Purple Highlighters and Hoarders
My wife Susan and I enjoy weekend shopping excursions to some favorite haunts—antique shops, flea markets, etc. We also like scouring business supply places for more items that could help keep order in our business.
A few weeks ago we went to an Office Max to pick up some purple highlighters—a hard item to find in bulk, we discovered. But, our daughter-in-law Jennifer needed them, it seemed.
"Why purple?" Susan asked, "What does she use them for?"
“To highlight some key information on Job Tickets in production,” I replied. “Purple is Jennifer's favorite color!”
"That must take a lot of time, highlighting all those Tickets!” Susan remarked.
"Well," I said, "I'll tell you why it’s so important!" It amazes me sometimes, that, after all these years, Susan is such a good listener. She also edits or corrects everything I write—so, I’ve learned to listen to her, too!
Many years ago, we had an error on a particular job and it turned out the root cause of the error was—a press operator said he “didn't NOTICE the special instructions printed on the job ticket.” An expensive error!
“Pretty lame excuse!” I thought. My guess was: the press operator had not bothered to look for the special instructions printed on the Job Ticket. However, in the spirit of continual improvement, we had decided years before to FIRST give an employee the benefit of the doubt. We wanted to help and encourage employees by exploring ways to improve our systems, in our quest for zero errors—even if it seemed some excuses were weak.
I remember being a press operator myself, many moons ago, and making this same silly mistake—NOT reading a Job Ticket thoroughly. There can be a lot of information on a Job Ticket and, when it's all printed in black type on white paper it can be a little dizzying!
Back to improving the Job Ticket system...
When Jennifer and I, and a press operator, were looking for ways to improve the Job Ticket—in order to eliminate the chance of someone overlooking special instructions—we came up with a "highlighting system.” We added a PROMPT to our Quality Control Checklist (for inputting data, and printing our Job Tickets) to highlight various items on the ticket, i.e. pink highlighter for ALL special instructions, and purple highlighter for other key data.
Surely, I thought, there is a BETTER way, and eventually we would find it, but for now, PURPLE highlighters!
So, “Why purple?” I wasn't going to argue with my daughter-in-law over purple highlighters versus some other color—after all, she was the Production and Customer Service Administrator and functioned at a high level.
One thing I’ve learned about implementing systems over twenty-plus years—you need the INPUT and buy-in from your employees, so if they want something as small as using the color purple to improve a system, you just go with it.
The end result of highlighting key items on our job tickets was—it STOPPED the excuse about “not seeing” special instruction. It also STOPPED errors.
Also, on the operators own Quality Control Checklist, there is now a PROMPT for the pressman to check, that states, "All special instructions highlighted in pink have been read and understood."
I assure you, this works!
Alright, Purple Highlighters and Hoarders—so where do "HOARDERS" come into play?
During that same visit to Office Max for those purple highlighters, a woman (product demonstrator) approached us from behind a small table and introduced herself as the owner of a business called "Clearing the Way Home." She said she was an Organizing Specialist who helps individuals organize their homes and offices by providing organizational tools to eliminate clutter that causes chaos.
"Wow! You’re speaking my language,” I said, “Tell me more!” The woman told Susan and me that, over many years of organizing clutter in many homes and businesses, she became aware of people with “out-of-control organizational behavior,” even meeting some with mild-to-severe psychological issues, “like HOARDING.”
I was intrigued, hearing some of her exploits and about what she called "interventions." She not only goes to a person's home or business to help their problem of disorganization and clutter; but is often able to help them find the deeper reason as to WHY they are so disorganized.
After hearing her stories, I ran out to the car and returned with my book, "System Busters: How to Stop Them In Your Business," and suggested she read the chapter titled, "The 100% System of Cleanliness"—the story of how we dealt with the problem of clutter using the power of systems. I assured her I was going to read her material also, in order to better understand WHY some business owners just can’t seem to get their businesses organized.
DEAR READER: In the meantime, if the root cause of chaos in your business is NOT some psychosomatic condition, “like hoarding,” that might need some intervention way beyond my expertise—may I suggest you may have a simple case of what I call, “disorganitis.” I can help you with that!
P.S. Remember I told you I was sure there was a BETTER way than purple highlighting those Job Tickets by hand—and that I would eventually find it? We did! In the mission of continual, unending, ongoing, non-stop improvement, our manual highlighting system has now been AUTOMATED. Due to the reduction in cost of toner for digital printers, our Job Tickets are now printed in living color, thus saving Jennifer a lot of highlighting time—speeding up data entry and making it even easier for production employees to read and become aware of key data.
Did I mention—Great systems work!
Philip Beyer, founder/president of Ebiz Products LLC and founder of Beyer Printing Inc. in Nashville Tenn., is a chronic entrepreneur, business systems analyst and consultant. Author of "System Busters: How to Stop Them in Your Business" and recipient of an InterTech Technology Award for the design and development of System100 business process management software. Beyer speaks to business owners across the country on how to bring lean, sustainable order to their businesses. Contact him at (615) 425-2652.