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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

But maybe an outsider can ask that question and get real answers because he or she is being paid to do so and isn’t an employee. Sometimes it’s easier for staff members to tell an outsider the truth about what they do every day and how they feel about it. That archivist at the newspaper might have griped to friends, but chances are slim that she would have complained to her boss and asked that alternatives be considered. This is especially true since the alternative she feared most was that her job would be eliminated. If you want to improve your work process, you’ve got to get to the truth about the whys of your workflow, and sometimes you can use professional help.

One way to gain efficiency is to find processes that lend themselves to automation, such as repetitive segments of production workflow. The archivist may not have known that a program could do what she was doing in minutes rather than hours, and why should she? She’s an archivist-not a programmer or specialist in workflow management. The benefit outside consultants can be their expertise in knowing what questions to ask about the process, what to do with the answers, and which solutions might work best.

Find the right help

Industry consultants are often professionals who have specific expertise in helping print shops and other graphic-arts service providers. Some, like Kelly, work for companies that sell workflow-related tools, while others don’t sell anything but their time and expertise. You can’t tell a good workflow expert by title alone, so here are a couple of pointers for finding-and making the best use of-workflow experts:

* Ask around for recommendations, and ask specifically about track record. If the colleague can’t point to specific benefits that his company has realized by working with this person or company, keep looking.

* Beware of anyone who has just one thing, or a few things, to sell-including ideas or a plan. Useful workflow improvements don’t come out of a can.

* Start with a general practitioner, then bring in specialists only if necessary and only if you’ve pinpointed specific areas for change. In other words, get the routine check-up first.

* Expect slow, but demonstrable, progress. Be suspicious of instant improvement claims, but months shouldn't pass without seeing some progress in profitability or customer satisfaction.