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Dickeson--Looking for Some Changes

October 2000

Keep in mind, dear computer specialists, that you are publishers first, foremost and always. You're technicians only incidentally. If the data doesn't lead to action, you've failed your prime obligation.

Let me tell you the stories I think I want to see on my personal browser home page. I want to know about the cash. Every day. What was our starting balance, total of checks written, collections deposited and our balance right now? What customers are past due on payments? What inventories are more than 60 days old?

I want flashing red, bold-faced numbers with noises to get my attention. If we're burning cash balance, give me flames and a siren. Assume I'm distracted. Seize me warmly by the throat and shake me until knowledge sets in.

When my laser printer is out of paper, it speaks to me. "Please check your paper," the nice lady says. Voice prompt. My phone answering machine says, "You have two messages." It's more difficult to ignore than a screen prompt. When someone hits "enter" to set a price for a job, I want a voice to say, "That account is 86 days past due. Please press '1' if you wish to quote to this customer." If company policy mandates no credit extension when a customer is in arrears, then a specific individual is accountable for credit policy deviation and must be prepared to defend the variance.

Pricing decisions are the most significant decisions being made by a "knowledge worker" in commercial printing. We want support for those decisions—support that goes beyond the virtual reality of job cost estimates. Also, we need accountability for each price decision. "Price lists" are a way out for some companies, but in commercial job shops start with those two pricing principles: support and accountability.

Demand system accommodation from your tech staff or software supplier for the two. Of course they'll fire back at you, "Specifically, what form do you wish this to take?" Reality check. Time to concentrate. Time to create. Develop a structure that supports the decision. Make it interactive.

Know What You Want
If it's interactive, then each slide pops up with a fact developed from policy and asks for a response. The responses are collected, dated, timed, filed with the name or ID of the knowledge worker. Want suggestions? Just list the questions that should be considered in setting a price. When you finish, you have a story that has some shape and continuity.

In the pricing database you have a book of stories that define the actual price policy of Fictitious Graphics Inc.—valid anecdotal wisdom.

Call this approach "storyboarding." You would be amazed if you learned how many decisions are based on storyboarded presentations. Books and movies are financed, venture capital is raised, candidates are elected to office, athletes are selected for teams, religions are formed, children are adopted, budgets are approved, new cars are designed. We construct our view of reality from stories.

Give us the information from our businesses as stories, not as sterile lists, tables and endless sprocket-paper printouts. We function in a world of sound bites these days. Advertisers, politicians, promoters know this. So let's learn from them and start with four areas: cash, receivables, inventories and pricing.

Fair dinkum, matey?

—Roger V. Dickeson

About the Author
Roger Dickeson is a printing productivity consultant based in Tucson, AZ. He can be reached by e-mail at, by fax (520) 903-2295, or on the Web at



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