Part 4: How to Make it in the Cabinet Industry - Standardizing Systems

Have you ever had this exact dialogue, sometimes several times an hour, with an employee?


Employee: “How do you assemble this type of box?”

Boss“Well, you take this piece and staple here, here, and here.”

Boss walks off.

Employee: (10 minutes later) ”Well, how do I do this type?”

Boss: “Well, you take this and staple here and here and here.”


And the beat goes on and on and on.

The problem with this back and forth is it only solves that issue for that employee. It does not help all the other employees who will inevitably have that same question at some point down the road.

The other issue is that it steals your time as an owner, and keeps you eternally working IN your business instead of on ON it.  

For owners, it creates extreme frustration and the feeling that employees just do not care. Not to mention, growth is next to impossible in this type of environment.

So, what do you do about this problem?  


Take a look in the mirror

While it may be true that some employees don’t care, have you ever stopped as an owner or leader to ask, “What would this employee's approach to a situation be if he had all the knowledge he would need to do, not only his job, but any job in the shop?”

When I asked myself this question, I realized that equipping my team by standardizing systems could change everything.

What if I said that you too could standardize your systems in 2 weeks or less?

Could you work on your business and not just in it if you had the extra time from not answering repetitive questions?

Let me tell you from experience that you could!

If you get in the habit of documenting your systems it will, without a doubt, streamline your processes and free you and/or your managers to work ON the business.

With the time and space to work on your business you can make it an absolute force!



what is "standardizing systems"? 

So what exactly is a system?

A system is a set of connected parts forming a complex whole. So, to standardize a system, we are talking about having processes, or a defined set of rules, in place to guide how to use the system.

Standardizing your systems most often comes in the form of creating SOP’s (Standard Operating Procedures).


How to standardize your systems 

So how did we get in the habit of making SOP’s?

We chose to standardize one issue at a time.

This was not an elegant, formal proceeding. In fact, it was brute force awkwardness for a month or so.  

When an employee would interrupt me with a question, I would stop everyone in the middle of what they were doing and bring them into the conversation too.

The employee would ask his question then I or the foreman would answer. When the explanation was done, everyone would go back to doing their jobs. After several iterations of this, I noticed the questions were getting fewer and fewer and I had more and more time to get to those things I’d always put off as an owner.

Until that moment, I was so consumed with the inner dealings of the shop, I had no idea what standardizing our systems could really mean for my business.    

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Standardizing broken down

Outlined below are the steps our components business uses to build an SOP.

  1. Identify the 4 main areas of your business.
  2. Create cards from employees questions.
  3. 15 minutes every week.
  4. Add additional content.
  5. Monthly purge.


Identify the Fundamentals

Get, Guide, Do, Administer are the 4 components to any business. All business must do these 4 things at some point. Within each of these areas, are the actions and tasks that make up that area.

Once you have identified an action or task, you can think of all the possible processes that relate to that task. With each of these processes identified, you are ready to write out the Standard Operating Procedure for each.

For this exercise most of you will be like I was and start in the DO for our SOP’s. This is where the majority of the action is in manufacturing. We are just now finally starting to work on SOP’s for the “Get” and “Administer.” I must say that they are much easier than the DO category.  



Under the “Do” Column, you may have a category for Box Building, or Assembly. Within that column you will have all the SOP’s that apply to assembly. Break it down into as much detail as you can stomach.  


Create SOP “cards” from Employees Questions

Currently, we have Trello boards for all our SOP (Standard Operating Procedures).  Within the card may be info, a checklist, or even a youtube video about that task or equipment. We use Trello as our app of choice to store and organize SOP “cards”, but it may not be the SOP answer for your company. It may be as simple as 3 ring binders with sheets of printed paper at each area.  



Whatever the medium, just make sure you are recording your systems so everyone can share from the knowledge you and your employees have gained.  


Start with an overall general training video to get knowledge, particulars, and jargon for a certain area established. Then start adding specific SOP cards like corner base cabinet, or standard tall cabinets, etc.


Once you get a few cards done you will notice they get easier and easier. My shop foreman now creates the majority of our cards and we review them occasionally to add or update content.  

Make it your standard practice that employees check your SOP bank to see if that question was there, then, if not, ask a foreman. If you both agree that needs to be a new SOP, then one is created on the spot.  Most SOP’s take under 10 minutes to create.


15 Minutes Every Week

If you can’t give your standards 15 minutes a week you will never have a standardized system to work from. In this case, it takes a little time to make systems that will save you a lot of time later.

Every Tuesday morning we have a 30-45 minute meeting with sales and shop production. We have a defined schedule every Tuesday and it is all business.

Before that meeting, I have a 30 minute meeting with my production manager about schedule and SOP’s and then and only then other topics. That 15 minutes is work time, it is not chat and sip the coffee. It is get some real work done fast!

15 minutes does not sound like much but if your manager comes armed with new SOP’s, edits, deletes whatever it may be, you can get a lot of work done in 15 minutes.  

Don’t believe me? Try it for one month and tell me you don’t notice a difference. I guarantee you will notice a positive difference.  


Add Additional Content

Every so often, content needs to be added to an SOP card. Do not make the mistake of thinking that SOP’s are static.To the contrary they are very fluid. They change as your business evolves. They may change for the type of work that you do, or if products or methods become obsolete.  

"Do not make the mistake of thinking that SOP’s are static. They change as your business evolves."

For example, when we bought a new edgebander for our component business this year, our old one got put out to pasture. If your edgebander is anything like my old one you really just want to drop test it from 20’ to see if it bounces or not.

I could write a novel about the trials and tribulations of edgebanders, but I digress. The content for that old edgebander was somewhat still useful for the new, but some of the processes had changed. We spent some time updating all those cards during our training period. Taking time to update cards saves you a lot of time and confusion down the road.

Great hack:

If you buy a new machine and have a tech come set it up, record as much as you can! Make your own YouTube videos and drop them right on your trello cards. That is how you get what you pay for right there!


Monthly Purge

This one is pretty self explanatory.

We do our monthly purge on our first Monday of the month during our "Monday Morning Maintenance.” Our weekly’s are just called Monday Morning Maintenance or 3M. The first Monday Morning Maintenance of the month is called “the 1st 5m.”

During our 1st 5M we quickly scan our SOP cards and look for any that aren’t still relevant or up to date. If we find any, there is always a manager there to approve before deleting. We have an extra card or a Dump card where we store tidbits that we may use later.  

In other words, if you have a process that is not valid anymore, but it contains a good tip or video, throw that in the “Dump Card” so you can use it later if need be.  


keep at it

After several trial and errors, we are continually refining our strategy to standardize systems. I do not think that making SOP’s is a task that is ever finished. I think they get changed, edited, or added to as time goes on and more questions arise from new or changed systems.

Think, Ask, Write, Repeat. If somebody asks, you write, everyone repeats.   


standardize to save

If you want your employees to become self-sufficient, give them the information and backup they need to be so.

If you want time to work on your business instead of just in it, standardize the systems that allow you to delegate.

Standardizing your systems may seem time consuming and boring, but take it as an opportunity to make your business better. 15 minutes this week mean hours saved and a booming business in weeks down the road.

What about you? What have you learned about standardizing your systems? Have a question about standardizing? Leave your answer and any questions in the comment box below and we will be sure to reply.