Blueprint for Success – Your Work Order | Atkinson Consulting
Consultant to the Decorated Apparel Industry | Helping Shops Succeed
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Blueprint for Success – Your Work Order

Blueprint for Success – Your Work Order

Work Order Sample - Marshall AtkinsonThe key to any complex endeavor is always centered on people understanding exactly what they need to do.  This is true in your apparel decorating shop too, and the instrument that is used is the ubiquitous work order.  These pages look differently in every shop, as everyone uses different systems to generate their pages, but the key information is the same.  The standards that your shop sets on creating these forms can go a long way towards how organized and efficient your production team operates daily.  Below are some thoughts, tips and tricks on creating a good work order document that can function as the blueprint for success in your shop.

Dates.  This is one of the most critical pieces of information on the work order.  The Date Entered shows when the work order was created.  The Ship Date shows the date that the job has to leave the building.  The In-Hands Date shows the date that the job has to arrive to its final destination. Tip: All three of these dates have to be real and not padded or just chosen randomly on the calendar.  The reason?  The rest of the shop uses these dates for scheduling, reporting and other tasks. 

The comparison between the Date Entered and the Ship Date allows you to see if you should be charging for a Rush Fee, your allotted production time to handle all your tasks, or even how to ship the incoming inventory.

The Ship Date is probably the most critical of all three as this determines the schedule for the all of your production departments.  If you have set operating standards for your production teams, they should be able to query your system and review incoming jobs.  Using the ship date, they can work backwards from there to determine when their piece of the job is due.  For example, if your standard is that jobs should be printed one business day before the order is to ship, then the screens have to be burned two business days before, and the art approved three business days before.  This means that the art creation deadline should be four business days before the Ship Date.  (Assuming the job is small enough to be printing on one business day)  If your sales or customer service reps use padded dates, then the standards used for production scheduling won’t work as well.

The In-Hands Date shows helps your shipping team choose the correct method to ship the order to make the delivery date.  They can use this information to pick the best route and carrier, if there is a choice.  I’ll get into the importance of Notes later, but if the order is event based or critical your shipping team can also ramp up the freight by guaranteeing the shipping or sending it priority.  Without an accurate in-hands date on the work order, your shipping crew won’t be able to make an informed decision themselves.

Client Information.  An order isn’t an order unless you have basic key information.  Customer company name, contact name, phone number, address, internal account number, etc.  These fields can’t be left blank for the obvious logical reasons.

Inventory Information.   So, what shirt blanks are you going to decorate for the order?  The quality information you include on your work order, the better decisions the rest of your staff can make on their own.  As strange as it sounds, some customers aren’t very specific on the details of what their order may include (usually on customer supplied inventory).  How can you quote, know what to decorate, or review the order is correct if you don’t have this information?  Tip: Your work order should include the product SKU or Part Number, description, color, and quantity for each size for the job.  The reason?  Receiving needs this information to check in the goods, Art needs this information to create or digitize for the job, production needs this information for scheduling and order review before starting.  Invoicing needs this information for billing.  Common mistakes include:

     1.  Entering the quantity in the wrong column or field.  You wanted to enter 36 in Small, but typed it in Medium.

     2.  Transposing numbers.  Instead of typing in 36, you typed 63.

     3.  Hitting the wrong key.  Instead of typing in 36, you typed 26.

     4.  Cloning an order to save time, but forgetting to change quantities.

     5.  Using the wrong part number.  Instead of using G-2000, you typed in G-5000.

     6.  Forgetting the shirt colors.

     7.  Forgetting that adult and youth, or ladies and men’s are different part numbers.  These different shirt-types need their own line items.  More often than not, this comes more from your customer’s purchase order information.

Notes.  This simply is the area on the work order that you write out your instructions to the different departments in your shop.  Depending on your form, these could be different areas on the page, or all compressed into one space.  Standardizing how your team enters notes, information used, and what should be included is crucial to maximizing the production efficiency of your shop.  Your staff has to be trained to read and understand notes to their departments, and held accountable for reading them.  Notes entered that aren’t read are worthless, and will just lead to a lot of finger pointing.  Notes entered and actioned are a gold mine and lead to an efficiently run shop.  Tip: The key is to agree on common terms and verbiage and have your staff trained to comprehend the information and make informed decisions.  You want to strike a fine balance between having the right information and information overload.

     Notes to PurchasingAny information you may want to include for the staff that has to purchase the inventory for the order.  Notes here could include where to locate goods on the web, client instructions regarding style or color, a reference to a key distributor sale price on an item, or other necessary details regarding how to source the inventory for the order.

     Notes to Receiving.  Helpful information to add here would obviously be tracking numbers on in-bound freight.  Other information could be some special instructions or a heads-up regarding some detail on the order.  You could also have notes on where to stage the goods after they check in the inventory.

     Notes to Art.  Art instructions should never include these words: “Do Something Cool”.  Rather, write a better creative brief that will allow them to use their creative talents and design something that can make your company money, with the minimal amount of time invested.  Art instructions could also include instructions on the origins of the customer supplied art: art to be e-mailed, art in folder 123456 on server, art uploaded to ftp, etc.  This helps your art staff get started in the race by locating the file quickly.  For art instructions on how to create the piece, include all necessary details from the client.  Have your sales or customer service dig for key details that may also include all verbiage (spelled correctly), Pantone colors, locations, dimensions of art, key placement on shirt, any and all customer provided logos or art, etc.  The more this is spelled out and made easy from the front end of your shop, the easier and less painful the art creation will be.

     Notes to Production.  Having key notes in this area is critical for correct production execution.  Examples could include placement on the shirt (Print 1” down from the collar please), production sequence (Print LC and then heat press numbers), post-production steps (Relabel, Hangtag, Polybag), shipping notes (ship with order #123456), packaging (Use customer supplied boxes), ink selection (use Polywhite Ink), key reminders for scheduling (EVENT – MUST SHIP WEDNESDAY), other reminders (Client Press Check Tuesday at 9:00), or tips (Burnout shirts – Watch heat – Easy to Scorch).  These notes should be formatted the same way every time and easy to read.  Absolutely critical notes should be bolded, and if possible enlarge the text so it jumps off the page.  Your press crews have to be trained and held accountable for reading these notes too.

     Notes to Shipping.  If you are using this feature it’s critical that your staff reads and understands the notes in this section.  Mis-shipped orders can get expensive quickly.  Common examples of notes to shipping could include reminders (Ship with order #123456), instructions (Event – please guarantee freight), requests (Please insure freight), account information (Ship on third party account #xxxxxxx), packaging (Use customer supplied boxes), carrier selection (UPS), reminders (Customer Pick-Up – bring to front desk), or financial information (Credit Card Order – Bring Shipping $ to CSR).  Shipping is such a critical part of the order it pays to carefully scrutinize this part of the process.  It doesn’t matter how good of a printer or embroiderer you are, if you ship the order wrong and miss the event you’ve got a huge problem on your hands.  Including and using notes to shipping can really help you in the long run.

     Notes to Invoicing.  Some customers have special financial needs, such as invoicing multiple orders on one invoice, using a credit card to pay for an order, a discount or deal applied to the order, or other financial considerations.

Art Approval Forms or Mock Ups.  A key part of your Work Order packet has to be a production friendly example of the job.  This will probably be an extra page or two, and has to be printed in color.  Nothing drives home success in production as an easy to understand art mock up that your operators can use when setting up the job.  Have your creative team develop this page, and show as examples how the art will look on each color of shirt.  Tip: Going through the exercise of mocking up the job on the right color of shirt, and even the style of shirt, by your art department will ferret out any potential production problems.  For example, a line of type at the bottom in black might not show up so well on the navy shirts for the order.  This is a far cheaper way of discovering the problem than the midnight hour realization on press, with the job due the following day.  Here are some key items to have on your art approval form:

     1.  Job Information.  Order name, Work Order #, design number, client name, and client PO #.  Get these on the form for easy reference.

     2.  Artist Name or Initials.  If you have more than one artist, this helps if there are any questions.

     3.  Art Location Information.  Use terms like Full Front, Left Sleeve, etc.  If you have more than one location, you need to label each one on the approval form.  Include design dimensions for each location.  Also include key location placement information such as “3” down from the collar”, or “line up with third button”, or “print 3” up from hem of shirt”.  Include all screen ink colors, and list them in order that they will be printed.  Include mesh counts.  Also include any special instructions or tips for your operators to use when running the job.

     4.  Art – Screen-printing.  Show the job on a mock-up of the shirt for placement.  Have the art proportional to a size large, and make a note of it on the form.  Your art staff should measure the shirt if necessary to ensure the art is sized correctly, and so they can illustrate how it will look on the mock-up.  Also include an enlargement of the art so you can show detail.

     5.  Art – Embroidery. Same as screen-printing, but show thread colors, steps and the center point for the file.

In closing, the idea that you should revolve your critical thinking about your work order construction is to try to answer all questions by having the information on the form.  If anybody has to stop and ask “What does this mean?” you are not doing it correctly.  Sure, getting all of this information prepared, entered, designed or printed takes time; and your front office or art staff may complain or push back on getting these details on the form.  It’s extra work for them and they probably don’t see the benefit.  However, for every minute your screen-printing or embroidery machines aren’t running, you are losing money.  The key to turning over more jobs daily, and improving efficiency all begins with having the correct and necessary information at your staff’s fingertips.  Don’t let your staff bully you into thinking that they “don’t have time” to write a work order correctly.  Instead develop the tools, training, and teamwork needed to comprehend the benefits of building a work order that is easy to understand and practical.  Your bottom-line will thank you.

16 Comments
  • Catch the Chicken – atkinsontshirt
    Posted at 07:10h, 04 February Reply

    […] Standardize this part of the workflow.  Make it easy for your crew downstream to do their jobs. […]

  • For Want Of A Nail – atkinsontshirt
    Posted at 06:09h, 12 November Reply

    […] age old problem.  One salient point of the order somehow didn’t make it onto the Work Order and in the process throws the whole thing off.  Now production doesn’t have it ready, and it […]

  • Warning!  There is a Thief in Your Shop! – atkinsontshirt
    Posted at 09:16h, 21 May Reply

    […] Think about your work orders.  Every time a machine has to stop so the operator can ask “Hey, what’s this mean?”; it means that you are losing money on that job because the work order wasn’t filled out with enough information for the production staff to make good decisions. […]

  • Your Baby is Ugly | atkinsontshirt
    Posted at 07:56h, 19 March Reply

    […] true when you are your own design customer too.  Don’t just pull something out of thin air.  Jot down some guidelines to use when you are developing your idea and have these based on research and facts about the user […]

  • Defense Wins Championships | atkinsontshirt
    Posted at 07:04h, 13 February Reply

    […] landmarks and dimensions so production knows exactly what to use for placement on the garment?  This document is like the blueprint for a building.  Make sure it’s complete and correct. […]

  • A Big Fat Thank You | atkinsontshirt
    Posted at 07:27h, 26 December Reply

    […] Blueprint for Success: Your Work Order – it all starts here. […]

  • Secret Shop Strategies for Shirt Sampling Success | atkinsontshirt
    Posted at 07:21h, 19 December Reply

    […] really the first step.  There should be two types of production orders that you enter into your system.  One is a sample order, the next is a “real” order.  They could be for the same job.  More on […]

  • Four Do’s and a Don’t | atkinsontshirt
    Posted at 07:19h, 12 December Reply

    […] Expectations all start with how you communicate what the result should look like.  Whether it is your attendance policy, your quality standards, or how someone knows on the production floor what color thread or ink to use…it is up to you to determine how that message is coming across, getting received, and being acted upon. […]

  • 8 Ways We’re Kickin’ Your Butt | atkinsontshirt
    Posted at 08:50h, 31 October Reply

    […] equivalent of running up and down that hill in the off-season.  That’s what makes them great.  They have fine tuned their processes and trained their staff to focus on making sure all of the details are perfect in each step in the […]

  • 7 Habits of Highly Effective Production | atkinsontshirt
    Posted at 06:15h, 17 October Reply

    […] One way to prioritize that hot job is make it obvious that it needs to be a priority.  Does everyone in your company know that you are going to Defcon 5 for that order?  This can happen by earmarking the job in your system with a special code or name so it’s searchable.  At Visual Impressions, we add a $ in the PO field in front of the customer’s PO number so it’s searchable in our system.  You could print the work order on yellow paper, or use a hot orange job jacket. […]

  • Random Awesomeness – Tricks for Your Shop | atkinsontshirt
    Posted at 06:47h, 10 October Reply

    […] dimensions, location, and any other helpful tips such as “print 3” down from neck seam”.  Think of your Work Order as a blueprint…the more information you convey to your work force, the faster they can make a decision and […]

  • Arrrgggghhh! 7 Frustrations You Deal with Every Day in Your Shop | atkinsontshirt
    Posted at 09:09h, 20 June Reply

    […] Is there enough or the right information on the work order?  Can people make the right decision without consulting anyone?  Do your printers know where to place the back imprint on a hoodie or where to place a left chest location on a women’s V-neck?  Are all the drop-ship location entered and ready to go?  These are but a few examples, but every detail about the order needs to be in the work order documentation so your staff can handle their tasks easily.  If anyone has to stop what they are doing and ask “Hey, what’s this mean?” – it means they are frustrated and the order wasn’t entered correctly.  Your job jefe, is to take that frustration away and make their job easier. […]

  • Snakebit Order Curses | atkinsontshirt
    Posted at 06:14h, 28 March Reply

    […] going forward.  Luckily for you, the ship date is in two days, so you have plenty of time to get everything ready and produced.  Joy.  At least you can charge a rush […]

  • Why Aren’t You Asking More Questions? | atkinsontshirt
    Posted at 09:01h, 27 December Reply

    […] Your work order is basically your blueprint for achievement regarding the job as it moves through your shop.  Just as an architect wouldn’t dream of letting a general contractor just construct any ol’ roof when constructing a building; you shouldn’t let your production staff make the decisions on how to decorate the garments in your shop either.   Placement, colors, size and even shipping methods should all be predetermined long before the job reaches the floor.  When your customer service or sales staff places the order in your system, it’s their job to build the order with complete and accurate information.  If any other employee has to stop and ask “What thread color should I use?”, or “How many inches from the collar does the back location on a hoodie start?”, or “Can this go ground, it says it’s for an event?”…you know your front office staff hasn’t done a good job in order entry.  Does this sound familiar?  Get the “what” right, so your production folks can nail the “how”.   Answer these “What” questions on your work order: […]

  • Top Tips to Improve Communication in Your Shop | atkinsontshirt
    Posted at 06:24h, 17 May Reply

    […] is tremendous power in words.  How you use the written language for e-mails, work order instructions and anything else says a lot about you and your company.  In order for words to have the power, […]

  • 9 Core Skills Every Apparel Decorator Should Master | atkinsontshirt
    Posted at 09:34h, 05 April Reply

    […] Communication.  That’s right; I’m not ranking “skills as a printer” or “skills as an embroiderer” number one.  Here’s why.  I asked my 9 year old son the other day why he had two ears and only one mouth.  His response was classic for him, “so you can turn your head to listen while eating a cookie”.  Almost right.  As I’m sure everyone knows the old adage is “so you can listen twice as much as you speak”.  Effective communication in your shop by your entire staff is the number one skill that you should constantly focus on developing.  This is outward, customer facing; as well as throughout your shop with your staff.  Information has been, and always will be the key to success.  Most of us (sadly including me) aren’t really listening all the time; they are just waiting for the opportunity to reply.  Communication in your shop includes how you handle everyday tasks, but also how you write an e-mail, talk on the phone, hold a meeting, and build a work order.  Obtaining all of the correct information from your customer, and then processing it effectively so that it travels through your company on the work order is imperative for everyone to do their jobs correctly. Tip: For more discussion on work order skills – read this – Blueprint for Success: Your Work Order  […]

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