It's the weekly production meeting and Joe is going on and on about the Smith job. He's two days ahead of schedule thanks to the wall and roof packages being delivered early — at the same time, in fact. But he's worried that someone in the neighborhood might take them. And speaking of that neighborhood, he tells the group, they should all visit Smitty's Diner nearby. They serve great ham and eggs.
At this point, nobody is listening. After about 10 minutes of hearing Joe talk, the other participants start thinking about their own concerns. “Carpenters tend to get bored in production meetings or see them as a waste of time,” says Tim Faller, a production consultant for Field Training Services (www.leadcarpenter.com).
Who wants to sit in a room and hear someone drone on while their own pressing work is put on hold? No one. Yet week in and week out, this is what happens in many production meetings.
Some production managers, however, have developed a different, more effective approach. Their meetings solve problems, prevent common mistakes from slowing down work, and help everyone manage their time better. These production managers claim that their employees actually like these gatherings, and although their personal styles may vary, they all agree that the path to good meetings is guided by a few simple rules.
Rule 1: Use meetings to debug problems. Production meetings, if run well, serve the workers. “If you solve problems for people so that they can go back to work, they'll want to come to your meeting,” says Bill Daniels, CEO of American Consulting & Training. He frequently coaches clients on how to improve their meeting techniques.
According to Daniels, what you don't want is a meeting like the one above, where Joe runs through each of the 20 things he has going on and reports that they're all on schedule. “You can applaud people briefly for accomplishments,” Daniels says. “But the message should be: Use the meeting for what hasn't been solved.”
For example, before his lead carpenters arrive at their Wednesday morning production meeting, Brad Geer, production manager at Fannin Remodeling Co., in Toledo, Ohio, expects his people to study what's coming in the week ahead. The result? Carpenters show up prepared to talk about current and potential snags in terms of schedules, subs, and budget.
“If one guy is off schedule, another guy probably has an idea to get him back on schedule,” Geer says.
The same sort of troubleshooting happens at production manager Andy Hannan's meetings for superintendents (or project managers) held every other Wednesday at Mark IV Builders in Bethesda, Md. “Someone will say, ‘How do we get you caught up?' or ‘What if you tried this?' If we didn't have these meetings, that wouldn't happen.”
Rule 2: Keep your eyes on the road ahead, not on the rearview mirror. Meetings should focus on the future, Daniels says. “The past is important only from the standpoint of what needs to be done differently tomorrow. Meetings are not a time to find out who screwed up yesterday. That isn't going to do you much good.”
An added bonus of looking ahead, according to Geer, is that it's a great way for workers to save time later on. This goes against the instincts of many carpenters, however. “A carpenter would rather work on the wood right in front of him,” Geer says. “But an hour spent scheduling can save a day on the job. Our meetings force them to study their schedule once a week, since they know they'll have to talk about it.”
Rule 3: Tell them why they should care. To keep a crowd interested, the conversation should be relevant to everyone.
Want to talk about one person's job? If so, Faller says you should make sure there's something about it that everyone can learn from. And if you're going to do that, he says, “You should already know what that something is. You don't want to spend 10 minutes listening to Joe ramble on before figuring it out.”
His recommendation: Instead of starting the meeting with, “Joe, how's the Smith job going?” say, “Joe, you and I talked about this earlier. Why don't you tell us about the problem you're having with Mrs. Smith's job?” You'll help everyone enter the conversation more quickly and spark better solutions.