Five Ideas to Optimize your Workflow
Automation isn’t for everyone. While it can enable better workflows, free staff for more valuable activities, and contribute to higher margins, it takes a deep understanding of your business to make the right automation decisions. There are assessments to do, installed software to evaluate, and team skillsets to consider. If you think automation might be for you, and even if you aren’t sure, here are five things to consider as you look at your workflow.
- Walk Your Workflow
When was the last time you walked with a job from the point of sale to the point of delivery? It can be eye-opening because there are so many details. This is the best starting point for any optimization adventure. Take a job from an existing customer and one from a new customer. Talk to the sales team about how it was sold and why the customer placed it with you.
Then follow each job on its journey. Make a note of everyone who touches the job, from customer service representatives (CSR), to prepress technicians. If there is a problem, either with the specifications or with the print file, how are the problems resolved? How many people get involved with the client, and how long does it take?
Continue to follow the job as it is scheduled for print. How many touchpoints does it take to get the job on the press, and then get the printed job finished and into mailing or delivery? Keep an eye on how long each function takes to accomplish and how many people are involved.
Now you have a sense of how jobs move through print manufacturing! The walk should give you some ideas of where processes might benefit from some belt-tightening.
- Dive into Onboarding
Every type of printing enterprise has one challenge in common: from the point where a job is sold there are a series of activities, administrative and technical, that should happen to ensure the successful manufacturing of the job. However, in many organizations the processes are dictated by sales team members and their habits, not the requirements of a good process.
The information for every job should be captured using a consistent process. That might mean a written form, or a web-to-print environment to ensure that all specifications are captured consistently and completely. CSRs often tell stories of needing a different process for each salesperson, often involving calls to clients to find out what they really need, or to confirm delivery dates or substrates.
Evaluate your onboarding process for inconsistencies. Is everyone capturing the same information? Is everyone using the same estimating process? Does everyone understand the full range of sizes, shapes, finishing, and enhancement you have available, and can they specify every option correctly? These are important questions, because it is in your capability set that you find your differentiation and your margins!
- Count Your Touchpoints
While you were walking your workflow, you should have been updating your sense of the number of people, processes, and technologies involved in moving work in and out of your manufacturing process. Now make a list of those touchpoints. How many loops do you find? Do you have team members checking the work of other team members? Who has final responsibility for declaring a job ready for prepress and production? What is your process for requested changes, and who decides when to charge for changes?
As you count the touchpoints, think about the cost of each one, and what you could do to take that cost out of the equation. Can you streamline by combining processes? Where could you eliminate loops? They often evolve over time in response to specific situations, and then become codified without a larger evaluation. This is the time to do that process review.
- Evaluate your Hits and Misses
Data should be your friend in optimizing your workflow, but you must have the data to use it. Do you know how much you have invested in the tools you use to onboard jobs, preflight and prepare jobs, and manage the print manufacturing process? Not only the cost of the tools, but the ongoing maintenance and training costs add up over time. Untrained team members may not be using tools as intended, adding to the cost of producing the work.
What does your data tell you about the business? How many jobs go out on time, and how many go out late? How many jobs are actively evaluated against the original specifications and quote? Are you maintaining margins on the jobs you quote? Are you capturing the cost of change requests? Are change costs included in the invoices, or written off? Can you identify the true cost of every print job? If you are relying on estimation programs that haven’t been updated to reflect your current devices and raw materials costs, you may be in for a surprise!
- Consider Automation for Repetitive Processes
While automation is not for everyone, it is worth exploring for those repetitive processes that are prone to mistakes. You may have automation capabilities you aren’t using, or you might be just one or two steps from automation that could save you time and money.
Remember that list of installed software? Once you know what is still installed and in use, talk to your vendors to see what automation they can recommend. One of my favorite clients realized they had a web-to-print storefront for their customers but didn’t use it for their own sales teams. With a few weeks of work to codify everything they needed to onboard a job, they created a private instantiation of the storefront for their sales team members. It worked wonders! They could use their phone, tablet, or laptop and build the job order while talking with their customers. After a few months they tied it into their new inventory management process so that they could immediately see if stock was available. And when it was integrated so customers could upload files, they added self-service preflight so more of the work that arrived was ready to print.
Automation isn’t for every print shop. But it is worth taking a look at your processes to see if some automation can improve your workflow and your margins.
Pat McGrew, M-EDP, CMP is the Director and Evangelist for the Production Workflow Service at InfoTrends. As an analyst and industry educator, McGrew works with InfoTrends customers and its clients to promote workflow effectiveness. She also has a background in data-driven customer communication, and production printing with offset, inkjet, and toner. Co-author of eight industry books, editor of "A Guide to the Electronic Document Body of Knowledge," and regular writer in the industry trade press, McGrew won the 2014 #GirlsWhoPrint Girlie Award for her dedication to education and communication in the industry, and the 2016 Brian Platte Lifetime Achievement Award from Xplor International. Find Pat on Twitter as @PatMcGrew and LinkedIn.