Print Production Workflow and Automation: ‘From Date Night to Marriage’
In the film Her, a writer falls head-over-heels in love with his computer’s sultry-voiced operating system. Analyst Pat McGrew thinks printers ought to take the same amorous interest in their production workflows.
“This is sort of a dating game,” said McGrew, owner and managing director of the McGrew Group. “Think of this as e-Harmony for your workflow.”
She meant it metaphorically, of course, in a matrimonially-themed presentation she made during the Workflow and Software segment of the PRINTING United Digital Experience. Her point was that if printers want to have truly fulfilling relationships with their workflow systems, they first need to know them intimately.
Many printers lack this insight, according to McGrew, who helps print shops build and improve software-based production workflows.
She said that many firms she consults with not only don’t know precisely what workflow assets they have on their servers, “they don’t actually know what they’re spending on it every year.” Despite the “incredibly rosy picture” that printers tend to draw about their workflow capabilities, she continued, the reality is that “there’s a lot of looping, a lot of boomeranging, a lot of missed cues, and a lot of missed information” – all of which wastes time, breeds errors, and costs money.
“It’s very hard to automate if that’s the world you’re living in,” said McGrew, adding that if a shop finds itself in this situation, “it’s time to rethink your workflow. The goal should be that you know it as well as you know your own name.”
The way to do that is to “walk your workflow” from job entry through delivery, identifying each touchpoint (human interaction) with the job along the way. “Do you know how many touch points are in your workflow?” challenged McGrew. “Because if you don’t, there is no way you can know what a job costs you.”
As on a first date, the idea is to get to know the other party thoroughly: in this case, by inventorying every piece of workflow-related software the shop is using, including any “widgets” or freeware that may have been installed. Questions to ask when walking the workflow, said McGrew, include clarifying what the maintenance costs are; whether change orders are being tracked, and how; whether everything is being invoiced; and whether estimates match the actual cost of completing the job.
Another good idea, she noted, is to “take a look at things you’ve already automated,” such as Web-to-print ordering systems that automatically prefight incoming job files for entry into the production queue.
When it’s finally time to “pop the question,” advised McGrew, find out everything it will take “to have a long-term, healthy marriage with your workflow. Once you’ve gone through the dating and the engagement, the next thing is setting up for longevity.” This consists of “building cadence” into the system through regularly scheduled self-assessments of the system.
“Do a quarterly walk,” urged McGrew. “Create a cadence to your automation. Try to create a situation where you can automate one more step every quarter. Over a couple of years, you can be pretty heavily automated.”
This will pay off handsomely in efficiency and productivity according to McGrew. “With a good, automated workflow, you should be able to capture the absolutely required information for every step in your workflow,” she said. If the shop tries to bypass the system or withhold any of the details it requires, “it should yell at you, and not allow you to progress.”
Like a good spouse, an automated workflow is an enabling partner. “One of the powers of automation is that you can normalize and optimize every piece of the process,” McGrew explained. “Automation allows you to let processes happen, and then free up the people to do what people should be doing.”
But, she emphasized that maintaining this level of automated efficiency takes commitment. “You want to do a fearless reappraisal of everything on a regular basis,” McGrew said, urging printers to seek the help they’ll need from their software vendors and other expert sources. “When it come to your workflow, it’s all about building the best of the best.”
She concluded by sharing a “secret” about the tangible benefits of workflow automation.
“If you make your workflow really efficient, you add capacity to your throughput,” McGrew declared. You eliminate those bottlenecks. You make it possible to bring more work in, spend less time processing it, and more time printing it and getting it out the door, and getting paid for it.”
To view this PRINTING United Digital Experience presentation, and more than 100 other educational sessions, for free on-demand, visit digital.printingunited.com