Early in my career I found that operations people crave routine and for good reason. They are judged on the quantity and quality of physical output over time. Fewer changes mean more output. For embroidery types, the late 1990's still provided abundant contract jobs such as 100,000 white towels with a 5,000 stitch single color green Christmas tree in the corner.
Simple. A low skill operator sets up the machine and run for three weeks with only the need to hoop towels, load and unload product and change the big spools when they gave out. That business has all gone offshore.
What remains is short run jobs akin to “Mass Customization”. Instead of 100,000 pieces one color, we now have 20 piece orders with eight stops and four rainbow color ways which have to be shipped tomorrow. This kind of business is a nightmare not only for embroidery managers, but also for the art and preparation departments which have to create the work orders and source the product. Competing in today's market requires that everystep in order fulfillment be done quickly and correctly the first time. Without that level of competence, quality and speed, the preparation and production departments will very quickly look like the old “I Love Lucy” clip where she falls behind wrapping candy on an assembly line. Fortunately, your employees can't eat the shirts to hide the problems.
The key to success in today’s decoration environment is to have processes which routinely handle short run, quick turn, highly customized production—no special handling required. Every company needs to methodically define and analyze its business processes with the goal of developing routine policies, procedures, practices, forms and workflows. You could hire a consultant to do this for you. Don’t. As an owner or general manager, you need to do this yourself. It is one time when hands-on effort is demanded. Here are the basics:
1. Identify every major step in the fulfillment process for each major type of product or service you render. Prepare a flow chart reflecting those steps.
2. For each step, determine what information has to be gathered, what decisions must be made, what activities must be accomplished.
3. Where possible, group similar activities and functions, such as order entry, purchasing, receiving, art development, customer approval, pre-production, process specific production and shipping.
4. Develop policies, procedures, and forms which ensure that each step will be done correctly, the first time and every time.
5. Align your staff assignments with the process.
6. Train your staff to accomplish the steps for which they are responsible.
7. Establish reports to monitor processes and allow measurement of results.
8. Align your incentives with the processes and desired outcomes.
Processes can be purely manual and paper centered. Obviously, computer systems can be a major component in your processes, bringing with them the ability to manage and instantly retrieve data, automate workflow and generate reports. The best decoration business systems are designed around ‘best practice’ processes and will encourage and support competitive business processes.
Whether you rely on paper systems or a computer system, do your homework and know your business!