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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

Ask tough questions

"Why are we doing it this way?" is an essential question shop owners and managers can ask themselves and should hear outside experts ask. Here are three other useful questions for reviewing workflows:

* Where are the bottlenecks?

* What’s causing the bottlenecks?

* Which part of the process could a computer do?

An example of a common graphic-arts bottleneck: a point at which work slows or stops. Each file that’s destined for imaging must be checked to ensure everything required to image the job correctly is present before the file is sent into production. That’s standard practice (or should be), and sometimes the resolution is too low to reproduce at the size the customer has requested-a common occurrence with customers who try to take brochure images to make a poster or something larger. The easiest fix is informing the customer so they can provide higher resolution images.

But let’s say there’s only one person tasked with contacting customers who have problematic files, and this person also has many other daily responsibilities. Subsequently, jobs that could be generating money languish on a hard disk somewhere, and the clients who submitted the files aren’t kept informed. Do you put more people on the task, rearrange the one person’s task priorities, or look for relevant software tools? Could a combination of these strategies be effective? The answers to these questions vary from company to company, and they can take time to discover, but it’s critical to find right solutions-and it all starts with the right questions.

Do the smarter thing

Musing about that newspaper archivist, I wondered what would have happened if one day she decided she’d had enough and quit. Would the new archivist have asked tough questions about the job, or hung on for a while before leaving for more interesting work? How much would the company have spent on replacing archivists before someone discovered the real problem? How much extra would the company have spent just to get the job done?

The smarter thing is accepting the reality that workflows need periodic maintenance and review. Sometimes a simple tune-up will do, but sometimes the entire system needs revamping. An objective review is essential to spotting problem areas and crafting effective solutions. If that can’t be done in-house, find an outsider who knows how to ask the difficult questions and knows what to make of the answers.

If you believe a workflow review isn’t important, consider how many people in your organization are like an archivist renaming files all day long. That should motivate you.

Based in Gilbertsville, PA, Molly Joss is the former technical editor for The Seybold Report and is the author of 'Getting and Keeping the Printing Staff You Deserve,' 'How to Do Everything with Photoshop Elements,' and other books on the graphic arts.