Direction vs Speed


Let’s pretend you had to choose between “Direction” and “Speed” as the one attribute for your business to obtain success.  Sure, it’s a ridiculous argument, as there are obviously more to making a company successful than one buzzword attribute…but that’s the fun of debate isn’t it?  Pick a crazy premise and argue.

Which do you think will win that battle?

Direction pertains to having your company moving in the right direction for success.  It’s all about alignment.  You have your company built to serve a particular customer base.  The equipment and consumables you use perfectly performs the work.  Your staff has clear expectations about how to serve the customers and make those orders sing.  Like a seasoned captain, you make course corrections to keep the ship traveling towards success.

Speed is all about beating the clock.  If the order was due to ship Thursday, can it ship Wednesday instead?  Can you beat the competition to the finish line and win the race?  In a market with ever decreasing turn times, can you go from a five-to-seven business day turn to two-or-three?  To get that speed, what sacrifices must you make to obtain that goal?  Will you have to invest more money to get that speed?  Faster usually equals technology, different equipment, more automation, less people.  There’s an app for that.  Or at least there could be.

But here’s the thing, Direction and Speed are not mutually exclusive.  If you have the correct direction, but are the slowest to market you lose.  If you are the fastest company around, but headed in the wrong direction, you lose.

How you win is to build your company to serve two masters.  Direction and Speed coupled together.  Tricky.  Think about how your company is doing on those fronts right now.

How does it look?


When working on an order, have you ever had a customer not approve something on the art because you didn’t follow or understand the instructions or had to stop and ask the customer mid-stream in a production run a question such as “Sorry but PMS 7400 doesn’t exist can you pick another color”?  This is the case where the Direction was correcting itself towards success, but sacrificing the Speed.  What can you do to improve on this in your shop?

Have you ever started a job a little early, but opened the box in production and realized the shirts were the wrong color or style?  “Hey, what’s this?”  You’ve got great Speed, but someone in receiving has a caused a course Direction challenge.  Each department in your shop must support the next.  No team is an island.  You are all in this together to make your customer happy.


W. Edwards Deming has a great quote (and you know I like quotes) that goes “If you can’t describe what you are doing as a process, you don’t know what you are doing.”  Process is where Direction and Speed meet.  

In your shop, everything you do that is critical to the job can be boiled down to a set of core processes.  How you enter an order.  How your creative team develops the art.  How you receive and count or pull the inventory.  How you digitize the file, create the screens, or prep the digital file.  How you stage the order.  How you handle post-production, such as relabeling, hangtagging or polybagging.  How you ship.  Even how you invoice.

These core processes are the necessary steps you make every day to get the order out the door.  That’s your Direction.  How many steps it takes to do each one, and the time constraints you have for each determines your Speed.

Dive Deep

For an example to illustrate a process, let’s take one step and examine it a little more closely.  If we review all of your steps regarding order entry, what would we find?  Smooth and effortless?  A confusing mess?  When was the last time you gathered key stakeholders in the process and discussed the challenges and problems of how you enter an order?

If your shop is like most, I’m sure your production team is always grumbling about something on the order.  Not enough information, wrong ship dates, maybe you’ve even ordered the wrong shirts or the wrong shirt quantity for the order before.  If you equate your work order to baseball, are you hitting a home run every time you are at the plate?  If not, why?

Let’s say our work order was entered, but was missing some information because the customer service representative didn’t have that information yet.  Is that still considered an order?  Do other departments start working on it yet?  What happens in receiving when they go to check in the goods and the quantities haven’t been entered yet?  I’ve also seen orders where production finished the job, but the shipping information hasn’t even been given to the rep to enter, so those shirts just sit there for a few days while the rep contacts the client.  Which is always a problem on a crowded schedule as something else could have been produced in that production slot instead.

No Direction.  No Speed.

Think about all of the other departments in your shop.  Where do the bottlenecks for Direction or Speed occur?  Is anyone talking about them?  Can they do it without finger pointing?  What happens in your shop when someone says “Hey, I noticed on this order that the…”  Are they crucified for bringing up a problem?

Effective management is all about giving clear expectations regarding the Direction and Speed your shop should be moving in.  This means holding people accountable regarding the processes they control.  If your management team doesn’t discuss your shop’s shortcomings often, nothing will ever change.

Can you do it without it becoming a heated argument?  For a lot of people the answer is no, so they just don’t say anything.

Silence solidifies poor performance into your shop’s cultural cement.  To work on your shop’s culture of Direction and Speed here are some suggestions:

  • Gather your team together and allow everyone to discuss what isn’t working without fear of reprisals or getting into trouble.  To change what isn’t working you have to first identify it.  Label the problems.  Triage them by priority of the best benefits to serving Direction and Speed for the shop.
  • Feedback is crucial.  Develop how feedback is channeled when something goes awry.
  • Transparency is the best.  Don’t dictate change from the top of the mountain.  Have the team doing the work be a major part of what happens.  Nobody does a Kaizen event in a closed room with a whiteboard.  It happens on the floor with the people involved in the process.  Get out of your office.
  • Publish clear expectations on what has to happen when.  For example, in your shop’s system work backwards from the ship date.  The ship date is the day that the job has to leave the building.  Your goal should be to complete the job one business day before that.  Line up all the steps backwards to make that happen.  What has to occur when?  Take control and eliminate the problems.  Hold people accountable.
  • Be patient.  People make mistakes.  If everyone is working on getting better they still could fall short on something.  Analyze what happened and make a course correction.  Does your team need extra training?  Better equipment?  Better performing ink, thread or other consumables?  Did they have the right information to do the job properly to begin with?
  • To develop Speed, you first need Direction.  Once you know where you are going, you can work on eliminating wasteful steps in any process.  This happens through feedback, measuring data, experimentation, and being ok with failure while learning.
  • Shoot bullets not cannonballs when changing anything.  Develop an idea.  Test it.  Get feedback.  Test it again.  Keep tweaking it.  When it looks like it will always perform as expected, that’s when you roll out the change as a new process or procedure for everyone.  Don’t change everything out of the gate and hope that it will work.
  • Rush orders are the epitome of Direction and Speed.  These days as production teams are getting less and less available days to work on a job, it’s critical that everything lines up correctly.  How do you schedule Rush Orders now?  What are the most common problems?  As they aren’t going away, what are you doing to make them easier to handle?  Can your team easily identify them without having a special meeting?  How do they know to work on them first?  

At the beginning of the article I said I was going to debate between picking one attribute between Direction and Speed to make a shop successful.  Then I rambled on how you need both.  However, if I really had to pick I’d go with Direction.  Why?  Mainly because without Direction, Speed doesn’t matter.

Direction is creating the vision and outlining your expectations.  It’s detailing exactly what should happen and making people accountable to ensure that the expectations reach reality.  It’s difficult.  It’s a struggle.  The weaker, concrete-brained members of your team will hate it.  “Hey, we’ve always done it this way!”, they will say.  Once those speed bumps smooth out though you can start getting traction and actually do things faster because you’ve created work standards.

Those standards allow for the Speed to flourish.  When nobody has to ask permission or find out what to do next, your downtime compresses and more action is created.   This translates to more orders produced per day.

When you add constant Direction together with constant Speed you get Velocity.

Do you think the word Velocity defines your shop currently?  If not, what are you doing about it?  

Want to make an watershed change to your shop?  Start with Direction.

“You have brains in your head.  You have feet in your shoes.  You can steer yourself in any direction you choose.  You’re on your own, and you know what you know.  And you are the guy who’ll decide where to go.”  – Dr. Seuss

“Ok, so what’s the speed of dark?” – Steven Wright

“Get your facts first, then you can distort them as you please.” – Mark Twain

“Only the mediocre are always at their best.” – Jean Giraudoux


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