Mark Walmer, lead designer at S.J.Janis Company in Wauwatosa, Wis., knew that bottlenecks in the design process could dramatically slow down the company's ability to move profitable projects into production. He also knew that the company used Microsoft Project to manage the production process. He figured the program's capabilities were perfect for scheduling design, too.

He was right. Working with the company's production manager, Walmer developed a 37-step course of action for each project that came into the successful design/build firm.

“The day that a design contract is signed, it's entered directly into Project,” Walmer says. “The program automatically assigns deadlines to the majority of steps that must be followed if we're to have a successful move into production.”

The program starts by giving a six-day deadline for the field measure. Eight days later, the client plan review meeting should be held. This same detailed schedule moves through the entire design process — all the way through to the preconstruction conference that is to be held no more than 56 days after the design contract has been signed and on to the start of the project, which is seven days later.

“I find that I work better with deadlines, so this helps me stay organized and on top of the numerous projects that are somewhere within our system,” Walmer says. “Currently, there are 11 projects in design, nine in various stages of production, and four waiting to start. Microsoft project is perfectly suited to this process.

“In addition, both the production manager and I know exactly where each project is at any given time and what each of us needs to keep the project moving — so we have much less need for face-to-face meetings,” he says. “That saves us tons of time — time that we can now use to stay on top of the projects we have in-house. This increases our capacity while maintaining efficiency.”

While some companies increase the length of time that larger projects are in design, S.J. Janis approaches it differently. “We keep the same deadlines for all of our projects no matter what the size,” Walmer says. “Because the smaller projects often take less time, I can borrow time from those if necessary and then not worry about the larger projects slowing down.” —Victoria Downing is president of Remodelers Advantage, Fulton, Md. (301) 490-5620,