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Managing Workflow

(April 2013) posted on Tue Apr 09, 2013

Capturing actual vs. quoted time/material on a work order allows a shop to maintain or increase profitability and identify production bottlenecks.

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By Andy MacDougall

The chair didn’t just wobble at my first job in a screen and sign shop, it fell over and broke. About the only thing we had going for us there was the ability to produce good work. That’s no secret. Just maintain high standards and aesthetic values, and instill this in all your workers. Don’t let a job progress through a production step unless it is done correctly.

Unfortunately, eliminating production delays, maintaining profitability, and getting the job out the door on time were either secondary values or non-existent ones. We seemed to have lots of work—it’s what happened to the job after it entered the shop where the problems started. We had no written work orders. Everything was done verbally. My boss might have had a job board or some other system of keeping track of progress in his office, but we workers were in the dark, except for carrying out the tasks assigned to us.

I was an apprentice, so it didn’t affect me too much. Unfortunately for the business, it was fatal. At least once a week an irate customer would show up looking for their job, which was invariably half done, the deadline blown, with the boss out of the shop running around picking up supplies or chasing work. Meanwhile, the workers would complete their assigned tasks, and then have to wait until El Jefe returned. Too often, if we tried to start something new, without proper instructions, we would end up having to do it over.

The lesson from that place was simple, and the basis of any proper system: Write it down. The benefits from a proper work order and a visual job board available to the entire workforce cannot be overstated. After the company went broke, they sold the equipment, and I went with it to my next employer, an ad agency. They were big on writing things down—not only the facts regarding the customer’s job for the benefit of we schmoes dragging squeegees in the back, but also recording the actual print times and quantities of materials used in completing the job.

Capturing actual vs. quoted time/material on a work order allows a shop to maintain or increase profitability and identify production bottlenecks. This gives the shop two more solid legs to stand on.

The shop that doesn’t analyze its real production values and compare them to its quotes—and make the necessary changes to align one with the other—will not last long. Too many shops base their costing on a competitor’s price list. This might work to get jobs, but it will not guarantee a profit. And let’s be honest. A quote is just a bet with your customer that you can do the job, pay the costs, and still end up with some money in your pocket. A proper system that allows you to capture production data and compare it to quoted prices and estimated times on a constantly updated basis is the only way to hedge that bet and make sure you always win.

Things have changed and continue to change in this crazy industry, but a few things stay constant. A solid workflow-management system, regardless of whether it is analog (paper and job board) or computerized, will always give a business a better chance of survival.

Accurate and complete information going out onto the production floor allows the workforce to do their jobs properly and efficiently, with minimal time wasted on unproductive activities or searching for missing info. Harvesting the real data from the job by the workers performing the tasks allows management to identify bottlenecks and correct production times used in quoting jobs. This cycle of information going out and coming in from the shop floor is the lifeblood of any successful graphics shop and the basis of successful workflow management.


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