Does the phrase, ‘The job’s done,’ really mean that the job is absolutely, 100% done?

How many times does a day seem to take you and your staff by surprise?

I understand as a former contractor how this happens. I wasn’t born a consultant. I have sat in your chair, and I know how easy it is as a contractor to get so overloaded with doing the work we have today that we forget to step back and take a look ahead.

But being taken by “surprise” on a regular basis has to end.

Here’s an example of what I mean by being taken by surprise: You arrive at your shop in the morning and find out there aren’t any service calls for all the techs or enough install jobs for the installers. Or, you arrive and find that you’re already overbooked and the day hasn’t even begun. Some of this is due to the fact that they didn’t finish up the work they were doing yesterday.

The morning is way too late!

This should never happen. You need to have everyone dealing with this at least the afternoon before (if not sooner). And the way it should be done is by making sure the service manager and the dispatcher have a formalized process that requires that they both sit down together and look over the calls scheduled for the next day at least one to two hours before the end of the day.

For install work, you need to have the installation manager and the dispatcher make sure that every installer is contacted at least one to two hours before the end of each day to find out the following:
  • Who’s on track to finish up today?
  • Who will need to return to the jobsite tomorrow?
  • Who could finish up with a little bit of overtime?
I learned that asking these questions really helped. But, there was more to do to stay ahead of the workload and stay away from the Surprise Days.

That’s because many times I’d ask an installer if they’d be completing the job before the end of their shift and they’d say, “Yep, we’ll have it all wrapped up.”

I’d walk in the next morning and they’d tell me to my face that it’s all wrapped up except, “We need to go back and finish the wiring, put the covers back on everything, sweep up and pick up the check.”


After my blood pressure came down enough, I’d have to scramble to reshuffle the schedule and the available manpower to get back to this job and get what wasn’t wrapped up … wrapped up.

Finally, I had enough of this. I sat down with my installers and together we defined, in writing, what “completed” really meant. And we created “Exit Checklists” for all the major install work we commonly did.

We took it one step further; we also sat down with our service techs and created an “Exit Checklist” for the typical service calls we did as well.

The service techs and installers got their respective Exit Checklists initialed off before they’d let us know the job was completed. We didn’t stop there. We then captured a set of digital photos for install work that we all agreed meant the job was done.

The nice by-product of all of this is it minimized the Surprise Days, improved the value of what we’re doing for the customer and lowered the stupid type of callback we were generating when we skipped steps such as testing.

Another thing we did was have the service manager, the installation manager and the dispatcher meet every Friday. It was the perfect day of the week to review the status of all the jobs in progress and look ahead to what jobs were coming up next week. It gave us the time we needed to adjust the work schedule and to make sure all the materials were on hand and the necessary manpower had been scheduled for.

More Tips To Minimize Surprises

Surprise Days will begin to disappear for you once you make these good habits something you and your staff practice everyday. Get the hang of it and work out the kinks. Then, all you’ll need to do is sweep the whole process into your manuals so everyone knows that this is what he or she is being held accountable for doing.

Here’s some other ways to minimize the Surprise Days at your company:

• Learn how to do what I call “Turn it On, Turn it Off” marketing that creates calls when you need them and not just when you’re already busy. For example, marketing vehicles for this program are typically direct-mail postcards, newspaper ads, leaving company door hangers in a neighborhood and a whole lot more.

• Find more niche-type install work and get really good at marketing it, selling it and doing it. Then you can keep the staff busy when you know service calls slow down, as they typically do in some seasonal trades that we do.

• Diligently track your call count at least on a weekly basis so you can objectively determine after a full year what your normally slow seasons are. This will allow you to adjust your marketing calendar based on fact and not gut instinct. Another way to stay ahead rather than get blindsided by call count.

• Use the known slow seasons to accomplish “Big Block Training,” such as apprentice to junior tech, or other intensive training, such as cross-training if you’re a multiple-trade shop.

• Create a “Future Work” list of projects so that when you slow down, you can do those projects to help the company in the future.

• Work on your privately owned real-estate projects to keep the staff busy. It becomes a training opportunity and builds your net worth.

• Make sure inspections and other service-agreement-type work is set up for slow times.

• Make sure blocks of vacation time are restricted to your normally slow seasons.

Make a few simple changes in the way you do business and there should be no Surprise Days for you. Now wouldn’t that be a nice surprise!