counters and reception desks,” Stephanie Roll, the company’s vice-president and owner, says. Executive Millwork also installs the majority of its projects, even when that meant sending a team to Vancouver or Edmonton.

Combined with the intention of simplifying work flow, Roll’s most recent business concern is how to stay relevant and competitive in this shrinking world. “We’ve lost projects to China and Winnipeg,” she says. She doesn’t want that to happen again. Not without a fair fight, at least.

The Solution

Roll’s company was chosen to be one of the participants in a pilot program run by Productivity Alberta in partnership with the Calgary Construction Association (CCA) earlier this year. The pilot version of the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Adoption Program was made available to four small- to medium-sized Calgary construction companies where they broached the topic of improving ICT – with small budgets and staff – to compete with larger companies.

Common problems arise for smaller companies since upper management generally has a hands-on approach to business. This is because there are so few employees to get things done otherwise, therefore big-picture items and future improvement plans sit low on their priority lists.

“(The program) gave us a great understanding by learning from the other organizations in the room of what their challenges were,” Roll says. She attended the course, as it’s recommended that all owners do, and intended to keep her ICT goals geared to improve Executive Millwork’s efficiency and reduce errors by getting the right systems in place.

It was a significant amount of time commitment in-class to attend this program over a series of months, Roll says. Then, she duplicated that time afterwards at the office to try and cater her learnings towards her company for what would be most beneficial to the organization in actuality. She says it was worth it, though. “It was just me and it wasn’t a technical course,” she says regarding Executive Millwork’s representation in the program. “It was more of a vision rather than actually getting in there and doing it.”
Almost immediately after completing the program, Roll was able to translate what she was taught to colleagues so they could do some process mapping and document where Executive Millwork was at. The consultants explained to the group that an organization needs to understand where it’s currently at before it can get to where it wants to be.

Roll reviewed her company’s processes and found a solution initially meant just a lot of smaller fixes, not a complete software overhaul. “We were looking at tying all our systems in together so you only have to enter information once, not four different times in four different places,” Roll says. “We haven’t fully implemented everything. We’re still in the fairly early stages of getting a system in place.”

Continuous Improvement

Productivity Alberta, who led the pilot ICT program, stepped out of the classroom and into Executive Millwork’s boardroom. “That was a really important aspect to give us a hand with the documentation,” Roll says, “and make sure we were focusing where we should be focusing and know where to go for more information.”

Future changes for the millwork company will affect processes right at the beginning of a project (3-D drawings instead of 2-D), all the way through to their product labelling, shipping, installation and construction procedures. Having a computer-generated shipping list made before production, for example, instead of having a person create one on the shop floor based on what he sees in front of him, will be significant progress. This proactive approach will reduce errors in production as well as improve employees’ efficiency: Roll’s two main goals she set before taking the pilot program.

“We’re hoping to achieve a better flow in our production so that it will enable us to do more dollar volumes,” Roll says. “My goal would be to do over $10 million annually.” With change comes resistance, which is what Roll and other Executive Millwork managers are currently trying to ease. They’re aware people are comfortable with what they know and the company culture has to be set up to welcome change. That is where they’re at right now – getting employees comfortable and ready for change.

“I’m hoping that we’re going to be looking in pretty good shape by next June (2013),” she says. “That’s having a system in place that speaks to the other components by tying in your account entry in with your estimating and purchasing.”

To make sure they stay on track, she had one of the pilot program Productivity Alberta team members come in a few times since completing the program. “I foresee a long-term relationship with utilizing the consultant’s expertise,” Roll says. “I think when you’re so busy doing, you don’t sometimes recognize what can be done to do things differently and better.”

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