Many people end up managing a machine shop because they started it. When they started, their shop was small. However, as their shop grew, they hired more people until they were doing more managing than they were working the machines. For others, they came into a management position more directly. No matter how you got there, managing a machine shop has some unique challenges. Fortunately, there are two major things you can do to make it easier: get a great ERP system and improve your skills in managing people.

Get an ERP System

One of the biggest parts of managing a shop is organizing your shop’s information. You should be able to find any information you need within a few seconds, not several minutes of digging through files. An ERP system will get your shop organized and then running smoothly.


A good ERP system can give you the information you need quickly. For example, E2’s reporting can bring you any information from which jobs are actually making money, to how many hours any employee has worked. Getting this up-to-date information in a snap is key to making good decisions and running your shop well.


Scheduling can quickly become complicated. You want to make sure all your jobs go out on time, but how do you know when to start them? E2 makes scheduling a breeze, eliminating bottlenecks, checking “what-if” scenarios, and adapting easily if the schedule needs to be changed. Getting your jobs out on time is crucial to a growing shop. You’ll also have fewer WIPs (Works in Progress) backed up and less over time to figure out.


There’s a fine line between completing a job quickly and finishing it well. Without quality guidelines, it’s easy to get a job done quickly, at the expense of doing it well. E2’s quality software gives your shop the tools it needs to succeed. This software can help your shop finish jobs with higher quality in less time and give you an uncomplicated way to track the quality and efficiency data that matters to you. Once you’re tracking these things, it’s much easier to improve them.


Last, but not least, consider your customers. Some customers give preference to shops simply because they have an ERP system. With E2, you can make professional estimates, invoices, and reports. You can also set up E2 to automatically email customers when their job reaches a certain step. You can keep in contact with your customers without having to take the time to email each person individually. E2 can get your shop organized, and that will please customers.

Learn to Manage People

Even after you get your shop organized, you still need to be an effective manager for your employees. Exactly what each shop needs will depend on the employees and the goals of that shop, but there are some basic ideas that every manager can start with.


If you want your employees to do something, one great way to make that happen is to reward them. For example, if an employee saves the company money, you could give them a bonus. HTS Coatings put in place a “Gain Share Program” using E2’s reporting, and their shop increased their revenue by 57% in fewer than 6 months. The owners of HTS Coatings are happy because their shop is doing so much better, and their employees are happy because they’re getting rewarded for making their jobs easier.


The only way to really know what’s happening with your employees is to communicate. Your employees will likely be the first ones with ideas on how to improve something on the shop floor. They will also be the first ones to notice problems in a process. It’s beneficial to listen to them and keep them informed. If there’s a big order coming in, they’ll want to be prepared for it. If you’re considering making any changes, like going lean or implementing kaizen, they’ll want to know why and when that will start. They’ll be much more likely to be committed to a process if they know about it ahead of time.


It can be frustrating to work hard and expect a promotion but never get one. If that happens to people in your shop for too long, they’ll find a shop where they will be promoted. For those who do want to be promoted, make sure you consider them when a position in management opens up. If they aren’t selected for it and they ask you why, make sure you have an honest answer for them. However, you also want to make sure you’re promoting the right people.


Management is hard. If you’re going to promote one of your employees into a management role, see if you can get them some training first so they’re not working blind. As you know, being a manager isn’t always what it seems to be. Also, make sure all employees’ training is up to date. If you can, offer cross-training opportunities within your shop. It benefits you to have employees with multiple skills and if those skills come with a raise, your employees will see the benefits as well. Offering opportunities like these will also make your employees feel more appreciated, which means they’ll work harder and stay with your shop longer.


Managing a machine shop is not an easy job. Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all manual for it. However, the points above will give you a place to start. Once you get your shop organized and improve your skills in managing people, your shop will be in a great place to grow and improve.

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