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It's Time to Track Errors--Dickeson

February 2001

It's no different than it's been for the last 50 years. Maybe for as long as commercial printing has existed—perhaps even in the shops of Gutenberg and Caxton in the 1500s. It's high time to do something. Is there anything that can be done, given the diverse environment of commercial printers, our customers, suppliers and equipment?

Shall we start War on Waste III? We're looking at a waste universe of hundreds of millions of dollars annually for our industry. Multiply last year's value added sales of your company by at least 20 percent. That's a dollar number you should be thinking about. How much of your error-universe can you capture?

For a quarter of a century I've preached: "Until you measure, you can't control." We know that when we do measure, action follows. The health industry measured and reported. Actions are taking shape. We're talking about "quality" in print production. By "quality" we mean conformance to customer requirements. Even though we can't assess the full monetary impact, at least we can begin to classify and quantify accountability, the "Who, What, Where, When and How" of print production mistakes.

Communication—defective, non-accountable, information interchange between customer and printer, between printer and supplier, and within the printing company itself, is a major, if not THE major, cause of non-fulfilled customer requirements. People make mistakes. It's not that they want to make mistakes. People want to do the right thing, be appreciated, respected and please customers.

Yes, we all have attention lapses, get a bit careless from time to time. There's no known system that's going to correct all of that. But if we can get a measure of accountability in place, we can identify mistake-prone people and either retrain or move them to another position.

There's an old parlor game called "Gossip." Recall it? It's where one person whispers a secret in the ear of A, A in turn whispers it to C, C to D, D to...and when N restates it to the originator it's substantially distorted. Customer specifications enter a requirements "gossip" circle at the printing plant and the product doesn't fulfill the customer's requirements. And which person or persons in that gossip circle changed the meaning by omission, commission or interpretation? Who's accountable?

Your Starting Point
Start with your internal or intranet plant system. Does it provide electronic job sheets or job jackets that are constantly updated? Is every entry stamped with time, date and employee identifier? Are all change orders and customer revisions constantly entered? Those systems are available from printing software suppliers. With such a system in place, the gossip circle in the plant is terminated. The buck stops right where the digital archive places it. Internal accountability is established. The Who, What, When, Where error source is fixed.

For customers and suppliers, we have a communication system taking form called print e-commerce. This enables direct digital links for the production process. Customer specifications are downloaded to the server computer of the printer and become a digital RFQ—Request For Quotation. A responsive quotation flows back over the Internet to the buyer for acceptance or modification.

Proofs, separations, layouts, text, graphics, mailing lists, delivery instructions, corrections, changes, modifications, all move from buyer computer to printer and to supplier servers, as well. Indeed, it's all done at speeds not available before. The significance is the inherent accountability of digital communication.

Every transaction is time stamped, dated, personally attributed and archived in storage files. It's not only fast, clear, concise, correct and current, every interchange of the supply chain is now "of record." Accountability is within our reach. No more finger pointing. The buck stops in a documented chair, be it customer, printer, supplier or transporter of the print product.

—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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