Key to Better Shop Efficiency? Start Up Procedures

Start Up Procedures

Just. Start. Already.

How you do that can make a gigantic difference to your overall shop efficiency. What do you emphasize in your company?

When I travel and go to shops, one of the things I love to observe is how the entire company starts their day. It is a telling sign. Some are on top of things and have dialed in procedures and processes. Others, have employees that meander around like zombies or have staff members trickle in at seemingly whatever time works for them.

What’s the norm in your world?

In this article, I’ll break down some of my favorite ideas on how a shop should start their day. (Or shift, if you are running multiple crews)

Start: You Can’t Manage What You Don’t Measure

This is a big one.

If you want improvement you need to understand some data points. What is the current state? Can it be improved?

Before you start changing anything, take some time and simply measure how you do things now. Measure some different points (I’ll outline below) for a few weeks or a month to get some good averages. This snapshot will be important as it will set the baseline for changes to come, and probably some good discussions you will have with your team.

You can measure these informally just with a pad of paper and a pen, or have a more formal approach. The important thing is to measure.

Let’s look at a few ideas:

  1. What is the set time for each department in the shop to arrive each day? Let’s say it is 7:00 am. At 7:00 how many people in each department are ready to work? What time will you see everyone at their stations actually working?
  2. In production, what time does the first shirt get decorated by each workgroup or machine? 7:05? 7:35? 8:15?
  3. Where is everyone after 7:00? In the breakroom getting coffee? In the bathroom? Still on the highway driving in? At their workstations starting up? Write it down.
  4. Are you crystal clear regarding your expectations on how the shift should start? Is it in your employee handbook? Have you had meetings or discussions about it? Do you talk to your employees about their work habits during their review meetings?

This is a good start.

Capture how it works now. I’ll bet your gut is telling you that your shop can do better.

In an ideal state, if your start time is 7:00 am for your shop, everyone in the company will be wherever they are supposed to work at 7:00 am getting started working. Not in the bathroom. Or the breakroom getting coffee.


They are where they are supposed to be, doing what you pay them to do.

But that doesn’t happen if you don’t talk about why that is important.

Time Is The Biggest Enemy

For our industry, we battle the clock all day. We only have so much time in our day to complete all of the tasks that are on our slate.

So, let’s say there are twenty people that work in your company.

For this discussion, everyone is required to start at 7:00 am like we mentioned above. But that seldom happens, and nobody is really enforcing it.

Crews come in some time “around” 7:00 am, and on most days are at their workstations actually starting up for the day by about 7:20.

Therefore, that’s twenty people x 20 minutes = 400 minutes.

Let’s reverse that a second.

Suppose those twenty people arrived at the shop at 6:40 am instead.

They got their coffee in the breakroom. Went to the bathroom. Liked that cat meme on Facebook. Chatted about the game last night. Then they clocked in and went to work, and at 7:00 am were busy starting their day doing their work.

That version of the same shop just worked 400 more minutes than the other one. That’s 104,000 extra minutes in a year. Which comes out to 1,733 extra available hours.

What could you do with 1,733 more hours in your shop?

That’s 72 more days a year for the same amount of money you are already dishing out in labor.

*That’s what’s called an attention getter.

You Don’t Have To Be A Jerk

Enforcing this doesn’t require you to be a jerk either.

First, get an audible warehouse alarm bell that is automated and timed to clock settings. At five minutes before the start time, break times, lunch time, and end of shift times, the bell will ring letting everyone know that they have five minutes before each important period.

This means get ready.

At the designated times to start, take a break, take lunch, or end the shift, the bell will ring again.

When that bell sounds, it drives the appropriate action from your team.

People are held accountable and need to work up until the bell. The time clock and the bell are synced for hourly employees. If you have a lot of employees, maybe you should have multiple time clocks so your crews can punch in and out quickly without having a line back up.

Will this work for everybody?


There always will be people that get into trouble because they can’t manage time well. Your shop needs a written policy to deal with those situations.

Set the expectation. If the company starts a 7:00 am, what time is exactly considered late? 7:05 am?

Can someone clock in at 6:55 am and start working? You bet.

People want to know the rules.

Now What?

So let’s say that now everyone is getting to work and starting on time. Now, what should happen?

Here’s where having a start-up procedure for each department can get everyone on the same page. This means that for each department, a written list of tasks is organized in a way that sets the tone on what tasks need to be started on first thing.  Not the entire day, just what should be first on their plate on an average day.

Get it down on paper.

Review it with the team.

What we want is to push more tasks through the pipeline as fast as we can. By prioritizing them, so each department or workgroup starts with the most important work first, challenges are mitigated. You can self-identify these, but here are some suggestions:


  • For sales or customer service, have them follow up with customers on quotes, art approvals, questions or anything hanging. Don’t wait. Reach out and take care of business.
  • For the art team, they should separate any files that were approved overnight and then start with any changes that need to be made. New projects only begin after those are handled.
  • In production, jobs should have been staged by each work group yesterday. Crews begin on what is staged before them. 100% of everything needed should be lined up in this priority order: Rush, Late, Today, Tomorrow. This way all Rush orders are always worked on first.
  • For the screen room, they need to take care of any last minute screens that may be needed by production. Then, they should work to get all the screens burned for production that needs to start two business days from now.
  • Receiving should get ready for incoming work. They pull up any hot items that need to be found with the incoming inventory. Those should be found and received first.  The receiving area is prepped and ready for the trucks coming in later.
  • Shipping should have everything that was produced yesterday staged and ready to process. They start processing the finished work with the Rush orders, and then proceed to Late, Today and then Tomorrow too.
  • Ideally, your shop should be 100% prepaid, but if not, the Invoicing crew should send out invoices to customers for everything that shipped yesterday.

Dealing With “What if”

Hopefully, this makes a little bit of sense to you. But, if you want to change how you start every day then you need to get your leadership team together and brainstorm on what needs to happen differently.

Your brain trust has to be on the same page.

Filter out the “what if” challenges that are going to come up.

“Susie comes in a little later because she’s in class.”

Ok, no problem…but she needs to be consistent with that start time. For her, 9:30 am is the time.

“Maria has to drop off her husband, and then come in. She can’t make it until 7:15 am”

Ok, no problem…but she needs to be consistent with that start time. For her, 7:15 am is the time.

“The front office doesn’t need to come in that early.”

Ok, no problem…but the front office start time is now 8:00 am.

This Isn’t Rocket Science

You simply need to construct the rules for your shop so they make sense. The more you align so that there is consistency the better.

Set the rules.

Then follow them.

Also, you should set the expectations for what happens if people can’t follow the rules that you created. The tiger has to have teeth.

One of my favorite quotes is by former Navy SEAL commander Jocko Willink, “It’s not what you preach, it’s what you tolerate”.

So are you missing the equivalent of 72 days a year of work in your shop simply because you can’t get your act together for how people are aligning with time in your company?

Actions Reveal Priorities

Therefore, what are you going to do about this? How you start the day is important.

But also how you start back up after any break or lunch period as well.

Dig into this and measure your problem first before you discuss it with your team. Define the problem.

“Hey, look at these times last week”, is a great way to start the discussion. Annualize whatever you find. Put some labor dollars into that equation too.

If this doesn’t get your motor running on how to change things I don’t know what will.

Remember, your actions reveal your priorities.



“Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.” – Arthur Ashe

“Be like Curious George, start with a question and look under the yellow hat to see what is there.” – James Collins

“Stop the habit of wishful thinking and start the habit of thoughtful wishes.” – Mary Martin


Wishing You Had An Employee Handbook?

If you find yourself with a staff full of folks that don’t seem to understand the rules…maybe it’s because you haven’t written them down.

But don’t fret about spending a gigantic chunk of time slogging through what to write. I’ve included a template for an Employee Handbook in my eBook, “Shop Basic Info Pack”.

This has everything you need to make an employee handbook for your shop, just fill in the blanks for your shop name and other details.

There are also two Business Plan templates for you to write a business plan that works for your shop. A section on marketing for your shop. And a complete screenprinting production log and dashboard system so you can keep daily track of your production efficiency.

All for $49.

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