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Knowing When to Push or Pull Your Workflow

(April/May 2017) posted on Tue May 16, 2017

How to eliminate bottlenecks through workflow design.

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By Marshall Atkinson

In retail stores, they use a simple card on the rack to denote that the product is out of stock. Even just having an empty hole on the shelf is itself a signal; the pull task is to fill the hole.

An example for your shop could be the way you organize your inventory at the press. Jobs are staged in the exact order that they need to be produced. As the work is completed, new jobs are placed at the end of the line. The pull signal is the empty space, which triggers the press scheduler to find another job for the crew to produce. 

‘Begin with the End in Mind’

This is one of Stephen Covey’s tenets from his classic book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. It’s a great concept to apply when thinking about the workflow in your shop. The best place to start will always be to outline exactly what needs to happen. Are you set up so that you get 100 percent of the jobs shipped as specified in the work order? If not, something has to change. 

When something goes wrong, what happened? Are you missing shipping dates? Are you ordering the wrong inventory? Does your art team have to revise the design a few times before it’s approved? Is your misprint or defect rate too high?

Keep track of these challenges that occur. Focus your efforts on creating solutions to recurrent problems so they don’t happen again.

Call these challenges “discrepancies.” Keep a Discrepancy Log to chart your issues. This is critical for your growth because it will allow you to see the connections between your processes, people, and problems. Just simply write down the details and discuss them with your team to work out a solution.

For instance, let’s say that you are having trouble sticking to your production schedule. The problem appears to be that the screenroom can’t keep up with the demand for the screens. The frustrated production crew can’t adhere to the production dates because the screens aren’t getting to the press early enough. The pull correction here is to establish which orders need screens first. Triage them according to what has to go on the presses next. Make sure those screens are exposed and dried first. Then, work on the next group. This isn’t a long-term solution, but it will get you caught up.


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