Commentary & Analysis
Strategic Optimization During COVID-19
Documenting your core workflows can be a good strategic use of key resources who might not be fully occupied working from home.
By Jennifer Matt
Published: March 25, 2020
I got a call yesterday from a print business who wanted help with a major Print MIS upgrade because, in their words, “the people who know our business the best have uninterrupted time to focus; that will not be the case when we get to the other side of this.”
I was on a call this morning with a company that is in beta on a new artwork approval solution. They started the conversation by saying they thought the software was too cumbersome and more difficult than their current process. Does this sound familiar? It does to me because I've heard this exact statement hundreds of times. I have a very different reaction to this statement now. Here it is:
Please describe your current process (in detail).
Why do I respond with this question? Most print businesses who are shopping/testing new software technology don’t have the process they are doing today documented. So when they evaluate new technology, how do they know if it's better, more efficient, and takes less time then what they are doing today?
You know why current processes are perceived as easier, less cumbersome, more efficient? Because they are known, comfortable, and the people doing those processes feel confident. So I took notes while they described their current process; I stopped numbering the steps at 28. Their current process is not efficient. It is comfortable because, in their own words, it's the way they have always done it.
I got a call before all this COVID-19 thing started from a technical leader at a very large printer. After about two sentences of pleasantries, he stated, “I have a 118-step process that I need to fix.” I just about fell off my chair, not because of the number of steps, but because he actually knew how many steps there were in it. He proceeded to tell me that he was looking at the process map on his office wall while he was talking to me. I just simply said, “You are way ahead of the game. You can’t fix a problem until you’ve defined it.”
You know what you can do during the COVID-19 “pause”: you can define your existing workflows. You can document the core workflows of running a print business. If I were you, I would focus on the workflows in the carpeted area of your business because those are most likely the people who are working from home.
- Order entry
- Artwork Approval
- New customer onboarding
I guarantee you, once you get down all the steps in each of these processes, your business will start to change immediately. People who are busy all the time aren’t even aware of all the steps they repeat day after day after day, each time sucking up vital labor that could be deployed more efficiently. I spent about three hours over the weekend cleaning up my password manager, bookmarks, virtual machine logins, etc. (basically the administrative health of all my technical access points). I think I am about 20% more efficient because I took the time to organize the things I access every single day.
What does documenting a workflow look like? Write down the process, create a video like you’re showing someone new how to do the process. Then pull someone else in from your company and see if they can do the process without asking you any questions. The tendency will be for you to want to optimize the process as you document it. Believe me, it can be embarrassing to write down all the weird steps you’re taking, but you should not optimize; you should document it exactly how it works today. Then measure how long it typically takes you to complete the process (e.g. get artwork out for approval) so you have a “data-based” measurement. Think about how differently you would engage with a vendor when looking for a solution if you had your entire process already documented? You could simply hand the process and the time metric to the vendor and say, “I’m not interested unless you can save me 25% or more on our existing process!”
Technical people will want to create fancy flowcharts and diagrams. I really prefer Post-it® Notes which in our working virtual world you can do with the Post-it® Notes App. Don’t over complicate it; write down all the steps of the process with one step per Post-it® Note, put them in order, count them, then time how long it takes the person who does this process all day, everyday, to complete the process.
Getting your processes documented allows you to evaluate the processes based on data not emotion. Everything we do today has an emotional connection to us as humans (especially things we do confidently). What we want to do is to give new processes and new ways of doing things to have a fighting chance against the natural human resistance to change.
I’ll end with one of my favorite quotes:
“If you want to teach people a new way of thinking, don’t bother trying to teach them. Instead, give them a tool, the use of which will lead to new ways of thinking.” —Buckminster Fuller
Your current processes are rooted in tools that people are comfortable with (email, PDFs, and spreadsheets). These tools are outdated. The processes that rely on these tools exclusively are cumbersome on both the printer’s employees and even more importantly their customers.
Right now is a good time to capture your processes as a baseline, then to start understanding how you can build a more efficient business when we all get to leave our houses again.