Commentary & Analysis
"Burning Down the House"...and What You Might Learn
What would happen if you took the time to imagine what your shop might look like if you could start from scratch? If there were no financial or legacy constraints? What might you do differently from what you have now? What might you learn from walking through that exercise?
By Heidi Tolliver-Walker
Published: September 12, 2018
Years ago, I remember a printer describing how the total destruction of his shop by fire was the best thing that had ever happened to his business. However, it wasn’t about getting out from under a failing business model. It was about getting from under the bondage to legacy systems.
For years, he had continued to cobble together his workflow. He upgraded, added new printing capabilities, integrated new finishing options—all with the skill of the 1980s television character MacGyver. It worked...mostly. He certainly wasn’t as efficient or productive as he could have been. He saved money in the short term, but he was losing money in the long term. His ability to increase productivity and be more profitable was being held back by his ongoing “improvements,” which enabled incremental change but ultimately held him hostage to legacy systems.
When the fire ravaged his business, it was a godsend. With nothing left but ashes, he was able to start fresh. He was able to look at his needs and put together the best, most optimized workflow from start to finish.
Most printers aren’t going to have the luxury of starting from scratch like this, but have you ever thought about what that might look like if you did? What if you could do anything you wanted? No limitations. What presses would you buy? What DFEs would you use? What workflow would you would purchase to link it all together? What channels would you support? What MIS system would you invest in?
Don’t stop at technology. How about staffing? Would you hire differently? Would you create new positions? Eliminate positions? How about your building? Would you change the layout of the offices? The flow on the production floor? How about the location of the break room? Look at everything.
My husband recently changed jobs, and one of the critical issues at his new organization was the layout of the administrative offices. It just didn’t work for the needs of the growing nonprofit. In addition, new needs were arising that didn’t exist at the time the building was constructed.
He started tackling the project by doing a needs assessment. He stalked to every stakeholder in the organization. He took them with him on tours of the building and the grounds. They talked through the issues, the existing layouts, and brainstormed ideal scenarios.
After gathering a wealth of ideas and exploring all of the options, he made a shocking suggestion. Don’t renovate the existing structure at all. Instead, move the administrative offices out of the building altogether into the old, historic farmhouse just down the hill. The layout was already perfect, the environment was warm and welcoming, and the existing administrative building could be converted into something the organization desperately needed: more storage space and landing pads for the hordes of volunteers that used it. As a bonus, the cost of converting both structures into their new uses would be less than trying to force-fit the existing structure to the organization’s current needs.
What if you walked through the same exercise in your print shop? You may know the challenges your shop is facing, but have you ever thought about the ideal scenario? If there were no constraints whatsoever? What would your shop look like? How would it be different than it is now? Involve your employees in the exercise. Walk through the your building with them, looking at everything from offices to production engines, and ask, if given an unlimited budget, what they would do differently. Imagine what you might learn!
By brainstorming what you could do without constraints, you might discover that there are things you can do within them. You might see things in entirely new ways and discover options you hadn’t thought of before. You may discover opportunities to radically improve aspects of your business that you might not have realized were possible.
You can’t burn down your house, but you can imagine what might happen if you did.