Why does the huddle work at Setpoint Systems?

Setpoint Systems is an open book company. This means that our books are open to our employees. Even though we are a privately held company we choose to share our financial information.

When the company started in 1992, the engineer founders Joe Cornwell and Joe VanDenBerghe (aka the Joe’s) decided they wanted to share financials with their employees. As a project based company they found that the way their part-time CPA did the books with them did not give them a good measure of how the projects were performing financially on a week-to-week basis.

So the two Joes with the help of others developed a way of tracking their projects on a weekly basis that included hour tracking by labor section, material costs tracking, and earned value project management concepts. This allowed a fairly accurate measure of the financial performance for projects on a weekly basis. This type of the project financial analysis did not comply with GAAP (The Generally Accepted Accounting Principles). Their CPA did not like it but it made sense to them and their employees.

The weekly tracking process happens on a big white board where projects are measured for material costs and percentage progress every week. The key project number, that every employee follows, is GP or gross profit by project (at Setpoint GP is simply earned revenue by percent complete less actual material costs). After the gross profit by project is measured then we compare that to our week OE or operating expenses. You take GP – OE to measure our profit for the week.

We track closely three measures on our huddle board. First, is GP/OE. For us, 1.2 is good and anything less is not good enough to sustain the business. Second, we track what percentage of our labor is direct to our automation projects. Third, is GP per direct hour charged to projects. Everyone knows that if our GP per hour is over a key threshold and our percent direct is over a key threshold Setpoint will make a nice profit and GP/OE will be well over 1.2.

It’s actually a really simple system. We have a monthly and annual bonus that pays out based on beating minimum GP-OE targets for the month and year. We also train all of our employees on how the huddle board works and what the key metrics mean.

So why does our huddle work? Well I think that there are few things that have made this simple 15-minute weekly meeting work for Setpoint. First, it’s a simple way to track projects and everyone understands it. Second, we tie objective financial rewards to how the board looks. Third, we involve every employee in the process. In the weekly huddle every employee has a seat at the table.

The power of Setpoint’s weekly huddle is evident in the survival and success of this business. When a project is bad on the board, the assembly people blame the design and engineering people, the design and engineering people say the project was under funded when it was sold and blame sales. We are all together in the meeting and it needs to be worked out between these groups or we do not have a business. The huddle creates at Setpoint what I like to call ‘psychic ownership’. Ever though all the employs do not own stock in Setpoint they act like owners because they see the performance on a weekly basis and want the company to perform well.

We have seen this ‘psychic ownership’ express itself in many ways over the years. Recently, when a project was nearing completion some shop people approached our CEO and challenged the percent complete shown on a specific project. They were in final assembly and thought the machine was well beyond 90% complete but our project engineer had the number much lower on the huddle board thus lowering our GP-OE and bonus for the month. In short, our assembly people accused the project engineer of sandbagging on the project. After a brief review an adjustment was made. We’ve also had situations where percent complete has been challenged as being farther along than we really are.

With everyone involved the huddle really keeps us safe and accurate on our business. We believe the huddle process and the systems behind it is the single greatest asset that Setpoint Systems has.