1) Use checklists
This seems almost too simple and basic, but checklists are very effective. Here’s some food for thought from The New Yorker.
They calculated that, in this one hospital, the checklist had prevented forty-three infections and eight deaths, and saved two million dollars in costs.
If a checklist can do that for a hospital, what can it do for you?
Create a simple paper-based checklist for the different types of jobs you produce. Printing a banner? Include the banner checklist in your job jacket. Running some shirts? Include your screen printing checklist in your job jacket.
You can also create operational checklists for your equipment. All the most common procedures like start up, shut down, printing, cutting, maintenance. Print it real large and place it beside your plotter, your printer, your CNC router.
2) 100% complete work orders
Far too many production mistakes are caused by improper or missing information.
When you have a ton of orders to input and 100 other things to do as well, the tendency can be to rush through everything.
A sales rep or CSR might take a shortcut that saves them 5 minutes. Maybe they’re not as clear and descriptive as they could be. Maybe they implied something but didn’t actually type it out in the production notes. That shortcut could cost 20 min or $50 worth of materials when the production team doesn’t have everything they need.
Something as simple as including an image of the file to be printed and the file path to the production file can help save time and prevent mistakes.
The old saying of “garbage in, garbage out” applies here. Your work orders are the instructions for everything that follows. So you want to front-load the work and make sure that everything someone needs to produce the job is on there.
3) Focus on cross-training
This is especially crucial for growing shops. If you’ve got tons of orders to push out the door by tomorrow, and your press operator doesn’t show up today, what do you do?
One of the other benefits of cross-training is you get fresh eyes on the process. Everyone thinks differently and by teaching everyone how to run the press, then you help them see how their jobs affect the normal press operator. They’ll know what to watch for and be better at catching mistakes before they get to press.
4) Go back to school
As a manager or owner, you wear a lot of different hats. So slap on your learning cap and shadow your employees through the production process.
Ask them to explain the process they follow to you each step of the way. Also ask them why they perform that step that way.
This gives you the opportunity to proactively train them in the proper way, instead of waiting reactively for a mistake to happen. But you might be pleasantly surprised if someone has created a better way to do something that can then be taught to the rest of the team.
5) Prepare for the worst case
Even the most efficient production teams will occasionally make mistakes. It’s just a part of life. A single mistake while painful, is usually not that bad. The issue is when one mistake is stacked on top of another.
For example, 4 small shirts got ruined before the press operator noticed that one of the sponsor logos you were printing was blown out of the screen. You needed all 4 of those shirts. The due date is the day after tomorrow, so you’ve still got time. But the operator forgot to mention those 4 shirts to the purchaser for 45 min. Now it’s past your 3pm order cutoff with your apparel vendor. You won’t be able to get the replacements in time to meet the deadline.