By John Giles So given the importance of prepress, the obvious question is who is in charge? May 12, 2005 -- In the digital printing world, the prepress department is one of the most important parts of the organization. Because prepress touches almost every order that comes to many shops, the prepress staff is the pipeline between the sales guys and the output devices. And if the pipeline is plugged, nothing gets done. So given the importance of prepress, the obvious question is who is in charge? Who determines what they do and when they do it? Who is the person who negotiates the delivery times for customers? Who is responsible for getting things done? Most printers would say the person in charge is the most senior prepress staff person. They usually know more about the department than any one else in the organization, so they are in charge of what happens inside the department. But who is in charge when there is a question about which order is completed first? Who is in charge when a sales person prices an order too low or fails to price it at all? Who is in charge when press operators are standing around doing nothing because jobs are backlogged in the prepress department? Successful printing companies put the production manager in charge of the prepress department. Successful printing companies put the production manager in charge of the prepress department. Instead of jobs going directly from the sales staff to prepress, the production manager reviews the job. The production manager accepts and schedules the entire job so the delivery date can be met. Having a production manager who is in charge of all phases of production helps eliminate problems and helps meet customer delivery demands. As the production manager reviews orders during the day, he or she can juggle production to make sure deadlines are met without chaos or the need for overtime. Printers who don't have prepress reporting to the production manager build in production inefficiencies. Sales staffs are constantly interrupting the prepress staff with scheduling and pricing questions. Production managers who aren't responsible for prepress are always being surprised by orders they didn't know was in house. All of a sudden a job appears that has an almost impossible delivery date. Other work is moved and overtime is required to meet the customer's delivery demands. Production managers who aren't responsible for prepress are always being surprised by orders The production manager is also the filter for the prepress department. He or she makes sure that the prepress staff gets the information they need to handle the order or file. The production manager checks the price to be sure that the company is making money. He or she also makes sure the work can be completed in a timely manner. The production manager handles all inquires from the sales staff about scheduling and pricing. This leaves the prepress staff free to do their job. Scheduling the prepress staff's time will become critical in the next few months as software developers upgrade their software applications. Adobe has introduced Creative Suite 2 and Quark plans to release QuarkXPress 7 later in the year. Microsoft is upgrading Office. Apple has released its new OS X Tiger (10.4.0). It will take time for the prepress staff to integrate the new software applications into their workflow. Will everything work as it once did? Will the different output devices response properly? Can we get a file to print properly? Just like a press operator, the prepress staff needs to maintain their equipment. A production manager will have to schedule time for the prepress staff to install and test the updated software and allow time for problem solving and fixing conflicts. No upgrade ever goes perfectly, so time must be allowed to work out the bugs. Just like a press operator, the prepress staff needs to maintain their equipment. A production manager should be budgeting time for the prepress staff to do archiving and backups or to run general maintenance utility programs. Keeping up with viruses, updates, and backups takes time. A production manager must consider those tasks when setting the daily schedule. Some owners and managers will balk at putting the production manager in charge of prepress. They fear their production manager doesn't have the experience to adequately manage prepress. This can be easily overcome with digital standards and training. Online training courses from companies such as Prepresstraining.com can give production managers the information they need to manage prepress. Having production standards relating to the expected production times for certain types of work will assist scheduling. Setting standards on how customer-created files are handled also helps the production manager understand the production issues faced by prepress. A production manager doesn't have to know how to run every piece of software, but he or she can be trained to identify issues and manage prepress production and scheduling. A production manager doesn't have to know how to run every piece of software The pressures on the prepress staff in a digital shop can be tremendous. The prepress staff needs an ally-- someone who will let them concentrate on getting the work out. If a prepress department is to be productive and profitable, there must be a production manager there to run interference and let them focus on the important tasks at hand. With the production manager as the leader, prepress can meet its commitments and start being profitable.