How To Measure Productivity In A Joinery Business

By Bruce Poling

The topic is brought up in every joinery and cabinet production shop I visit.  It seems to be one of the most talked about and the most overly complicated topic ... or at least a close second to pricing and estimating!


So, what does “measuring productivity” really mean?   If you want the technical answer – Productivity = Units of Outputs / Units of inputs.


There are other ways to look at this also. We can look at “labour productivity” or “machinery productivity” but if we look at these individual areas, we may be missing the point entirely.


Why is this important?  It’s not only important, it is critical to have the measurements in place that will tell you how you are going on day by day basis.  It is also critical to know what your baseline is right now so we will know if we are improving or falling behind.  Without them, we are operating a business blindfolded!

Joinery production is incredibly simple!  That normally pisses off 99% of everyone reading this. I didn’t say it was easy or didn’t need a specific skill set and yes ... I hear you.  You make really beautiful joinery.  But let’s be really honest with ourselves.  We are not building a spaceship.  The process of building joinery is very simple.  We think it is complicated because we do beautiful work or very detailed work, but the process itself is very simple.


We may even have a great deal of options and variations to what we offer but once you list out what these possible variations or options are, you will hit the end of the list and only occasionally add something new to it.

What does this have to do with measuring productivity?

In fact, it has everything thing to do with it.  In every manufacturing environment, it is best if we can create a “standard unit of measure” because there are so many variable measurements that exist.  IE – # of sheets per day, or Linear meters of edge tape applied in per minute, or cabinets assembled in an hour.  These are all very valid and important measurements, but should we measure each one individually?  The answer would be yes if we could have an automated way of doing this but in the absence of automated measurements in most small to medium cabinet shops, we really should make this

  1. Easy on ourselves (managers)
  2. Easy on the employees

So, the million-dollar question is, how do we come up with a standard unit of measure (SUM) that is specific to your joinery business.  The answer is incredibly easy, it takes some time to create but once you do it becomes a very valuable tool to use in many areas.

Note – Full disclaimer at this point. I say this is easy but in reality, the implementation of it proves to be very difficult due to resistance to change and also our odd need to not see the obvious because “if it seems to be too simple, it must not be true.”  we are all guilty of this one!  I find that this system requires full coaching and facilitation that is offered in both our “Wealthy Joiner Program™” and  “The Joinery GPS™ program”  Please contact me if interested in help with this … it could be the best thing you have done all year! 

I will use the example of a standard custom cabinet production shop.  Everyone can relate to a 600mm wide base cabinet with 2 doors.  It is likely the most common unit to build and represents the standard product also.  So, let’s call a 600mm base cabinet made with white melamine a standard unit of measure, or 1 SUM.


You can then gauge to a high degree of accuracy what every other cabinet type you build would be when measuring against 1 SUM.  So, for e.g. a pantry may be 3 SUM, a 600mm 3 drawer base cabinet could be 2SUM.  Corner cabinet could be 3 SUM and so on.  It is VERY IMPORTANT to understand that this is NOT a 100% deadly accurate measurement but is a good overall average measure of your SUM production.


You can take this system and expand it to have factors for anything that is not while melamine.  So, a painted SUM1 Base cabinet may take twice as long to be produced as white melamine, so you can factor it with a x2 factor.  Go through all your possible options outside of while melamine and create factors for all of these.


**This is a very basic and simplistic explanation of how you can create a measure for your “SUM” in your cabinet shop and it can also be used to plan for capacity.  For a full explanation please book a call with me to chat further.


When you sell a job, if you work through and determine the SUM size of the job, let’s say a kitchen you designed and sold adds up to 35 SUM, you can then look at what your total SUM capacity is per week or per month and plan your work at initial planning stage based on “will you be able to do the work or not” logic of capacity.

Now … back to measuring productivity in a joinery business.  To say you did X number of cabinets will not be an accurate enough way to measure productivity because as you know, one job is easier than another which is much more complicated.  So a “per cabinet” measure is not terribly useful. 


A SUM measure, however, it very useful.  If we can see that month by month our SUM results are increasing, and we have not added any more resources to the picture in the way of new machines or people, we will know our productivity is increasing.


This is by no means a definitive and complete report on measuring productivity but is a way to make it accurate, relevant, useful and easy for everyone.  What you really want to know is simple:  


Are you producing more SUM’s or less than before with the same amount of resources being used? 


This simple way of creating a SUM system for your joinery business might just be the piece of the puzzle you are missing that can help you know where you are at.

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