For Workflow, to Scale or Not to Scale? That Is the Question!
It’s time to ask the question that is often missed in discussions about workflow — is the current workflow scalable? Scalable isn’t only a question of getting bigger; it is also a question of complexity. If your workflow was built to handle one type of job, like books or bills or bingo cards, and today you are handling magazines, direct marketing mailers and posters, there may be a mismatch between your work and your workflow.
The mismatches often begin with how jobs are sold and onboarded. A common change in sales is the addition of a Web-to-print solution to open your doors to a wider audience. When that addition happens, your scale of operation generally changes. Instead of sales coming in via relationships with your sales people, who know your capabilities, there are jobs coming in from customers who may not have paid attention to your website, and may not have followed your instructions. While most Web-to-print solutions allow for rules-based interrogation of the incoming job, in many cases, contrary to how the systems are intended to work, someone in the shop is assigned to look at the jobs and determine if they can move into production. When you think about scalability, the more jobs that come in through a Web-to-print application that require physical review, the less scalable that process becomes.
Mismatch also happens in prepress. If the prepress workflow was built to accommodate specific types of jobs, but the range of jobs has grown, it is likely that some of the work in that team is taking longer than it should. If the team isn’t comfortable with the types of jobs coming in, due to the file prep, color adjustments, or imposition, then the operation isn’t scalable.
If variable data printing has been added to the operation since the original workflow was designed, you may have another mismatch that impacts your scalability. To be honest, variable data printing sometimes becomes the excuse for delays. It isn’t always to blame. But if the workflow wasn’t designed to include approval processes for variable print jobs, or if it wasn’t designed for a small number of variable print jobs, you have a mismatch and the ability to scale the business is at risk.
Added new print or finishing equipment to the mix? You might have created a workflow mismatch. If you are finding that you’ve added capacity, but you are fighting with the workflow to support the new devices, you will hit a wall in terms of the true amount of new work your new capacity can accommodate. The same is true of new finishing solutions. Whether you have added print enhancement technology or new options for finishing, the onboarding system must be able to capture the client’s specifications for the production team to execute the work.
The ultimate goal of workflow is to create an efficient work process that optimizes the amount of work that can come through the shop. The best workflow serves to provide a path to the highest return on hardware and software investments, so scalability becomes a keystone. A component of that scalable workflow is how you manage the job data and derive usable information to manage your business. We’ll talk about those components next time.
Pat McGrew, M-EDP, CMP is the Director and Evangelist for the Production Workflow Service at InfoTrends. As an analyst and industry educator, McGrew works with InfoTrends customers and its clients to promote workflow effectiveness. She also has a background in data-driven customer communication, and production printing with offset, inkjet, and toner. Co-author of eight industry books, editor of "A Guide to the Electronic Document Body of Knowledge," and regular writer in the industry trade press, McGrew won the 2014 #GirlsWhoPrint Girlie Award for her dedication to education and communication in the industry, and the 2016 Brian Platte Lifetime Achievement Award from Xplor International. Find Pat on Twitter as @PatMcGrew and LinkedIn.