Posted by: JC Gatlin | March 9, 2011

FTQ’s Most Wanted: $238.75 Caulking Issues

It’s on every punch list. It’s one of the top reasons for return trips. And lately, it’s become the poster child for “Second Time Quality.”

Second Time Quality costs us money; First Time Quality saves us money.

Caulk issues (whether that’s missed, incomplete or sloppy) are costing us big. One missed window sill or exterior penetration causes the Construction Professional to double check, report and re-schedule the Building Partner to return. (Let’s say 15 minutes at $33 per hour.) The Building Partner crew must leave a current job and drive back to the jobsite (at $3.50/gallon plus wear & tear on the truck x the distance to the jobsite) for “15 minutes” to complete a job that should have already been completed. (That whole round trip could take an hour. If it’s a 2-man crew making $18/hr we just wasted $36.) Adding up all this nickel-and-diming, we could say each caulk issue is costing us $47.75.

So here are some recurring caulking issues we’ve experienced in January & February. Added up, the 2nd Time Quality issues below cost us $238.75!

Return to caulk gaps around the window: $47.75

Return to smooth-out caulk around windows: $47.75

Return to caulk around exterior penetrations: $47.75

Return to caulk missed areas in showers and tubs: $47.75

Return to caulk the backsplash: $47.75

© March 2011 Homebuilding Partners, Inc.   twitter-logo

Posted by: JC Gatlin | March 6, 2011

Set your Appointment Goal and your sales will follow

Lean Sales means keeps it simple; break an overwhelming task down into its simplest components. And what can seem more daunting than meeting your sales budget each month?

If you’re budgeted to sell two homes per month, let’s simplify: you need to sell one home in the next two weeks. Simpler? Yes. But even that can feel like an insurmountable challenge. So let’s break it down further and set a goal that you know without fail you can achieve, and will result in selling a home.

Set an Appointment Goal for the next two weeks. 

So how many appointments do you need to set to sell one home? 10? 15? 20? 40? This is critical to answer. If you don’t know your sales formula (X appointments = 1 sale), then it’s pretty clear why you’re not doing as well as you could be doing: You haven’t identified your potential.

So, let’s say you need 20 appointments by the 15th. Now you know what you’re trying to achieve. But how do you get there? Well, keep working the sales formula. To have 20 appointments by the 15th, you need to set 2 appointments per day, which gives you a number to aim for. You know, every day, what you are trying to achieve. You’ve got a formula.

Set 2 appointments per day for the next two weeks = 20 appointments by the 15th = 1 home sale.

Here’s the tough part: You’ve got to commit 100% to your plan. If that means setting two model home appointments per day, then set two model home appointments per day. If it takes two phone calls, great. If it takes until 7 p.m., then that’s what it takes. But, one phone call at a time, you’ll build a succession of appointments that will allow you to achieve your sales budget.

© March 2011 Homebuilding Partners, Inc.   twitter-logo

Posted by: JC Gatlin | March 3, 2011

PDCA of the Month – “Dirt Piles” – February 2011

This problem has plagued our communities for years, and every year it seemed like someone would attempt to adress it. But each attempt fizzled out and disappeared somewhere in the elephant graveyard.

Last month, another Construction Professional tackled it from a fresh perspective. First, he tied the problem to wasted money, which gives the Plan-Do-Check-Adjust cycle that much more strength and impact. (Not to discount the motion and over-processing waste, or the negative impact on the customer experience.) Plus he formulated counter measures that are simple and low cost (or in this case, no cost).

This one hasn’t proven to eliminate this recurring problem once and for all, but I’m really looking forward to the “Check & Adjust” phase.

© February 2011 Homebuilding Partners, Inc.   twitter-logo

Posted by: JC Gatlin | February 27, 2011

Stop helping your competition sell their homes

There’s a reason we call our model homes our “store fronts;” it’s where you sell quality, value and a potential lifestyle in your homes and community.  On any given weekend, home shoppers compare your store front with the store fronts of the builder across the street and the builder down the road.  And, they’re looking for an excuse to eliminate your model home from their list. Don’t give your competition any advantages.

  • Sort out all the “junk” in the sales center — whether that’s your inventory of “Available” signage, old flyers, or customer files. Don’t let your sales office look like a tornado hit it. Don’t allow your model home’s garage to become a storage unit.
  • Set everything in order. Label where flyers and brochures go. Organize appropriate locations for your collaterals, signage inventory and cleaning supplies.
  • Showcase your model and sales center –both inside and out. The carpet should always look freshly vacuumed. The landscaping must “pop.” The entry way can’t have any stains, dirt or bugs. This means sweep and shine, every day.
  • Standardize how you will keep your model home and sales center a notch above the competition. Use a checklist to keep your model in “Showcase” condition. And if it helps, divide responsibilities with your Construction Manager and Sales Partner – if he’ll keep the signage in order, you’ll always keep the front entryway looking sharp and inviting.
  • Sustain the discipline. I know, it’s easier said than done. What’s worse, because you’re in that model  home and sales center day in and day out, it’s really tough to see what kind of first impression it’s making. So find what motivates you to keep your model home looking better than the builder’s across the street. Then you’ve got to keep that momentum going. Get honest feedback from a fresh set of eyes. Ask Realtors to grade it. Or, sometimes the biggest motivation is to actually walk the model homes of your competition.

Just keep this in mind: That builder across the street is always gaining on you, with a greener lawn, cleaner windows, a brighter entryway, and a better decorated, more enticing model home. You’re both selling to the same buyers — don’t make their job easier.

© February 2011 Homebuilding Partners, Inc.   twitter-logo

Posted by: JC Gatlin | February 23, 2011

Motion Waste: 10 Examples on the jobsite

Motion is one of the 7 Types of Waste and honestly one of the most common examples of waste on our jobsites. It refers to the extra steps taken by people to accommodate an inefficient process, defects, rework, reprocessing, overproduction or excess inventory. Motion takes time and adds no value to the product or service. To move and add value is called work. To move and not add value is called motion

Here are 10 examples of motion waste on the jobsite as pointed out by our jobsite Construction Managers.

1. Jobsites and vacant lots get muddy. And when our Building Partners park in the mud, their trucks leave mud trails behind them. Our Construction Managers constantly have to sweep the streets to keep up curb appeal and to prevent debris from running into the sewers. This problem was even addressed in a recent Plan-Do-Check-Adjust project.

2. Show me a sewer cap buried under mulch in the landscaping and I’ll show you a frustrated Construction Manager who has to dig it out. It can take him 30 minutes just to find the sewer cap, and that’s providing he notices the error before the inspector arrives. We’ve failed more than one inspection because the sewer cap was buried and inaccessable.

3. How much time is wasted shuffling through an unorganized permit box? Anyone needing access (be it the Construction Manager, Building Partner or Inspector) has to open it slowly and very carefully, else all the paperwork will spring out like a psychotic Jack-in-the Box. When this happens, the Construction Manager scrambles after paperwork blowing across the jobsite. On a good day, he’s just digging into and fumbling through a crumpled mess.

4. This is the classic, text book example of not completing the job. When a crew leaves behind lunch trash, wrappers, cups, spit bottles, unused material, and miscellaneous scraps, someone is going to have to come in behind them and clean it up. Most often its the Construction Manger, who can spend up to an hour at the end of the day straightening the jobsite. Sometimes its the Sales Professional, who hurriedly scoops most things up into a single pile before a prospective buyer steps onto the homesite. Sometimes its the following Building Partner, who has to spend a good portion of his duration time sweeping before his crew can even begin. And sometimes it’s the Homeowners on either side of the jobsite, who have trash blown into their yard and bushes.

5. No one seems to respect the blue prints. They get left out in the sun and rain. They get walked over and trampled on. Trucks run over them. When the Construction Manager has to order a new set because the old one is undecipherable, there’s another $45 down the drain…

6. Again, when a Building Partner doesn’t fully complete his job, it’s up to the next Building Partner to take time out of his schedule to finish it — or worse, work around it.

7. Every Construction Manger in the company marked this scenario as an example of motion waste. After waiting all morning for the county inspector to arrive, the Construction Manager makes a quick trip to another jobsite. In his absence, the inspector arrives. It’s Murphy’s Law. If the Construction Manager needed to speak to the Inspector, he’s out of luck. If the Inspector needed to speak to the Construction Manager, the inspection is failed. It can — and has on many occasions — impacted cycle time. The recurring problem is so prevelent in fact, one Construction Professional addressed it in a recent Plan-Do-Check-Adjust project

8. Motion waste runs rampant in an ineffective or inefficient process. In our system, we were experiencing a breakdown in Production providing a complete Start Packet to Construction when the job was released. There were a multitude of reasons for starting the job before the Start Packet was complete. Regardless, a start packet with missing documents causes the Construction Team headaches — from cycle time delays, to frustrated Building Partners to failed inspections. Construction and Production are currently going through the Plan-Do-Check-Adjust cycle now to get to the root cause of the problem.

9.  The Construction Manager has to check and recheck that there are no cuts or holes in the visqueen and it takes time to tape those holes shut again. That time wasted could be avoided if Building Partners walking across the slab would just watch where they step. And if an accidental rip does occur, take the time to repair it themselves.

10. When a Building Partner crew fails to complete the job 100% the first time, the Construction Manager has to follow behind him, inspect the work, document the  problem or defect, then call the crew supervisor, explain the problem and reschedule the crew back onto the jobsite. The Building Partner crew has to return to the jobsite and complete the job. Finally the Construction Manager re-checks the work, and calls the crew supervisor to let him know the job was actually completed. Exactly how much motion waste is that?

11. One of our Construction Manager said, “You know, it’s not like we’re using invisible dog fencing. The silt fence is hard to miss.” Still, those fences get run over, trampled,  and materials thrown on top of them like they’re, well, not even there. They take a beating, and the Construction Manger has to take time every single day to put them back up, make repairs and, ultimately, pull them up and replace them. There’s not only a motion waste involved, but a lot of dollars wasted replacing the material. Like the example before it, just watch your step… please.

Okay, so there were 11 examples… Consider the last one bonus waste.

© February 2011 Homebuilding Partners, Inc.   twitter-logo

Posted by: JC Gatlin | February 20, 2011

5 Grass Roots Marketing Kaizens to Drive Traffic

A lean homebuilder understands the power and importance of grassroots marketing, over expensive, traditional marketing campaigns. It’s the only way to compete with all those national builders with the deep pockets.

The key behind grassroots marketing is to connect with the community on a simple — and often fun & creative level. It’s all about using your imagination to get the word out!

Here are 5 Grass Roots Marketing Kaizens that we’re using to drive traffic to our communities and promote our Available Homes.

1. Find community bulletin boards

Kaizen: “I found 8 local businesses including a grocery store and Starbucks and 2 local libraries that have a community bulletin board. I’m posting a flyer on all those bulletin boards.” Results: “Walk in traffic has increased and I’ve had a couple of people actually walk in the model with the flyer I had posted. Every Friday I go to each one of those places and post a new flyer so there’s constantly a new message getting out there.”

2. Use flyer displays in local restaurants

Kaizen: “There’s 15 local restaurants that agreed to let me set-up a flyer in an acrylic display stand. Depending on the store, they’re either on the check-out counter or on top the “Thank You” waste cabinet next to the door.” Results: “These restaurants have hundreds of people coming in and out of them daily. Now times that by 15 and over a thousand people a day are seeing the flyer for my inventory home.”

3. Get creative with community amenities

Kaizen: “My community has a beautiful, fenced dog park in this neighborhood, so I contacted the Mixed Breed Dog Club of America about holding a dog show in the park. The MBDC did all the marketing and promotion and we sponsored the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place prices, and we grilled hot dogs and hamburgers. It was a great Saturday afternoon event.” Results: “We had over 50 people attend the dog show and I scheduled 3 appointments that week. Now I’m organizing a scavenger hunt in the nature trail with a local church group.”

4.  Trade advertising with local businesses

Kaizen: “I’m trading advertising with a local laundry & dry cleaning chain. I printed door hangers promoting a special incentive for their customers and the dry cleaner is hooking them on clothes they’re returning to their customers. In return, I’m handing out a flyer and coupon to their stores with the floor plan collaterals that I give each prospect.”   Results: “In the month since I started this promotion, I’ve had 8 calls and 5 walk-in visitors telling me that they heard about my community through their dry cleaner.”

5.  Get involved in local events

Kaizen: “The large home expos at the convention center become more and more expensive every year, and because of the competition, seem to produce fewer results. That’s why I started focusing on local events, such as the Special Olympics at the nearby school, the Renaissance Fair at the park, and the championship little league tournament.” Results: “Setting up a simple table to hand out flyers and a few promotional items has produced more phone calls than a home expo ever did, and it’s a fraction of the cost.”

© February 2011 Homebuilding Partners, Inc.   twitter-logo

Posted by: JC Gatlin | February 7, 2011

Building Partner Council: Setting Goals

 We launched our Building Partner Council and the first question to come up was, “What’s the purpose?”

That’s easy to answer from the Home Builder side. Our goal was clear: We want to perfect the construction schedule and improve cycle time. But for our Building Partners, that wasn’t so easy to answer. Many were just showing up because, well, we asked them to.

So we kicked off the meeting asking our Building Partners, “What exactly do you want to get out of this, if we’re going to all the trouble?” There were a lot of answers:

  • Reduce jobsite waste, obviously
  • Improve jobsite safety
  • Decrease call backs and punch lists
  • Reduce warranty call backs
  • Improve communication & camaraderie between the Building Partners
  • Improve communication between the Construction Professionals and the Building Partners
  • Improve job readiness
  • I’m just here for the donuts & coffee

Ultimately, our Building Partners agreed on two objectives: improve our blue print detail accuracy and improve our scheduled lead time notifications.

This gives us our direction – or True North – for the year. Next step is to determine exactly how we’re going to get there.

© February 2011 Homebuilding Partners, Inc.   twitter-logo

I don’t know if this is really “case closed” as the Plan-Do-Check-Adjust Presentation suggests, but they’ve certainly made an improvement.

Like any good PDCA project, this one included all the players — the jobsite Construction Professional, the Painter (who was experiencing a problem) and the window installer (who was inadvertently causing a problem). The team worked together to get to the root causes — in which both the window installer and the Construction Professional accepted culpability. Most of our presentations don’t include the 5-Why Fishbone Analysis, especially the ones I’ve posted online. But this one clearly shows us each group member’s perspective.

It’s well done. It addresses First Time Quality. And, hopefully it is “case closed,” but really does require a Check in six weeks or so to see if the problem is truly eliminated.

© February 2011 Homebuilding Partners, Inc.   twitter-logo

Posted by: JC Gatlin | January 30, 2011

Lean Office: 5S in Action!

Since implementing lean in our office building, we’ve made some real improvements using the 5S system. That’s not to say that we still don’t have challenges to meet (a.k.a. the storage room). Here’ s a few of the improvements we’ve made: 

© January 2011 Homebuilding Partners, Inc.   twitter-logo

Posted by: JC Gatlin | January 26, 2011

Recommended Reading: Leadership From the Ground Up

These are three books from last year’s reading list that I meant to recommend several months ago. Interesting story behind them: The 2 Day House and The Checklist Manifesto were recommended and given to me by a fellow builder in Louisiana. I purchased Chasing the Rabbit after meeting the author, Steven Spear, in a Lean group on LinkedIn.

2 Hour House: Leadership from the Ground Up by Brian Conway (2007)

Is it possible to build a house in only two hours? Either they would prove the doubters wrong and go down in history, or they would go up in flames. Only time, the next few hours to be exact, would tell. A group of East Texas homebuilders dreamed of setting a new world record for building a 2,249 square foot house from the ground up. To do so, they would have to pour a concrete slab that hardened in only 22 minutes and paint the house in the same time it takes to brush your teeth. Plans called for a traditional home that met or exceeded code at every turn. It took two years of planning, 1,000 volunteers from every trade and more than a little luck to pull it off. It was an enormous puzzle with thousands of pieces. But once they dumped everything out of the box and onto the lot inside a new subdivision, would all of the pieces fit together? What this team learned about life, leadership and the persistence of the human spirit will motivate you to transform your own life, work and home from the ground up.

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Chasing the Rabbit: How Market Leaders Outdistance the Competition and How Great Companies Can Catch Up and Win by Steven J. Spear (2009)

Winner of the Shingo Prize for Research and Professional Publication, 2009

How can companies perform so well that their industry counterparts are competitors in name only? Although they operate in the same industry, serve the same market, and even use the same suppliers, these “rabbits” lead the race and, more importantly, continually widen their lead. In Chasing the Rabbit, Steven J. Spear describes what sets high-velocity, market-leading organizations apart and explains how you can lead the pack in your industry.

Spear examines the internal operations of dominant organizations, including Toyota, Alcoa, Pratt & Whitney, the US Navy’s Nuclear Power Program, and top-tier teaching hospitals–organizations operating in vastly differing industries, but which share one thing in common: the skillful management of complex internal systems that generates constant, almost automatic self-improvement at rates faster, durations longer, and breadths wider than anyone else musters. As a result, each enjoys a level of profitability, quality, efficiency, reliability, and agility unmatched by rivals. Chasing the Rabbit shows how to:

  • Build a system of “dynamic discovery” designed to reveal operational problems and weaknesses
  • Attack and solve problems at the time and in the place where they occur, converting weaknesses into strengths
  • Disseminate knowledge gained from solving local problems throughout the company as a whole
  • Create managers invested in the process of continual innovation

Whatever kind of company you operate–from technology to finance to healthcare–mastery of these four key capabilities will put you on the fast track to operational excellence, where you will generate faster, better results using less capital and fewer resources. Apply the lessons of Steven J. Spear’s and leave the competition in the dust.

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The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Real by Atul Gawande (2009)

With a title like The Checklist Manifesto, it would be natural to expect that Atul Gawande is bent on revolutionizing that most loved-hated activity of workers the world over: the to-do list. But it’s not the list itself he wants to change; there are no programmatic steps or tables here to help you reshuffle daily tasks. What you’ll find instead is a remarkably liberating and persuasive inquiry into what it takes to work successfully and with a personal sense of satisfaction. The first thing you’ll realize is that it takes more than just one person to do a job well. This is a toppling revelation made all the more powerful by Gawande’s skillful blend of anecdote and practical wisdom as he profiles his own experience as a surgeon and seeks out a wide range of other professions to show that a team is only as strong as its checklist–by his definition, a way of organizing that empowers people at all levels to put their best knowledge to use, communicate at crucial points, and get things done. Like no other book before it, The Checklist Manifesto is at once a restorative call to action and a welcome voice of reason.

All books are available through

© January 2011 Homebuilding Partners, Inc.   twitter-logo

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