“We’ll take care of it.” These are words a shop owner needs to
hear from a good foreman.
It happened last month to us. We had just had a sink base
cabinet run returned to us. The owner had changed his mind about
the sink and wanted a bigger one. Sound familiar? Our foreman took
it in stride and, by the end of the week, had managed, somehow, to
re-build the entire run.
The foreman’s job, and how he does it, is a key part of your
success as a shop. Following are some of the skills to look out
Running the Shop
Even if you operate a
one-person shop, producing the work on time is often one of your
biggest challenges. As you grow past a five-man operation, you’ll
usually end up having a right-hand person on the floor to help.
This is essentially your foreman. It’s the person you turn to help
with getting the harder parts of the work done, probably the
employee you leave in charge when you have to make a lumber run, or
(even) when you grab that long weekend.
Understanding what has to be done, and in what order, is part of
how successful you are as a shop, and the foreman is at the center
of all of this. It’s a foreman’s job to organize what gets done
when, and to keep an eye on what’s being fabricated.
The weekly and on-going monthly schedules are crucial to how
your foreman does his job. I would suggest weekly, regular sit-down
meetings to go over the changing workload picture. A visual
schedule board with pushpins can really help here, as can
computerized scheduling programs.
You may want to keep your foreman involved with purchasing and
inventory. Even if someone else is actually ordering what’s needed
for a job, you may want to pass that information through the
foreman. This way, he’ll be intimately connected with what
materials are needed, when they’re supposed to arrive, for which
job, etc. It may give him a better understanding of how to schedule
the work, and what delays may lurk ahead.
If your foreman is having trouble with deciding what needs to be
done when in order to get the work out on time, you may want to
encourage him to start making to-do lists of the different parts of
projects that need to be completed. If he can assign approximate
labor times, perhaps even specific people, to that list, so much
Your foreman is usually the person who can build things better
than everyone else. He has a keen eye for quality, he can make a
flatter door than anyone, put perfect jigs and templates together,
and so on.
But, you need to note how he is on making sure that other people
in the shop follow his lead. One skill a good foreman needs is the
ability to teach others his craft. Teaching may take up valuable
production time, but in the long run, it’s worth it.
No matter what level of quality you and your shop decide to
produce, it has to be consistent.
If you build tract home cabinets, your foreman needs to make
sure that the crew is not sanding the face frames with 400 grit
sandpaper, yet there still must be minimal scratches. By the same
token, if your shop is known for its furniture-grade work, your
foreman must insist on absolutely no scratches.
If your foreman is truly able to motivate your staff, like a
good coach in any team sport, your shop will be a winner. Being
fair and firm are usually the key ways in which this works, so if
you see those qualities in one of your employees, perhaps he’s a
The list of duties a good
foreman may take on is a long one, and can be overwhelming if
you’re not careful. It’s important, though, that your chosen person
is able to juggle tasks and time well.
In the past, some shops had their foreman doing stock billing or
cut-listing. Not only did he have to run the shop, but he had to
figure out how to build the work, too. This method is fading out,
not only because people with this skill are harder and harder to
find, but also because many shops are trying to produce cut-lists
before the work hits the shop floor. This can free up the foreman
to concentrate on supervising the work.
At our shop, the foreman is very active with our employees. He’s
a big part of hiring and reviewing. He’s the person who usually
will screen a potential employee over the phone, and will conduct
the first interview. He’ll write up the annual review, recommend
pay increases and put together reprimands. We’ve found that it’s a
good idea to have some kind of ongoing reporting back to the owner
or management as to employees’ progress and performance, and our
foreman usually does that on a monthly basis.
Many shops have the foreman be responsible for equipment
maintenance. Even if the foreman delegates this task to someone
else, he should be the one who oversees it. The machinery in our
industry is becoming more complex, more efficient, more automatic
and, of course, computer dependent. Keeping the equipment in good
working order is central to our success. You may want to have your
foreman put together a written maintenance plan so that things can
be checked off as they are done on a regular basis.
Taking care of tools and equipment is very much a part of your
safety program, and here, too, your foreman must play a large role.
He’s the person who has to oversee that all your employees work in
a safe manner. Regular safety meetings can help here. It’s also
very important to make sure each and every new employee is trained
on each piece of equipment he or she is allowed to use.
Clean up is not just part of working safely, it’s also a way
that your shop can be efficient, too. Here, your foreman should
take the lead in deciding how the shop gets cleaned up whether it’s
daily, by everyone, or whether you can afford to hire a special
All in all, your foreman is the person who is truly the key
player in your shop. He needs to get that work out your roll-up
door, while you as the owner go out and find more projects for the
shop to build.