By John Giles August 25, 2003 -- Ask many print companies what department creates the most problems in their organization and they’ll point to the desktop publishing department. The desktop publishing (or prepress) department has become one of the most important areas in a printing company. With today’s connectivity, it seems that the DTP staff touch every order. Whether it is an order for the press or the digital printer, it usually goes to the company’s digital experts for some type of editing or file preparation. And there the order stops. For many companies, the desktop publishing department is the production bottleneck. Quick turnaround digital print orders are delayed by more complicated press orders. Press orders are delayed by digital print rush jobs that suddenly appear from the desktop publishing department with no warning. Orders that were expected to print with no problems need extensive corrections. The desktop publishing department is pulled in many directions as customers wait for their orders to be completed. On top of this, the owner worry if the time the DTP staff spends working on the files is being covered on the invoice. Is the desktop publishing department losing money handling a digital file? It doesn’t have to be like this. Successful printing companies have a secret ingredient in the production mix that helps them avoid common problems: the production manager. Production managers have always been a part of a printing company, yet in many companies, they have no control over the desktop publishing department. The DTP department has mutated into a cross between production and customer service. The DTP staff doesn’t feel part of either customer service or production. They just react to the work that appears in their order basket and they see themselves as victims without a leader in the organization. To avoid problems and increase profitability, the DTP department should report to the production manager. Orders should flow through the production manager to the DTP department to assure the necessary technical and pricing information is included. The DTP staff should spend its time doing work rather than negotiating delivery schedules or being a digital detective to solve issues caused by someone’s failure to get information from a customer. The press operator will never get a order until the production manager checks to make sure all the information a press operator needs to complete his work is included on the work order. The production manager will review paper stock, run length, ink colors and other critical pieces of information before assigning the work. If there is an issue with the delivery time, it is the production manager, not the press operator, who brings it to the attention of the sales person and resolves the issue. The same thing should be done for the DTP department. The production manager can assure that the DTP staff has the information they need to complete the job correctly. A prepress employee shouldn’t be forced to guess about what needs to be done to the order. The production manager is the person who makes sure the sales staff gets the proper information and prices the order correctly. If there isn’t this “choke” point where someone reviews the order, the DTP staff will waste their time performing tasks that cannot be billed to the customer. If there is a question about scheduling, the production manager, and not the DTP staff, negotiates with the sales person. The production manager should be in charge of all aspects of production, including the prepress department. This simple concept can help companies avoid the problems that can delay an order’s progress through the organization. The production manager can easily learn the pricing concepts for the DTP department. If a company has digital standards as to how a customer must prepare a file for production, it is easy for the production manager to intercept exceptions to the standards and schedule accordingly. Just because a production manager isn’t an expert in a page layout program doesn’t mean he can’t manage the day-to-day requirements to meet customer demands. Of course, there are exceptions. Some digital orders never even get to the production manager or the DTP department. They are taken care of and completed by customer service personnel. However, if an order does require scheduling, it must come under the control of the production manager. If you want to have a successful company where digital files are not an issue, put your production manager in charge of desktop publishing. The production manager is the person who makes sure customer production needs are met. He is the one person in the organization who decides the order in which jobs are produced. He insures work can be produced at the selling price so a profit can be made. Let the production manager manage the DTP staff and let the DTP be the creative and technical digital experts for the company.