In the Weeds

confident chef in a commercial kitchen

Have you ever heard the term “in the weeds?” If you have any sort of restaurant kitchen background, I’m sure you are familiar with it.

In the weeds refers to being completely overwhelmed and backed up.

If you have been to a restaurant and waited forty-five minutes or longer for dinner, that kitchen was “in the weeds.”

This Happens In Our Industry Too

Most shops, at one time or another, get completely log-jammed with work and overrun. Raise your hand if your stress level was seventy-three on a scale of one to ten. Been there, done that, printed the t-shirt.

Your shop should be running with a predictable schedule. The customer service and sales team should know what is physically possible. There should also be contingency plans in place so that when your schedule is full, you can still take on work, and everything ships the way it should.

That “in the weeds” phenomenon will strike other shops, but not yours. That’s the goal here.

First, Look At What’s Coming In

Many shops say “Yes” to just about anything. Take a hard look at your production schedule. Is it filled with highly profitable work? Maybe. Maybe not. Do some homework and research what is contributing to your problem. Then, fix it.

  • Calculate your average order size.
  • Determine the average number of decoration locations.
  • Review and calculate the average production days for orders (from order entry to shipping day).
  • Calculate the percentage of on-time orders. This means that they left the building when they should.
  • Calculate your average production rate. How many do you consistently produce per hour?
  • Measure and determine your uptime rate. This is the percentage of available daily minutes that you are decorating garments. The inverse of this is your downtime rate.
  • Are you making the money you should with the work you book? Do you know the profit margin on the jobs that include every dollar spent in your business for the calculation?

Many shops don’t know their numbers. If you ask the business owner to tell you their average order size, it is usually much higher than the actual number when they do the math.

Smaller jobs can clog up your production schedule. It is not unusual to take longer to set that job up than to run it in production. This is why your uptime and downtime rate percentages are so important.

Design Your Sales for the Outcome

With your production equipment, what are you trying to make per hour for each machine? $100? $500? $1000?

What would happen if you tied your revenue goals to your production rate? For example, let’s be conservative and say you wanted to make $300 an hour with the output from a machine. That’s a good example number because it easily translates to $5 per minute. This is example math, so your actual goals may be lower or higher.

Every minute one of the machines decorates a shirt; the shop makes $5. You are not making money any minute that the machine isn’t running. This, of course, multiplies with multiple machines.

Now, consider all the reasons why the machines aren’t running. What is getting in the way of earning money?

Shops get “in the weeds” often due to being unable to produce all the scheduled orders. Here’s a question for you – is that because you are spending more time setting up and taking jobs down than actually decorating? What friction points hamper your ability to produce more work each day?

Different Decoration Methods

This is why Direct to Garment (DTG), Direct to Film (DTF), and premade embroidery patches are so popular.

Yes, you can screenprint those six shirts. Or you can make DTF transfers and complete the job faster with a heat press than you can set up the screens. DTG works the same way but is limited in fabric content as it mostly needs to be 100% cotton.

Sure, you can embroider the logo on two dozen hats. At 900 stitches a minute, that 9,000-stitch logo will take about ten minutes to sew. Divide that up by your embroidery head count. You can heat press a laser-etched leather patch on a hat in less than a minute. This finishes the job earlier, and you could sell it at a higher price. If the stitch count was high enough, that same operator could heat press some hats while another embroidery job was running.

Getting out of the weeds sometimes isn’t about buckling down and working harder. What if you designed your sales differently so you wouldn’t have the problem in the first place?

How could you rechannel your sales for maximum effect, both in terms of profit and production scheduling value?

What If Untangling the Knot Is What We Need?

Maybe an alternative production method isn’t right for your shop. I get it. Plenty of folks don’t like DTG, DTF, or patches.

There are a few factors that need to be considered that have a direct influence on how you push more work out a day.


This is how fast things happen. Express it in the number of impressions per hour average. An impression is one decoration location event. For example, a one-hundred-piece job decorated front and back will equal two-hundred impressions.

Each of your machines has an average velocity per hour. What is it?

Also, how fast can you set up an order? What is the average setup time in minutes? Use this as part of your velocity numbers.


Capacity is all about “how many.” On average, how many orders and impressions does each machine typically complete?

For most shops, the same crew operates each machine daily. Veteran employees may produce more than newbies. One type of machine might have better output than another.

Average out and track your totals for the daily number of orders produced and the total number of impressions.


What is scheduled? For operation planners, you want to look out in your schedule and plan the workload of each machine to fit the average velocity and capacity for your production.

As orders come in from sales, each of these should be scheduled to the exact machine and day the production should happen. If you know your math for your velocity and capacity, you can use the information from the order to plan out what needs to happen on each machine weeks in advance. You’ll need to give a buffer in between jobs for transition time. Use ten minutes to start, and dial that in as you see fit.

When Demand Exceeds Capacity

There will be times when production demand exceeds the capacity of the shop. This is where shops get in the weeds and stuck.

The best way to get out of the weeds and back to a predictable schedule is to remain calm and do the math. Keep scheduling jobs to machines.

But now, you’ll need to look at adding more capacity. For shops, this can come in a few flavors.

  • Overtime – your crew arrives early, stays late, or gets the fun of a Saturday or Sunday shift.
  • More Shifts – maybe you only have one shift during the day. What if you added a second shift? Nobody runs the equipment at night, so completing more work could be beneficial.
  • More equipment – got room for another piece of equipment or two? Do the math and see if this works out.
  • Outsourcing – you can send work to other companies to complete the production. Sure, this may cost you more than producing it in-house. However, this still can be profitable, and your team won’t be overworked or burned out because they were pushed to their limits.

Getting Caught Back Up – The Production Mantra

If you find yourself in a dire situation and are completely overwhelmed, you need to come up with a plan to get back to “normal” and get out of the weeds.

Here’s the production mantra that works. “Rush, Late, Today, Tomorrow.” That is how you schedule jobs daily.

Using the velocity and capacity math of your equipment, schedule out every job so that Rush jobs are the first ones you complete daily. These are the ones designated as critical and have to go. Do them first.

Then, every piece of equipment pushes out the Late orders. You can’t start on jobs due today until the Rush and Late orders are completed. Late orders can not get any later. These have to be prioritized.

After all Rush and Late jobs are completed, then and only then can you work on Today’s scheduled orders. Yes, I do realize that by pushing these out, Today’s orders could drop into the Late category. In fact, that may happen. We’ll get to that in a minute.

After your Rush, Late, and Today jobs are complete, you can start working on any jobs scheduled for the future. Why is this statement important? Because I’ve witnessed too many production managers pulling in some job for next week and pushing it ahead of others. This has a domino effect that keeps you in the weeds with all of the other jobs on the schedule that are not being worked on. Resist this urge.

Communication is Key

You should have great communication with all of your stakeholders anyway. This means that your sales and customer service teams should be able to look at your production schedule and understand everything without asking anyone in production.

If your front office team has to ask production, “Hey, when is this job going to go?” you don’t have a good system built. You never need a production meeting to review jobs if you have effective processes and communication tools. They should be educated to look this up for themselves so they can communicate expectations to customers.

Why do I say this? Because your customer-facing team needs to be communicating with customers regarding expectations and deadlines. Just because a customer wants something on Friday doesn’t mean it can happen, especially when you are already late with every job on the schedule.

Dog-piling jobs on the production schedule won’t make them magically able to be produced. Let’s stay in the world based on reality.

Untangling the Knot

When you are backed up and in the weeds, getting that production schedule untangled happens one order at a time.

The most important thing to keep in mind is not to make the situation worse. Have a temporary freeze on adding new rush orders to the system. Do the math and work out what day you think you might be caught up in the future. All new orders are scheduled out past that date.

You won’t be able to get caught up faster if you keep adding to the problem.

Also, don’t get everyone hyped up to work faster. As crazy as it seems, this only leads to mistakes. Then, you add a rework component to the problem that exaggerates the situation. Work at your normal, steady pace.

In fact, take an extra moment or two to review each step along the way for correctness and quality. Your preparation determines your outcome. This doesn’t add much time in terms of getting work completed but is a major investment in avoiding errors and unhappy customers because you cut corners.

Calculate how many jobs you are behind in production and use a big red marker to write that on a piece of paper. Hang that on the wall in production. Let’s say it is 37 for today. When that number is 23 tomorrow, your team can see the progress of getting back to “normal.” Keep doing that, and when you get to “zero,” have a team celebration. You are no longer in the weeds. Congratulations!

You did it!

“It gets late early out there.” – Yogi Berra

“Better three hours too soon than a minute too late.” – William Shakespeare

“The time for action is now. It is never too late to do something.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupery

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