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A WIP-challenged Industry --Dickeson

October 2002
Back in the mid-1900s, managers had piecework, incentive pay, layoffs, short-hour call-backs and employment schemes reminiscent of the longshoreman's daily "shape-up" they used. There are still remnants of those practices. But, in printing? No way.

Well, perhaps in emerging economies in Africa, Asia or Indonesia. Pre-1960, when variants of those employment practices were still around in our industry, by stretching a tad, you could call direct labor a job-variable cost. When a press was waiting for plates, you told the crew to "clock out" and go home. Anybody tried that lately? In the last 30 years?

In the '60s we were still listening to Spencer Tucker and his complex schemes for Budgeted Hourly Rates centered on "Chargeable Hours" of labor in "cost centers." By 1976 we'd begun to waver when Wally Stettinius cautioned us that "...Any manager using an hour rate in his decision-making deliberations must look behind the stated value." ("Management Planning and Control," page 313.) In the '80s we heard about Chaos Theory, TOC (Theory of Constraints), JIT (Just in Time), WOW (War on Waste) and SQM (Statistical Quality Management). The realization began to dawn that hourly budgeted rates of production centers were misleading us.

Going With Our Guts

Still, we've continued our cultural commitment to tracking job costs, even though we'd pretty much abandoned them for sales and marketing. We replaced them with "gut feel" and no reliable statistical system at all for operating decision support. Why do we continue?

You see, good buddies, NAPL, R&E, PIA, GATF, local associations, printing management information system suppliers and old-time consultants hang on to tradition like Rev Tevye in "Fiddler on the Roof." They scratch their beards and sagely ask, "Do you really know your costs?" That intimidates us. We don't know, and will never know, our "costs." But neither do, nor will they!

Our professional accountants know better, but they hang around in order to preserve their precious WIP (Work in Process) construct. The WIP is a part of their General Ledger Accounting routines that borrows BHRs and chargeable hours from Job Cost Accountancy. The assumption is that incomplete jobs should bear some of the period expense cost load that "matches" the future revenue to be generated by those jobs. So we "defer" reporting some expenditures until a future time by the WIP. Logical? Appealing? Seductive?

Well, that's what WorldCom thought, so they said. "We'll just defer some of our costs until they match up with the sales revenues those costs will generate." It's 2002 and, painfully, we now know better. There's some "point" beyond which you mustn't go in any effort to match costs (whatever you define costs to be) against probable revenues. What and where is that point?

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