Standardizing your processes

Cameron Glegg

The Problem:

As the manager of a small millwork company, I hear a lot of frustration from our employees surrounding foundational processes on topics such as:

  • Sanding
  • Finishing
  • Edge banding
  • Time off
  • Out-of-office procedures
  • And more

These were tasks that were being completed all the time with varying outcomes. It was affecting the overall quality of our product, the morale of our staff, and our brand.

Our company, Stirling Woodworks Ltd., is a family-owned custom millwork company based in Maple Ridge, BC. We offer a variety of services, from design and manufacturing to installation and quality control. We have manufactured award-winning architectural millwork for residential, commercial, and institutional projects, including Gold awards at the 2015, 2017, and 2019 AWMAC awards ceremonies.

It was especially frustrating for our new employees as there wasn’t a single truth for them to turn to for answers. This left them either asking questions of their superiors or creating problems that had to be fixed further along in production.

We also saw the value in the knowledge that our employees were creating. Every time we used a new product or specification, they learned valuable lessons from which our organizations benefited. We were not effectively capturing these lessons. They were either being forgotten or leaving our organization when an employee left for a new position.

It was clear that we needed to develop a space to communicate the company’s standards and procedures and retain the lessons learned by our employees.


The Process:

So we started by pinpointing the low-hanging fruit for standardization. For us, this was sanding. A process that is so integral to what we do that it is often overlooked. We knew what outcome we wanted: a perfectly smooth surface ready to be clear coated. Simple, right? Wrong!

  • What about edges? How should they be treated?
  • What about preparing for primer?
  • What about sanding after priming?
  • What’s the first grit I should use?
  • I burned through the veneer; what now?

The list of questions goes on.

Point A
Point B

So we broke down how to get from Point A (a cut part to be sanded) to Point B (a sanded part to be sprayed) for every substrate we use in our shop. This included: 

  • Raw MDF
  • Primed MDF
  • Veneer
  • Solid Surface

Then we made an SOP (Standardized Operating Procedures) Document outlining the exact steps to produce the quality that we want for each of these substrates. This allowed us to describe how to create the product we want and how to reduce waste simultaneously.

These documents are “living,” meaning they should be reviewed and updated as new information is applied.


The Solutions:

Now that we had created these documents, we had to figure out the best way to get the information to our staff. We had a checklist going into our selection process. The platform had to be: flexible, customizable, searchable, easy to use, and, above all else, low cost.

Option #1 – Paper

Many companies have full binders dedicated to this exact issue – binders for SOPs, binders for benefits packages, binders for responsibilities, etc. This documentation is precious, and having this available to your workforce is a great start!

However, we now live in the digital age. These documents are meant to be a living entity and should be updated frequently. The overhead cost of constantly printing and updating them was not something we were willing to take on. Paper is also inherently less accessible and not searchable. We knew we needed a digital platform.

Option #2 – Software

There are a lot of companies that will sell you an ‘intranet’ for this use case. Sharepoint is probably the most common. This is a solid option, especially if you are already using other Windows products.

This did not give our organization the flexibility that we wanted in a solution. We wanted something open source, which would allow us to create the exact solution we wanted for our organization. It also did not check the ‘low cost’ box, as pricing starts around $7 per user per month.

Options 3 – Docusaurus

Docusaurus is a static website creation platform made by Facebook to host technical documentation for open source technology companies. The list of companies using the tool is endless.

This option was perfect for us. While the technical overhead was more significant than we wanted, it offered us everything we wanted in a platform. We also knew that as we learned the tool, we could effectively pass the knowledge along with the help of documentation.

We used Render to host the site; they allow free static website hosting, and any updates we push to our master branch in Github are uploaded automatically. Thank you, webhooks! 

Our total annual cost for the site is *drum roll* – $0. It is 100% free.


The Results:

The sanding area now has a physical representation of the finished product. There is a brief description of the process and a QR code that sends the user directly to our in-depth documentation for sanding.

We are just starting on our journey to #StandardizeEverything, but everyone in the organization can already see the value. Our products are better, we generate less waste, and our staff is confident that they are developing the desired value.


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