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Workflow + Software



For many of us, it often seems easier to just “fix” improperly prepared
output files than to step back and take an overall view of
how these problems affect our entire workflow. To truly address
the problem of bad files”?whether they be files you created or
files supplied by a customer”?you need to know: what files are
causing problems; why they are causing problems; and how you
respond to each problem (and if there are better ways to
respond). You also need to account for how the stop-and-start
nature of encountering bad files affects your entire operation,
not just the person who
actually has to deal with a
particular file.
It may be that you are
spending time, money, and
energy fixing files, when
what you really need to fix
is your shop's workflow.

Mapping reality
At a recent workshop presented
by Working Words
and Graphics ( on behalf of Enfocus, the presenters suggested
the first step in evaluating any workflow is to sit down and map
your system on paper. Seems simple, yes? After all, you know
your workflow. Files come in, you preflight, RIP, proof, and output.

Well, not usually”?not in the real world. If that's the map you
are using for your workflow, you're missing all the detours,
U-turns, traffic lights, and potholes. Your map should not be
drawn on the basis of your ideal workflow, but rather on the
basis of your actual workflow.

Also important to keep in mind is that the goal of mapping
your workflow is not to find someone to blame when it doesn't
work. Instead, the idea is to give you a good snapshot of just
how things are working in your real world. Take the attitude that
everyone wants things to work correctly, and that they will be
just as happy as you are to see corrective action taken.

One approach to avoid, however, is just looking at the problem
jobs. Evaluate all of your typical day-to-day jobs”?good ones
as well as problems. Consider not just what goes wrong, but
what goes right, too. Keep in mind that it's easier to see what has
really gone awry when a job goes bad if you can compare it to a
job that has gone through smoothly.

Also be careful that your operators don't see this as an attempt
by management to play “big brother” and spy on every little thing
they do. One of the challenges with operators not feeling part of
the process is that they may be inclined to cover up problems as
an act of self-preservation. If you want your operators involved in
mapping the workflow, make sure they also are involved in setting
up how the analysis is made. Not only will this make them feel that
they are not under hostile attack, but it will also provide valuable
insight into what really happens on the shop floor.


Finally, don't gloss over the facts. Take everything you learn seriously,
and think of each obstacle you uncover as an opportunity.

Test and re-test
When you sit down and analyze what really happens in your
shop, you are likely to be in for a rude awakening. In fact, the
biggest hazard in going through this process is the tendency to
try knee-jerk fixes and to point fingers at certain operators or
vendors”?as though getting rid of an employee or a non-responsive
vendor will set the world right. Proceed with caution.

Once you determine what really happens to the typical job in
your workflow and where problems crop up, make the appropriate
fixes and see how the new modifications work. There is a
good chance that no matter how painstaking your research is
and how detailed your map is, something will be missed.

Also bear in mind that although you might assume that these
changes will get things back on track permanently, that may not
be the case. Workflow mapping must be an ongoing effort.
Things change rapidly in this industry. Even if you change nothing
in-house, your customers will be changing the way they create
files, the software they use, and the designers themselves.
As a result, just when you have figured out how to get around
one obstacle, another appears. Regular, ongoing analysis and
testing are the way to go.

Putting it to use
This whole process will be rendered useless, if your workflow
roadmap winds up sitting in a file folder or computer file. If you
don't recognize any immediate solutions that need to be implemented,
have your staff or even your vendors take a look at what
you have come up with and see if they have some good suggestions
to offer.

Most importantly: Keep learning. You may have thought of
your workflow as a static part of your business; in fact, however,
it's typically very fluid and constantly changing.


Stephen Beals ([email protected]), in prepress production
for more than 30 years, is the digital prepress manager
with Finger Lakes Press in Auburn, NY.



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