The Secret Life of a Work-order

What happens when you drop your bike off for a repair at 718 Cyclery?  I’d love to tell you it was a simple matter me someone working on it, and giving you a call when ready.  The reality is that there is a vast amount of choreography, communication and mechanical skill that takes place between the time you drop your bike with us, and the time you pick it up.

A customer walks into our shop with a bike in tow. She approaches our service desk and says that she thinks her bike “needs some work”.  (This is usually the time where customers might make funny sound effects to mimic the issue they might be having). We have learned that this brief interview and evaluation of the bike, called “Intake”,  is the most crucial step to making the entire Work-Order process run smoothly over the time that the customers bike is in our possession.

Similar to a hospital, if we can handle the repair or adjustment right then and there, before admitting the bike into our system, we will.  We call this ‘triage’ or “screening”, and on busy weekend days, we may even post a sentry out on the sidewalk with a set of tools, ready for on-the-spot repairs.  From a customer’s point of view, the quicker they can get their back back, the better.  From the shop’s point of view, admitting a bike into our system triggers a number of events dealing with administration, storage, ordering, staffing and communication.  This is the shop’s lifeblood, but if we can turn that bike around on the sidewalk, all the better.

Back to our female customer. Her bike is determined to need a Tune Up, as well as a few other part replacements.  We generally tell people that we will call them if we discover more issues. There’s nothing more frustrating than picking up a bike that is laden with $50 of extra charges that weren't authorized. The bike is then entered into MerchantOS, a cloud-based work-order, point-of-sale and inventory management tool. We have netbooks scattered around the shop, so this intake can happen in multiple places.  Within the work-order screen, the parts required are called up.  If we have these parts in stock, the employee is notified and the employee will zip-tie the parts to the bike.  If they need to be ordered, a checkbox is clicked and an cart is automatically set up with one of our parts distributors.  At the end of the day, these special order carts are converted to actual orders and sent along to our distributors.

The bike is also assigned a status code.  An “Open” bike has everything it needs to get worked on.  “Waiting” signifies parts are on order.  “Off-site” means the customer has set up an appointment in advance and will bring the bike in.  “Exam” and “Estimate” depict actions that need to be taken.  This allows the crew to scan the work on a given day and prioritize.

Again, intake is key.  The brand and color of the bike is logged, and a unique Work Order number is assigned to the bike. The person taking the bike in scans our upcoming work schedule and assigned a due day. We give the customer an invoice, and we then put a tag on that shows the Work Order number.

The bike then goes into our basement storage area.  This zone is carefully organized so that things can be found in a timely manner.  It is also kept very neat as we often go down there with customers to show them examples of our work.

When the day arrives to do the work, the bike is pulled from the basement, and the employee opens up the work-order and reads the notes.  In a shop like ours, the person who checks in the work generally isnt the person who will be doing the work, and will probably not be the person who gives the bike back to the customer. It is CRITICAL that everyone who touches this bike in the 3-4 days its in our shop records their interaction in the notes section of the work-order. When the customer calls to change the work slightly, notes are inputted right then and there. If we are waiting for a part, it is noted.

By the time a bike is pulled for work, all parts will have arrived to complete the work.  Parts that arrive for specific bikes are ordered in such a way that allows whomever opens that shipment box will see the part and see a note on the packing slip about what work-order the part is assigned to. Alot of this is a blind handoff, and has taken many of us a year of working together to hone.  It involves people with the expertise to know what part needs to be ordered, and the admin skills to make sure the order is notated properly to get routed to the right bike upon delivery.

The bike is now worked on...we have netbooks scattered around the shop, so mechanics usually have the work-order screen up while they are working on the bike.  This is a great juxtaposition; 19th and 21st century technology working together. Again, we use an elaborate journal system that attaches the mechanics notes and observations to the record of the work-order.

Once the bike is finished, a second mechanic looks over it for quality control. This is an imporant part of the process.  Once released, the bike’s status is changed to “Finished”, and a tag is printed and stapled to the bike. At this time, any old parts are attached to the bike with zip ties in case the customer wants to hang on to them.  The finished bike is taken to a specified part of the basement storage area,and the customer is called.

This process is the essence of our business, and is repeated 15-20 times a day.  I tell people the the person taking the bike in probably won't be the person who works on the bike, and will be different still from the person who fetches your bike when you come to pick it up. There is nothing more frustrating that picking up a bike, paying $85 and wondering what was even done. Using this integrated process, everyone who touches the bike along the way is informed and can speak intelligently about the work done with the customer.