In the October/November 2022 issue of Farm Equipment, I wrote about an editorial exercise our staff did on efficiency after considering how to apply the lessons learned from the 2022 Dealership Minds Summit to our business (What You Taught Me About Productivity). Everyone (from the top down to our outside writers) who contributed to our report on service management was told to track their time from start to finish — research, writing, editing, working with sources and designers and proofing. (By the way, we’ve been encouraged to submit the singular-themed report for business publishing awards.)
On average, our staff spent about 7.25 hours preparing each article, and my reviews added another 3 hours. Everyone’s time was tracked on a spreadsheet, along with some details on the complexity of the work order and additional uses. We shared the results with the team and also visibly posted the results in the office so all could see them. I’ll soon be presenting our findings and observations with our leadership team.
The biggest takeaways comes down to labor rates and who is completing the job. In many cases it would’ve made more sense to lean on a junior staffer or freelancer with a lesser workload and complete it at a lower labor rate. In talking with the editors about what they learned from the exercise, one theme stood out — the most efficient path to completion is to work on those assignments when we can find largely uninterrupted time to complete, something elusive in our small business where we have to wear many hats. Editor/Publisher Mike Lessiter shared that the time-tracking requirement brought focus to his Saturday writing assignment, as he didn’t want to be the one who brought up the rear. (He did anyway on his assignment to recap Bob Clements’ numbers-based article, but he also found additional uses for Clements’ content, including a download on Technician Pay Rates and additional web-only articles.)
A few things should be noted in the time tracking, including that the difficulty of the assignments varied (think engine rebuild vs. preventive maintenance), the individual’s experience, which ranged from 17 years on the publication to just a few weeks (veteran tech vs. new hire) and the time given for completion. For example, associate editor Noah Newman had just taken on new responsibilities with Farm Equipment in the middle of the project. While he was given his assignment last, he was the first to turn it in.
As the project manager, I also tracked my review of each job and the additional staff direction on this unusual assignment. In the example above, a task that ultimately took me less than half an hour ended up being spread out across 2 hours. My calendar showed a meeting that went from 3-4 p.m. So while the interruption was largely unavoidable, it delayed the work order’s production and completion for Technology Editor Michaela Paukner, and the design department downstream.
By and large, our designers reported that the materials to work on the job were more complete than a normal production cycle (similar to your techs having all the parts needed for a repair at the onset). We were able to lower the amount of back and forth between departments in getting the job closed out and closer to that “one and done” activity needed to find productivity, and capacity to tackle the next job.
We’ve also now implemented a plan for tracking on-time performance and sharing those metrics with the whole team so everyone knows where they stand as a benchmark. It should keep us performing to our standard, which can’t happen without first attaining efficiencies and capacities. There’s always room for improvement, but you need to know where the starting line is to track your progress. Now we know.