One thing is clear in running a t-shirt shop is that there will always be a problem handed to you. Sometimes these challenges are something that you create. Sometimes these challenges are something that’s handed to you by a customer, stinky and steaming and you cringe just thinking about how you are going to pull it off. Either way, there are some foolproof methods to help resolve these and get back to “normal” business quickly. Here’s a list of things that I do when confronted with a challenge:
- Stop and try to understand the problem. Quite often you won’t get all of the information and you need to dig a little deeper than just what someone hands you. Maybe they don’t know everything; maybe they are covering their tracks; maybe they were misinformed. Regardless of the circumstance, I write my own notes and look up the information myself. I try to talk to everyone involved to get an accurate picture of the challenge. Don’t stop until you completely understand the situation. If you are working on something for a client, make sure that you repeat it back to them so that you are absolutely clear on how they see it, and what needs to be done.
- Ask who can help? Maybe the situation is such that you need to bring in other people to help resolve the challenge. This may be especially true if this is a technical issue with machinery, or a situation with ink, emulsion or other supplies. There are a lot of reference sites and help available online too. Not to mention your vendors, call them and ask for customer service or speak to your salesperson. Don’t just sit there, start asking!! It’s ok to admit that you don’t know something.
- Check to see if you are following procedures, policies or recommendations. Are you doing what you are supposed to be doing? How do you know? Don’t rely on someone just telling you that they are following directions; make them prove it to you. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve asked about something and was told “we’re doing it right”, only to discover they weren’t. The next step is always about training to make sure your staff knows what to do, and understands your expectations.
- Do you have the training in place? Quite often it’s not a “worker error”, but a management error that causes the issue. People need the training and expectations to know what to do. They simple don’t just get this by osmosis by being in the shop, you have to train them and hold them accountable. How are you error proofing your shop to eliminate challenges? Does everyone have access to 100% of the information they need to do their job correctly?
- Ask “Why” five times. This is always a good one and usually works when trying to diagnose and resolve a situation. Example problem: The ink wasn’t cured properly on the shirt after printing.
- One – “Why wasn’t the ink cured?” – The ink needs to be heated to 320 degrees to cure.
- Two – “Why didn’t the dryer cure the ink? The temperature was set for 320?” – Donut probe tests showed that the dryer was set for 320, but in reality the ink was only heated to 295.
- Three – “Why do we have the dryer set so low?” Nobody is doing regular donut probe tests or been trained on this procedure.
- Four – “Why don’t we have the training in place?” – Production management failed train and properly supervise the challenge. Nothing has been scheduled.
- Five – “Why haven’t our managers scheduled any training?” – There’s little expectation or accountability for training. Here’s where you start – build your policies and training.
- Do you make it easy? Do you make it easy for your customers to provide you with the right information? Do you make it easy for your workers to do their jobs correctly? If it isn’t effortless, does this add to the problem? Be sure to ask everyone how you can make things easier. Listen to what they say.
- Documentation. Check your documentation for the facts. For receiving issues, look at the packing slip. For machinery issues, your preventative maintenance logs or settings. For work orders, check the notes in the system or the client’s PO. These are just examples, but the idea is the same. Look it up. If you don’t have the information, why not? Get something built so you have the information when needed. If you can’t find the information how can your staff?
- Get out in front of the problem. Write an action plan, and discuss it with everyone involved. Set it in motion and get to work. Be sure to discuss the expectations with everyone and set time lines if possible. Everyone must agree to the plan, and understand their role in it if they have tasks to accomplish. If there is any pushback, resolve the challenge further.
- Let go of the need to blame. Who cares how you got into this mess? How are you going to get out of it? Sure, you can write somebody up or terminate them if it makes you feel better (and sometimes it is necessary), but that doesn’t resolve your immediate challenge right now. Get the fire and explosions put out first, then backtrack later and figure out how the blaze started.
- Breakdown the problem into smaller chunks. When faced with an enormous challenge, breaking it down into smaller bits and working on those can get the project started. I constantly use the phrase “How did the pygmy eat the elephant?” (One bite at a time). This works!
- Be proactive. Resolve the problem before it starts by working smart. 85% of problems in your shop are the result of management’s failure to properly organize, train, document, build a policy or procedure, or think about how to do something properly. The 15% remaining balance is just some knucklehead doing it wrong. Insist that your teams work smart and communicate. Develop policies and procedures that work. Train your staff and constantly drill them in the execution of their work. Follow up. Make it hard to fail, but easy to succeed. What’s left is just managing the knucklehead’s in the shop to make sure they are doing everything properly.
- Look for more than one solution. Sometimes the first answer isn’t always the correct one, or the one that ultimately works. This is better if more than one person is tackling the issue. Thomas Edison famously had teams of people working on problems, all from different backgrounds. His famous quote was “I have not failed; I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work”. Try one thing, if it doesn’t work what did you learn? Try something else. Keep going…
Hope this helps. If not, and you are stuck on a certain challenge and need some assistance you can always reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.