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The Dirty Job of Rooting Out Workflow Problems

(March 2008) posted on Tue Mar 18, 2008

Improving your digital workflow.

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By Molly Joss

Improving productivity in the graphic arts has become a topic that gets tossed around at conferences and in the press, yet when trying to get beyond the basic work 'smarter and not harder' principle, you quickly begin to feel as though you’d have more luck pinning Jell-O to your office wall. The slippery nature of what it really means to improve your workflow reminds me of a story I recently heard that’s an example of making productivity improvements a solid reality.

I was discussing workflow with Dwight Kelly, CEO of Apago, Inc., which specializes in software tools and development projects for the graphic arts, and he told me about an experience helping a major daily newspaper client improve productivity without increasing labor costs. Although the example is from a newspaper, its lessons apply to any shop in the graphic-art field: Kelly made rounds in the newspaper, assessing each department's current workflow, and discovered that all production files were sent to one person a few floors above the production department, but nobody knew why the files were going there or what was done with them.

A quick visit with the archivist upstairs revealed that, despite her title, she spent most of her day manually renaming some of the thousands of files sent to her so they could be retrievable later. Understandably, she was unhappy doing a repetitive and boring job and wanted to do more archival work, as she’d been trained to do. Yet she understood that without a proper, consistently applied naming scheme, the digital archive would be a disorganized mess.

After more conversation, Kelly asked her how she would feel if he could completely eliminate the manual renaming process. Her response was classic: "But I’d lose my job!" Well, you can probably guess the rest: Kelly wrote a short script to rename the files and store them automatically, and today that same archivist is doing the job she was hired to do. The newspaper gained the equivalent of another staff member without spending another dollar.

Challenge the status quo

One of the quickest ways to become unpopular in your company is to start asking "Why are we doing it this way?" on a regular basis. Your colleagues will begin to avoid you, and your boss will ask you into the office for a chat.