Managing Your Backlog
It’s the first week of June, and the season has been underway across North America for a while now. If you’re in the green industry, you’ve been at it for a couple months, even in cooler climates. And in the paving industry, you’re surely well underway by now, even up north.
And with all this activity, it seems like a good time to start thinking about backlog. Is it good? Is it bad? And how much of it do you want? And is yours in danger of overflowing?
You’re Not A Factory
For companies in manufacturing and many other industries, a healthy backlog is a great thing. In a service industry business, it’s more ambiguous. When your crews are fully engaged, how much more work should you be lining up before it becomes too much?
Sure, you need to know what your crews will be doing next week and in the weeks after that, but you also need to be able to respond to unexpected work requests from motivated (and desirable) clients. If you can’t handle these effectively, you risk losing their business forever to someone who can meet their short term needs for prompt service.
What Others Say
As we’ve talked with our customers in the landscaping/lawncare and asphalt maintenance businesses, we’ve heard lots of different ideas about backlog.
For some commercial landscape maintenance providers, their entire season is plotted out across an annual contract, making virtually all their work one big series of backlog orders. For many asphalt maintenance companies, backlogs stretch out for months due to their restricted seasonal work window. They also have greater logistical challenges for making their men and machines meet tons of 3rd-party-provided materials at remote jobsites and when the weather is acceptable.
In the end, every business that does work has some kind of backlog, and each must, by definition, manage it. But this management can be very haphazard, and, depending on many factors, your ideal backlog level might be very different from someone else in your industry. The question is, how do you make the most of it for your business?
To Benefit, First Understand
We suggest that to make your backlog work for you, you have to first understand it and be able to measure it.
Then Benchmark, Target, and Manage
From there, you can benchmark against your current operations and define, based on your own unique experience, an ideal level of backlog that can be your target. And with this information in hand, you can start actively managing it in a systematic, rather than haphazard, way.
Here are three questions you can ask yourself today to see how close your company is to having an active backlog management system in place.
- Does your company keep track of variations in backlog over time?
- Do you actively manage your backlog?
- Do you have specific backlog goals, and how did you define them?
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