The labor market continues to be a major challenge, especially for small and medium sized businesses. The Great Resignation, beginning in 2021, resulted in en masse voluntary resignations which has significantly altered the workforce (potentially permanently).
No need to debate what the future will hold, we know that we have to find a way to succeed in spite of the challenges in front of us today. We have more work to do than labor to do it. We have to start looking at our workloads differently because “throwing more labor” at workload challenges is no longer a valid solution.
Adding people is not always the easiest solution, but it has allowed us to continue to have ill defined processes and manual steps in our workflows. Adding people just integrates them into our inefficient workflows with the hope that more manual labor generates more work production. This is why you see customer service teams blossoming past ten people and prepress departments continuing to grow. Without workflow efficiencies, you have to keep throwing labor at the problem which actually makes quality control and management even harder. The more people you have doing similar tasks the more variation, more management and more overhead you build into your business. This also puts you in a position where making changes is difficult. Change management with a team of ten is exponentially more difficult than change management with a team of five.
Scaling your workload via automation and software is a different kind of solution that requires a different approach. It requires you or someone on your team to identify the different kinds of work being done so that it can be solved in different ways. There are “buckets” of work in your business that require different skills and are more or less applicable to be automated or solved programmatically. This means you might be shaving work off all your customer service team by automating a certain task rather than simply adding another full head count to customer service that does a little bit of everything. You can start thinking about scaling by incrementally giving your existing team tools that make them more efficient.
All automation and optimization using software relies on access to accurate and up-to-date information. All roads lead back to your Print MIS and the data stored there. It may be disappointing to some to find this out. When you want to streamline your operations and do this without humans that can think their way around errant data, you have to do some housekeeping before you can implement programmatic workflows. We take for granted how much brain power we rely on in our workflows today because we have been solving scale issues with more people forever. More brains don’t force us to do the housekeeping. Less humans with more work requires you to clean up your data, identify workflows that could be optimized and then automated, with the end result that the humans you have can produce more work.
There has always been a focus in the print industry on the production floor. We are obsessed with shaving minutes off of press times, finishing steps, etc. My personal obsession is with the business processes in the carpeted area of the print business where I look to shave off DAYS in the workflow. For most printers, a job spends more time in the carpeted area than on the production floor. Initial inquiry to the press can be days or weeks. This calendar time matters because it makes production times tighter, slows cash flows and eats up customer expectations. You might not calculate turn times until the job is ready for printing, but customers consider turntime calculations starting from the minute they utter their desire for their ill-defined job, with unapproved artwork and out-of-stock raw materials!
Once you accept that labor issues are here to stay, you can start opening up to solving your scale challenges with more innovative and sustainable solutions. Software is the primary tool deployed but it requires a major move from brain power which can theoretically handle all exceptions to pattern recognition and consistency. It takes longer to set up an automated workflow, but the return is 10 fold because you save time every single time it runs. The ROI is a gift that keeps on giving.