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It's Time to Track Errors--Dickeson

February 2001
The health services industry has an error record worse than printing. But they bury their mistakes, while much of the time we must redo and remake our boo-boos.

In commercial printing, in common with medicine, we have millions of customers with an amazing array of demands. And we also have thousands of practitioners. Communication of customer/patient needs and demands, the raw materials, equipment, training, technologies, interpretations and complexities are almost beyond the grasp of mortal printers and physicians. It's an environment that breeds mistakes and dissatisfactions.

Both industries seek to throw a dust cover over this elephant in the living room and hope that it will go unnoticed. But, alas, last year's official report on the thousands of mistakes in the health industry has exposed the error rate in the health business. It explains why the medical malpractice attorneys drive Porsches. There is a demand for government action. Not so for printing—yet. Our living room elephant is still concealed.

Errors and rework in commercial printing may cost the printer, on average, an amount equal to 20 percent to 30 percent of Value Added Sales each year. There is no known data to validate this statistic. However, every knowledgeable expert and experienced commercial print manager confirms this range. It is consistent with the expressions of both W. Edwards Deming and Philip Crosby—respected scholars in the field of quality. Some years ago a special committee of the Graphic Communications Association made a detailed analysis of several commercial printers and reached a corroborative conclusion.

Not long ago I reviewed the errors and rework log for a year of a fairly substantial commercial printer doing between 200 and 300 jobs a month. Errors were made on 11 to 12 percent of the jobs. Many of the jobs, if not most, required rework. My guess is that the lost value added for the year was between $2.5 million and $5 million.

"The list of errors looks familiar," noted Peter Doyle, of Action Printing in Fond du Lac, WI, upon reviewing my listing of mistakes for the other printing firm. "I am sure most printers could generate similar lists."

Look Below the Waterline
We can measure the cost of time and materials in rework—the tip of the iceberg that shows above the waterline. But we have no means to measure the seven-eighths of the iceberg beneath the water—the monetary impact on loss of customer loyalty and new work, disruption of tight schedules, degraded worker morale, and forborne marketing opportunities resulting from mistakes and rework. The means of accountability have been mostly non-existent. Post mortem analysis are inevitably finger-pointing circles.
 

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