If your shop is like a lot of others around the country, every morning several members of your staff congregate in a meeting room to review the plan for production on that day. Orders large and small, problems with art or inventory, jobs that “have to go” and others are all discussed, usually led by the production manager or the person that does your scheduling. Sometimes there is some horse-trading too – as maybe not everything will be able to be printed for a multitude of reasons, so job production is rearranged to get the most jobs out. Or at least the ones that the scream the loudest. Or have an account rep that brings in cookies.
This meeting could last up to about thirty minutes, but when your production level spikes it could last up to an hour. Decisions are made and the meeting breaks up. Not everyone leaves happy sometimes. Maybe it’s even fun…with coffee, muffins and good morning jokes.
However, it is a complete waste of time and it’s costing you a lot of money. Here’s why:
If you grab a piece of paper and a pencil, based on what you are paying everyone you could easily calculate the per hour cost of that meeting. For the sake of discussion, let’s say that there are five people in the meeting. Your production manager ($24/hour), one artist ($14/hour), one customer service rep ($16/hour), one shipping clerk ($14/hour), and one salesperson ($20/hour). Add that up, and its $88 per hour for that meeting. Expand that for a year’s worth of half-hour meetings, and you are spending $11,440 just in salary cost alone to have a production meeting. Your results will vary, of course. (Challenge: Add up the cost of your daily meeting per hour!!!)
Now, let’s think about why you have the meeting in the first place. It’s a crutch. Most shops have the production meetings mainly because nobody uses their system correctly, and possesses the discipline to enforce standards that the company should be operating with. The information in the system is lacking in some way; the dates entered are padded because sales and the customer service reps have been burned by production so they don’t trust that it will go out on time, or maybe there are challenges along the way with getting the art approved or all the inventory delivered – but the ship date never moves. The need for the production meeting is apparent, as your staff isn’t doing their jobs correctly and each day the schedule has to be filtered down to what you can actually accomplish with a discussion.
So how do you fix it? What’s the alternative? First, everyone has to agree that you want to move in another direction and agree to work towards that goal. Below are some challenges that should get you thinking:
- Whatever system you use, everyone has to do their part correctly. All departments have to use the system and mark their part of the work complete each and every time. Staff members agree to put all notes in the system, and not handwrite anything on the work orders.
- Ship dates and In-Hands dates must be the real ones. This is a cardinal rule that can’t be broken. If you are padding dates, you are forcing the “we have more time” thought around the order. It becomes a moving target, and the information is unreliable. Once in a while that client’s order uses a real date, when normally it would be padded, nobody will trust that it’s accurate and when push comes to shove, this is the order that gets bumped.
- Based on your staff’s skill level and equipment, you need to calculate how much time is needed for each step of the process along the way and then set some rules to work by. For example, art will need to be approved two working days before production is to start. This gives the art staff time to separate the file so the screen room has time to burn the screens. The goal should be that the screens are ready for use one business day before the job is to start printing. The goal of production is to work towards finishing printing one business day before the posted ship date.
- You should know your daily capacity in production based on real numbers. Use your production logs, and average out how many impressions or jobs can be printed on each press on a normal shift. If your customer service or sales team books jobs that exceed those numbers you should start talking about overtime, moving some jobs around, adding another shift, or contracting the work. It’s crucial that your front office is trained to understand the production schedule, and comprehend the impact on crowding the schedule and agreeing to challenges.
- Your production schedule should be available for all to see. Whether it’s in your computer system, on your server, or just a whiteboard on the wall of the shop; it’s mandatory that everyone is trained to review the schedule constantly and make adjustments to their department based on the ebb and flow of the work coming in. Each department has to support each other and get their tasks completed – the earlier the better.
- There’s one thing that’s certain, and that you are always going to have crucial “have to go” jobs every day. These could be for an important client, maybe they are already late, or you just want them to go early to impress a new customer. Regardless, you need a way to earmark them so everyone knows to “work on this first”. These are the first jobs you pull to the press in the morning (or if you are like our shop, we like to start them the day before), so you are assured they will go out on time. Some shops use brightly colored stickers, different colored paper, or job jackets for the work orders. We add a “$” to the front of our customers PO numbers so we can simply run a report each day on what is the crucial “can’t fail” jobs. This is reviewed by each department constantly and everyone gets to work to make it happen.
- People have to pay attention. Any challenges to the timing of the schedule have to be handled and decisions made. Inventory shipping in from two different distributors on different days? How will that affect the production? Art not approved? How will that back up the screen room? Everyone should be trained to review their chunk of the schedule three or four times a day, and really dig into what’s coming up tomorrow or the next day. Your staff may also need to get up out of their chairs or pick up the phone and talk to other departments to resolve challenges. The longer your company waits to tackle a potential problem, the larger it will grow as it nears the deadline. You want to be in the “Hey, I just noticed this” stage…not in the “Oh no! What are we going to do?” stage.
- The more you standardize your company’s policies and procedures, the better chance you will have of weaning off the production meeting need. It’s the system, discipline, and training that you have to have to support the idea of not having a production meeting.
So what do you do to get this started? Well, the first step is to recognize that you have a problem and are willing to do what it takes to work towards improvement. It may be hard and require some real work. I would suggest getting all of your stakeholders involved and brainstorm on how it could work in your shop. Ask the hard questions. There may not be some readily available answers without some research or work writing new policies. Test it out. Maybe try it on a Friday, or your lightest production day of the week. Learn what works, and make changes and improvements on what is a little more difficult. Make sure everyone’s concerns are heard and addressed.
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