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Working with Forms & Phases

Job Phases are a powerful tool for organizing large jobs that have multiple dates for Activities like Fabrication or Installation. Job Phases enable accurate scheduling, material allocation, and reporting for large jobs. But if you don’t understand how Phases and Forms work together, you can make costly mistakes.

In this video on Part 2 of JobTracker Forms Training, you will learn to:

  • Customize and format forms for communicating clearly on screen and in print
  • Import a Job Form
  • Separate a Job into Phases
  • Ensure that Job Forms are assigned to correct Phases

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Interested in Reporting? Then you’re interested in Forms!

Yes, we get many calls from people who want to “start using the Reporting feature in JobTracker.” That’s great! Taking a closer look at your data can help you make good business decisions. But that’s also the catch. You can’t take a look at data that you aren’t capturing effectively.

That’s where Forms come in! Although there isn’t one “right way” to set up your forms, there a few principles that are essential to successful reporting. These principles and more were covered in Part 1 of our Forms webinar. Don’t worry if you missed it. We recorded it so you can tune in any time – and here is a PDF of the presentation if you want to take notes.

A few participants asked if they could have copies of the forms we used in the training. You bet! Here’s a help article with both forms and the instructions for downloading and importing.

And register now for Part 2 of our Forms training, Working with Forms & Phases!

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Gadget Zoo: Showing Moraware on Your Wall

In a previous post about our Houston training, I mentioned that I like gadgets. In fact, I even showed a brief segment during the training that we called Gadget Zoo, because it’s kinda like a kid’s petting zoo but for gadgets (and for grownups).

I’ll share some of the same gadgets here. If you find it useful, I’ll make Gadget Zoo an ongoing, occasional segment on this blog, so let me know if this is helpful.

Showing JobTracker on your wall

The main scenario I want to highlight today is replacing your whiteboard with a JobTracker calendar on a wall-mounted TV. For the high-level understanding of this – along with a couple of customer examples – read this article. Here, I’m going to geek out on the actual devices.

TV

The TV is easy: buy based on size and budget. If you have room and funds for a 55″ TV or bigger, get one. If you only have room for a 24″ monitor – or if you don’t want to spend as much money – that’s fine, too. You don’t need to get the fanciest model (and you certainly don’t need any “smart” features, because you’re going to plug a computer into it instead). Just make sure it has an HDMI port, as all new TVs do.

You’ll also want to get decent wall-mounting hardware. That’s not really a gadget, so I won’t go into detail about it here … just don’t cheap out on the mounting hardware, because falling screens are never fun.

4K is the new buzzword for high-end TVs. 1080p was the last one … 4K has more pixels (the dots that make up the picture) than 1080p, so in theory, it has a smoother picture with fewer jagged edges. Which should you choose? Frankly, it’s not going to make a huge difference on a smaller TV, but it might on a bigger one, especially if people get up close to it. Bottom line, if the price difference isn’t too much, go for the 4K. If you want to keep things as cheap as possible, feel great about 1080p. This is an area where technology is marching past what people really need – the last generation (1080p) was pretty awesome.

Computer

Once you have a TV or monitor, you need a computer to run JobTracker. If you have an old one lying around – and it still works fine – then go ahead and re-purpose it. But it’s almost always easier just to buy a cheap, new PC – and you might as well make it tiny while you’re at it.

If you’re used to Windows computers, then the simplest solution is to get a Windows “stick” PC. These are tiny, low-powered PCs that plug right into the HDMI port on your TV or monitor. Here’s one I’ve tested that works great for running JobTracker. It connects to your WiFi and acts like any other Windows computer.

I recommend getting this keyboard with it, too – you’ll probably keep the keyboard in a drawer most of the time and only pull it out when you need to reboot or change the view for some reason.

This one is very similar, but it adds the ability to plug in a network cable. If it’s easy to run a network cable to the location, you might as well spend the additional $40 and use it, since wired networks are slightly more reliable – but don’t worry about that too much. WiFi works just fine in most cases.

A quick note on how these things are powered – they come with a USB cable to draw power, and you might be able to power it directly from your TV (many TV’s have little USB ports next to the HDMI ports for just this purpose). In one of my tests, the stick PC kept shutting down, because it couldn’t get enough power from the TV. I plugged it into the wall with the wall adapter, and it worked just fine, so be aware.

You might decide you like the simplicity of these stick PCs so much that you want to use them elsewhere in the office (not just on walls), since they take up no extra space and reduce cord clutter. If you want to use a stick PC for that purpose, you should spend a little more and get this one that has a bit more RAM.

Just about any new PC will work to run JobTracker on your wall – I highlight these stick PCs because they’re cheap, simple, and small.

It doesn’t even have to be Windows … you could use a Chromebox like this one. That works just like the Chromebooks I wrote about previously (just not as a laptop).

Once you get a computer running, just open the view that you want in JobTracker – and be sure to set it to Auto Refresh:

You’ll need to login periodically, so keep the keyboard nearby – perhaps in a drawer while you’re not using it (again, be sure to label the keyboards if you have more than one).

I hope you’ve enjoyed this “Gadget Zoo,” and I hope it helps you replace your whiteboard with JobTracker.

If you have a nice setup using JobTracker on the wall, please share some pictures with us!

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Good to Great with Moraware: Majestic Marble & Granite

One of the best ways to learn is by observing other people. That’s why we recently visited a couple successful fabricators to show how they use JobTracker and CounterGo in their day-to-day business lives.

Here’s Scott Hanes from Majestic Marble & Granite in Orlando, FL talking about his business and how our software helps them. Scott won the 2016 Fabricator of the Year award from StoneWorld Magazine, he definitely knows a thing or two.

We originally shared this video with our 2017 JobTracker Training class in Houston – learn more about that here. If you’d like to hear a more in-depth conversation with Scott, listen to our StoneTalk interview with him.

Thank you to Scott, Joanne, and all the folks at Majestic Marble & Granite for sharing their experiences!

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ISFA CEO Roundtable Recap – San Antonio edition

I was quite fortunate to attend the March ISFA CEO Roundtable event, hosted by Gecko Solid Surface Solutions in San Antonio, TX.

The roundtable event consisted of sixteen owners/operators of fabrication shops from across the country, getting together to talk about business, challenges, and how they intend to grow and simplify their businesses.

I feel it’s important to maintain confidentiality, so rather than share the specifics of what participants discussed, I’ll share my observations. I suppose a disclaimer is therefore necessary – these are my opinions and they don’t reflect those of Moraware, yada, yada…

Wednesday morning, I drove up and approached the narrow opening in the fence, wondering if a Walker Texas Ranger dude with a rifle & bad attitude was waiting at the end of the private drive. I was really pleased when I turned the corner and saw a nice picnic area in the shade and a bunch of friendly fabricators walking into the Gecko front office.

As I walked into the Gecko office, and later on a tour through the property and fabrication facility, what really stood out was that everyone working there seemed genuinely happy. People smiling, fist bumping as they passed one another – it felt immediately refreshing.

And it turns out, that’s not a coincidence, but a reflection of the approach Gecko’s owner, Augie Chavez and his right hand man, Dan take. In Augie’s words, our top priority is getting the work done safely. After that, it’s profitability and fun – and those two are somewhat interchangeable. They’ve created a culture that views throughput not as a stick, but as a tool to get to happy hour sooner.

Gecko clearly has an employee-friendly culture, from starting work at 8:30am so parents can get kids to school without stress, to a shaded picnic area and a basketball court, you can tell that Augie simply cares about the people who work for Gecko and treats them more like family than employees.

At the CEO roundtable, Augie welcomed the twenty attendees and we rolled into topical discussions. Several topics discussed were issues common to all fabricators and how they attempt to solve them. Several things stood out to me, not about the topics, but the perspectives of the attendees. I observed that two companies in the same geographic market can have very different perspectives on one another, specifically one viewed the other as competition and the other didn’t share that same perspective. There was also a difference in personalities – people were generally passionate about their perspectives, but some people were clearly pragmatic and others steered more toward bigger picture, lofty visions.

The topic that garnered the most compelling stories and engagement was about determining if the goal is to continue growing a company and when to choose to stop growing. Opinions varied, but ultimately factors like reaching a profitable capacity, quality of life, reasons for being in business in the first place, etc. all played into the conversation. And the most refreshing part of all were the origin stories of how several different businesses came into being. Several of the founders shared such compelling stories of how they sought out or stumbled into the fabrication world.

And finally, I have to mention Gecko’s environmental practices. They reflect Augie’s personal priorities of respecting the environment. Whether it’s solar panels on the roof or rooftop rain collection system with a large cistern. It’s a great feeling knowing that the entire water need for production is supplied from the rainwater cistern, in conjunction with a GranQuartz water filtration unit. Gecko's rainwater storage cistern

Gecko puts its money where Augie’s mouth is and that has a nice impact environmentally and financially. Imagine running machines on 3-phase power for an entire month and then getting an electric bill for $175! The payback period on the solar panels only took 5½ years, a few years ahead of projections.
Gecko's solar roof panels

Based on my observations, it’s probably no surprise that Gecko was selected as the 2015 Fabricator of the Year by ISFA.

Calendar & Activity Packets Webinar – What you missed!

Thanks to everyone who joined us for our JobTracker webinar last week. We had close to 80 people tuned in! Kathleen & Jason outlined ways to work more efficiently using Calendar & Activity Packets – although the Question & Answer session at the end covered an even wider range of topics!

Judging by the number of follow-up questions we’ve received, users got a lot of ideas that they were able to take with them and apply to their own businesses. Huzzah! We think our software is pretty awesome, but we really get excited about your business. Our software is only useful if it helps you solve your business problems!

Did you miss the webinar? No sweat! We recorded the bulk of it, so you can view it whenever you can make the time. Here is a PDF of the presentation if you want to save it.

And click here to register for our next webinar on April 18 at 1pm EST. We’ll be covering Part 1 of our training on JobTracker Forms: Communicating & Collecting with Job Forms!

Building a Fab Business: Velocity vs. Volume

Think of a mountain river. Typically, there are stretches of white water occasionally interspersed with standing pools of calm. In the countertop business, according to the concept of Synchronous Flow, projects should move through the shop with a certain velocity like white water in a river, with a few buffer points built into the system where jobs can accumulate for a certain period of time to anticipate glitches in the process. The result is that even though jobs might be sidelined for a period of hours or even a day, all the projects are moving through the plant at a pre-determined speed, or velocity.

“The objective is to keep product moving,” says Ed Hill, founder of Synchronous Solutions, a consulting firm that focuses on helping business owners enhance opportunities for growth through increased operations velocity. “Typically in a countertop shop we control two dimensions in the flow of product through the plant. One is volume, and the other is velocity. Volume is how much, velocity is how fast. The volume is variable, depending upon the demand, depending upon various other factors that affect the flow on any day or month. But the velocity part, we want to keep that fixed.”

Determine The Control Point
With so many critical steps in the process of turning raw slabs of material into beautifully crafted kitchen furnishings, one might find it almost impossible to optimize and maintain high velocity at every station, all of the time. And, for the most part, Hill would agree. He prefers to focus instead on a single “control point” for the whole operation.

“In the counter top industry, we often put the control point at installation because that’s where the cash register rings,” says Hill. “The company doesn’t make money templating or cutting or fabricating. It makes money when it installs those counter tops in the customer’s location. Trying to optimize every step in the process can be overwhelming and chaotic, and often results in an atmosphere of chaos. All those things are important, but focus your attention on the control point or, in this case, installation. Make it beat like a drum. We call it a drum because we want it on a cadence: methodical, predictable and controllable.”

In essence, every function in the shop is tuned to keep a certain constant flow, or velocity, at the control point. Yet, as Hill points out, we do not live in a perfect world. “Murphy lives and stuff happens,” he acknowledges. “Slabs break, machines break down, people are absent, all sorts of things happen that cause disruption to the flow. So we build into the system more capacity, typically around 15%, to absorb variability and keep the drumbeat steady. It’s called protective capacity, and we call those locations of slack, buffers.”

Quality, Price AND Speed
Hill maintains there are distinct advantages to keeping flow through the shop at a constant velocity. One of them is predicting with complete confidence the turnaround time for a kitchen countertop. “Let’s say we template on a Monday and we want to install on the following Monday,” he says. “The lead times in each fabrication zone from beginning to end, template to install, are fixed. It’s not a variable amount. Their role is to serve the drumbeat of the constraint, and protective capacity is built into the system to absorb variability. So yes, we can make a promise when we template on a certain day, assuming all the information is clean.

“Countertop fabricators sell quality, which is not even a competitive opportunity anymore because you have to be pretty much perfect. They sell to some extent on price, and they sell on time. If they can be at good quality and have reasonable prices, then to be faster than anyone else assures they will get their share of the business.”

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A Day In Your Life!

For our training event in Houston, I prepared a short presentation for the first morning, before we dove deep into the details. The main message from the presentation was, “start with the business process in mind, then have JobTracker run your process more efficiently”.

The Moraware folks in attendance all took on different “jobs” in our imaginary company, “Moraware Granite & Marble, Inc”. We based our “company” on the different types of support calls and emails that we, at Moraware, have received every day for the last decade.  That’s employees from around the world at 1,400+ fabricators.

While it’s probably not as funny as when we were all acting it out, I’ve re-recorded that presentation and you can access it here:

For this post, I’ll document the process I used to prepare for the in-person training.  I found it worked pretty well, so hopefully it can help you, too.  I divided the process into two parts: (1) choosing what tasks to focus on and (2) showing the right information, the right way.

Choosing what tasks to focus on

  1. First, I thought about the different jobs that exist at the companies we work with. While some places have a Shop Manager, others call that role Production/Operation Head.  What we call them is less important than what they do.  I wrote down the list of jobs.
  1. Documenting the different tasks that these people do was the next step. Once I had a decent list for this presentation, I moved on to the next.  I realize that I had the luxury of not needing to make a list of all the different tasks at an existing company.  I’d recommend that you start with your key process(es) that gets the most product installed in the most efficient way, at the level of quality that you expect.
  1. Finally, I turned the list of tasks into a list of needs. For example, the task of “measures kitchens” turned into the need of “know where to go” because in order to measure a kitchen, you first have to get there. Once I had all of the needs identified, I created a grid with Jobs and Needs and here’s what I came up with:

Click to Download the Need vs. Job grid

Showing the right information, in the right way

  1. This part was fun. I thought about what information would satisfy the need on the grid.  Then I figured out where and how, in JobTracker, that information can be found.  Is it in a Form? A Custom Field? A Job Issue? A  Sales Lead?
  1. Then I thought about how would I be able to not only show that information, but show it in a way that provides the best value for that task (time, cost, quality).  Is it best shown in a Calendar View?  A Job View? A Report?

It turns out that all of these topics were covered during the training! And this overview presentation was done before some participants had finished their first cup of coffee. Hopefully it helped them in thinking about how their businesses run and how they want to configure JobTracker accordingly. The rest of the training went into detail about learning how to, and then actually implementing solutions right away, at the event in Houston!

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More training recap – tactical software changes and business goals

A couple weeks ago, we held an advanced training for about 35 companies that are using Moraware JobTracker. Over the 2 days, we spent lots of time working through the software as a group, and also helping individual users one-on-one.

Although there were specific goals that everyone achieved, here’s the summary of what we provided.

Tactical changes to JobTracker

When you’re immersed in the day-to-day operations of your countertop shop, sometimes it’s hard to set aside the time to make changes. Our software is an integral part of those operations – it’s a reflection of the business processes that you use to turn homeowner’s money into beautiful countertops in their house.

So, as your business evolves, it’s important to re-evaluate how you’re doing things. Sometimes that’s just simple tweaks to the calendar views, but it might also mean re-thinking how you capture data about revenue, square footage, and countertop colors.

By showing lots of examples of how things can be done, we encouraged the folks who attended to make those kinds of changes. All with the goal of making operations smoother, and making their businesses more profitable.

High-level business tips

Any time a group of countertop fabricators gets together, there’s discussion of business as a whole. In our training, we wanted to keep everything focused on the high-level. For every technical feature of our software, we linked it back to the business value.

Although there were 35 different ways of running a countertop shop, there are a lot of similarities between companies. I think one of the most interesting were understanding the key business metrics. Having a number that drives the business helps you understand what’s going on, and helps rally your employees around a common goal, too.

Building new relationships

All of us are faced with the same problems and opportunities. By building stronger personal networks, we’ll all be more successful in business. And, it’s more fun too.

One of the goals was to leave Houston with a new friend that you can talk to about countertops, and how they use Moraware JobTracker.

I think we succeeded at all three of those goals, and we’ll continue to share all of the new training materials we’ve been building for this event.

Want to know more? At Moraware, we make software for countertop fabricators. CounterGo is countertop drawing, layout, and estimating software. JobTracker is scheduling software that helps you eliminate the time you waste looking for job folders. RemnantSwap is a free place to buy and sell granite remnants with fabricators near you. We also sponsor StoneTalk, the podcast for countertop fabricators.

Mistakes, growth, and fun – a few lessons from Moraware’s history

We had a great time at our first-ever advanced JobTracker training in Houston. As part of that event, I gave a short talk that included a little about Moraware’s history. We’ve made lots of mistakes along the way, and I’m sure every business does. Hopefully, we’ll keep learning.

Here are a couple of stories and lessons.

Pre-Moraware Moraware

In 2002, my college buddy Ted started writing software for his brother’s countertop shop in central Florida. He and I were both working at venture-funded startups in the San Francisco bay area at the time, but hadn’t talked to each other in years. I think the last time we had actually seen each other was at my wedding.

We happened to meet for a beer the day he quit his job in early 2003 to start working on this software full time. I was totally infected by Ted’s enthusiasm, and I asked if I could help out. Here’s part of his email reply in February of 2003.

I don’t have to think about it at all — I would love some help. This week I have made some good progress and have gotten even more excited about the whole project, but I just wish I could code faster. So if you have some spare time to pitch in, that could help a lot. (Unless it turns out that you’re a really horrible software engineer, but I guess that remains to be seen 🙂 )

I don’t think Ted expected me to quit my job shortly after, but we’ve had a great collaboration since then. It turns out that although I wasn’t “horrible” as a software engineer, that’s not the skill that Moraware needed from me at the time (or now). The product is only a portion of what it takes to build a company. Someone has to sell the product and support the product, too. I never realized how much I’d love doing sales and support.

Early success and mistakes

As you can imagine, the first year in business was pretty difficult. By the end of 2003, we had 5 customers! Although it was very modest, we had lots of confidence that we were on the right track. It’s funny now, but we knew so little about the industry that we went to our first stone trade show in 2004 – as a warm-up for what we thought was the real business, working with Corian fabricators.

We made lots of other mistakes along the way, but kept working on JobTracker over the next several years. Another major change to our business was in 2012, when we introduced CounterGo.

What’s interesting in retrospect about CounterGo is the lesson we learned about our future development. I remember at that first trade show we got asked about doing drawings, and my answer was “we’ll never do countertop drawings”. So, now I’m a lot less sure about what we will and won’t do in the future.

Still learning

These days, about 1400 countertop companies use our software. Most of our customers are in the US & Canada, but, but we’ve also got customers in most other English-speaking countries.

Luckily, the problems that are on my mind these days are a consequence of that growth. I hope in a couple more years I’ll be able to look back on this time fondly, and draw some good conclusions. Hopefully without quite the same number of silly mistakes.

Want to know more? At Moraware, we make software for countertop fabricators. CounterGo is countertop drawing, layout, and estimating software. JobTracker is scheduling software that helps you eliminate the time you waste looking for job folders. RemnantSwap is a free place to buy and sell granite remnants with fabricators near you. We also sponsor StoneTalk, the podcast for countertop fabricators.