Archive for the ‘Quality Assurance’ Category

What You Need to Know About “S Curves”… No, it’s Not about Baseball

Monday, December 22nd, 2014

We can all debate about what the most important goal in business should be. It’s always been my opinion that the most important goal is to “create a sustainable competitive advantage”. From that point, all things follow. The problem is that of all the goals and objectives you can identify creating a sustainable competitive advantage may be the most elusive and most difficult to achieve. However, understanding the concept of “business cycles” and where your company sits in the cycle can provide you with a powerful tool to help you avoid the dreaded “stall point”.

First, let’s understand what the “S Curve” and why “Stall Points” need to be avoided at all costs. Every business begins, develops, and disappears along a consistent pattern sometimes referred to as a business cycle. This business cycle follows the pattern of an “S”, thus the term “S Curve”. The lowest point on the S Curve represents the start-up position as the enterprise searches for a value proposition that is desired by customers and that differentiates it from the competition. Assuming the start-up phase is successful the business then moves into the growth phase. This part of the cycle is characterized by “optimization” as management focuses on leveraging the success of the value proposition. Typically, the growth phase involves significant investments in equipment and staff. Often debt begins to grow. Management is totally focused on harvesting the profit potential of the original value proposition without understanding that without developing a fresh, updated and more relevant value proposition their competitive advantage is quickly disappearing. They are headed to the last part of the business cycle, the crown of the S Curve, the must be avoided “Stall Point”.

Why be so concerned about hitting a Stall Point? In their book, Stall Points, Matthew Olson and Derek Van Bever talk about the insidious nature of Stall Points. They point out –

  • That Stall Points are hard to predict; most come as a complete surprise to management.
  • Most organizations’ growth actually accelerate into a Stall Point.
  • Recovery must come quickly or recovery may not come at all.
  • Only 7% of the companies they studied were able to return to growth.
  • The average company they studied lost 74% of its market capitalization in the decade following the Stall Point.

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to avoid falling into this trap, and there are steps you can take if you hit a Stall Point… both of which I am happy to share… on the following condition. I only ask that you respond to this blog. Write a comment. Let me know if you would like me to follow up with more information. It’s as simple as that. If I don’t hear from you I will assume this blog has reached its Stall Point.

High-End Digital Print: What Does It Take to Get It?

Tuesday, September 16th, 2014

What does it take to produce consistently high-quality pieces on a digital press? Not just solid commercial-quality work, but output that consistently meets the most demanding client expectations? Lately, I’ve been doing a series of interviews with high-end digital printers asking this very question. Here is what I’m hearing. Please chime in with your own thoughts.

1. Understand how your clients define quality, then purchase equipment that is capable of meeting those expectations. For example, for one printer, “quality” was evaluated by the ability of the press to print on uncoated and textured sheets. This need, expressed by a high percentage of his unique customer base, was one of the primary drivers in his purchase decision.

2. Hire dedicated press operators that “own” the equipment the way a press operator takes ownership of his press. Hire people who understand the equipment, how it works, the range of adjustments that can be made, and how to work within the available parameters to optimize print quality.

3. To the greatest extent possible, let the press operator do his or her own press maintenance. Give them the tools, the flexibility, and the authority to keep the press in top condition. Let them do maintenance at the moment they realize it needs it.

4.  Set expectations upfront. Work with your clients upfront to show them what output looks like on different equipment, different substrates, and using different techniques. Show samples and even run rough proofs so they understand upfront what the job is going to look like.

5. Get sign-off on hard copy proofs before running the job. Hard copy proofs might seem old-fashioned these days, but every one of the printers I talked to used them routinely. This way, clients know what they’re getting before you run the full production length job — then they sign off on it. No surprises!

What do you think of this list? What would you add to it?

Digital Print Quality Issue: Punch, Counterpunch

Tuesday, May 27th, 2014

I have spent a lot of time over the past several weeks starting and moderating discussions about the output quality of digital print and different perceptions of what can be produced. It has been so interesting to hear the perspective from both sides — printer and client.

Clearly, with the right press, a skilled operator, and the willingness to properly maintain the press, you can achieve outstanding quality. But that takes time and dedicated resources, and just as clearly, not all printers always believe it’s worth it.

Consequently, for experienced designers who understand production, there is a notable divide:

In my experience, digital quality is often very dependent on the type of provider you use. For me, digital printing is pretty standard no matter the machine used, but if you work with folks who care a lot about quality, rather than speedy turnarounds, then digital can meet offset standards. But you have to have folks at the plant readily able and willing to take on the issues of banding, gradient quality, and color consistency in order to meet the offset standards. In my stable of print providers, only two are willing to go that extra distance. The rest seem to be more concerned about quick turnaround and low pricing. Which has its place, but I will always use the two printers who will give me consistent quality and work with me on my concerns for those products that require those types of things. — Name withheld [by me] to prevent inundation

This takes us to the classic dilemma. Do I focus on quality and clients willing to pay for it (even if it’s a smaller market)? Or do I go for volume for less discriminating buyers willing to accept less than the level of quality the press is capable of outputting in order to push through more volume at lower prices?

I’d love to hear some thoughts on this decision. Both are equally legitimate business decisions based on different business factors.

Which way did you choose to go and why?


Wide Ranging Responses to Digital Print Quality: Who’s Right?

Tuesday, May 20th, 2014

Last Friday, I wrote a post on data in “The Digital Print Survey: 2014″ published by WTT / Unisource on the issue of print quality. I cited data that 61% of respondents indicated that quality was either “as good as” or actually better than offset. Yet high percentages of respondents cited print consistency, color matching, gradients, and solids as being significant challenges.

There weren’t a lot of comments here on Digital Nirvana, but I did share the post around LinkedIn, and comments were voluminous. What was interesting was the incredible range of responses I received. On one end of the spectrum, there were those saying that gradients, solids, and color gamut would always been issues because of the design of the presses themselves. But what does it matter? Quality is in the eye of the beholder. Then there were those responding that digital has the capability of surpassing offset and producing essentially museum-quality pieces. You just need to have the right substrate, a skilled operator, and commitment from the printer to regular maintenance and calibration on the press.

All of the comments were coming from knowledgeable folks, from technicians to academians to press operators and owners, so it was interesting how varied the responses were.

Here is a sampling of those comments. What do YOU think? Add your voice to the discussion!

“If an absolute quality comparison is made with offset lithography, the differences become more apparent. Banding and gradients will always be a problem. This is due to the reduced tonal steps used in digital devices in order to increase processing speed. The recordable tone steps in offset can easily exceed 200, whereas some digital devices are restricted to fewer than 50 – thus the banding issue. Some “work arounds” are used in digital, but the most effective ones use extra colors (e.g. light cyan, light magenta). These devices are called “photo quality” in the inkjet printer market.

“Even solids and the inability to reproduce special colors are also a problem with most digital devices. These restrictions are NOT a problem as long as the concept of market-segment quality classification is kept in mind. There are good reasons why newspapers are printed on newsprint and not on high-grade coated papers. Printing has a long history of making quality vs. economic tradeoffs (grade of materials, and productivity-driven sacrifices) according to what markets desire.”

— Gary Field, color printing scientist and printing industry consultant

“Another thing besides the gradient issue is low quality screen builds with some PMS colors. This has always been an issue even in offset, that is why there are so many 6- and 7-color offset presses out there. If you want an exact PMS match, print a PMS . . . since digital cannot and since the digital process even distorts the screen build process more than traditional offset, I see builds as a critical problem with digital. Digital photos, on the other hand, print better than offset separations in my experience.”

— Greg Kingston, print and mail services at VOLVO Construction Equipment

“I think digital print quality is still a major issue because . . . you need to choose the right materials for your presses. Allot of people that are purchasing the stock isn’t aware of the particulars this one variable brings to the table. There also need to be qualified people to ascertain the print quality problem and solve it. You can’t hire people off the street expecting them to find out why the print quality isn’t great for your biggest client. Especially when they don’t know the particulars on how this industry works.”

— Barbara Jones, production artist, variable data specialist and digital prepress technician at Miller Zell

“Stock is definitely trial and error. Papers that you think would be identical (Cougar vs Accent) don’t run quite the same.”

— Richard Sohanchyk, owner, OnPoint Image & Design

“Digital printing can be great — high quality blends, few streaks, etc. — if  the company has highly skilled operators and free reign to replace worn components and time to do the maintenance and calibrations. Often the gamuts are much larger than [GRACoL]. I hear time and again the lament from digital press operators that they are not allowed to do whats necessary to make the digital press perform. Anything can beat the image quality of an offset press has glazed, out of pressure rollers, blankets with smashes and haven’t been torqued in a year, and the image of the wrench embossed in the impression cylinder.”

— David Avery, seasoned technical trainer

“I think it is an assumption by most consumers that digital equipment isn’t capable of going up against some of the very best 4-color offset printed materials. I think the reality is, MOST of the time, digital is used for “quick print” work where quality is less of a concern so the perception is that that is all that digital is capable of. However, just like offset, if you pay attention to quality, use the workarounds, and use materials that give you the best outcome, you can create pieces that rival offset. I have seen some very nice pieces used in very high profile accounts that were printed digitally. All of the variables that should go in to creating a quality piece were accounted for and executed, even though it meant a premium price was paid for the product. I don’t see how that solution is any different that creating a quality piece from offset. Digital is very capable of creating quality pieces, I just think we have marginalized it’s potential in the marketplace by our position when selling it as “quick print”. Of course, when we need to use metallics or some other specialty inks that digital doesn’t always offer yet, then of course it can’t compete, but we aren’t exactly comparing apples to apples anymore.”

— Brady Manthe, central premedia specialist, Brown Printing Company

“One particular job: Essential criteria — digital and offset components have to match. The machines tasked with the job were a 40-inch Komori (5-colour) and a Xerox-PC700. Stock was an A2 Coated Matte. We failed. Couldn’t match the two. We had our excuses ready, but the customer was not as pedantic as we had been told and didn’t even notice. The offset quality was good, very good — couldn’t fault it — until we tried to match and found that the digital was so much superior that it made the offset product look dull and lifeless by comparison. That was four years ago on a digital press which has since been superseded.”

— Shotz High Performance Print

“You should not expect to match offset and digital (laser/toner). Digital has a wider color gamut, so there can be a color difference between the two. Paul’s point about ICC profiles, you can work to match the 2 processes (if you care to) and perhaps move the curve on the offset to make it less dull and lifeless. Ironically, some the of negative traits of the digital is not having as smooth tone in gradient tints, can be can be a plus, if you like the look of it being a little sharper than the original. As far as proofing, I always ask for a proof for digital to be made on the same digital machine, RIP and paper that will be used in production. The only variable then will be the calibration and repeatability of the machine. There is no sense in comparing to another process or type of proof.”

— Ronald Boyum, printing services specialist at the U.S. Government Printing Office

What is your experience? Chime in!

What’s Your “Critical Turning Point” 1:1 Technology?

Friday, September 14th, 2012

It’s hard to believe that I’m finally at the age when I can say, “I remember when. . .” Just like those “old codgers” who used to remember technologies and processes so foreign to me back in the early 90s as a young twenty-four-year-old, wet-behind-the-ears editor of Printing News for whom digital printing technology was no big deal because, well, didn’t we always have computers?

On the cover of one of my first issues of Printing News was my first disaster. It was back when (then) Indigo E-Prints were only sold in packs — I mean pairs — and the first pair was being installed at a facility in Manhattan. There in the headline, in 36-point type or whatever we were using at the time, I called them MAN Rolands.

Anyway, let’s not talk about that. I began covering digital production technologies that day and spent a lot of time interviewing printers and listening to accolades and complaints and walking trade shows in shoes that were comfortable but didn’t match my clothes.

It’s funny how certain things stand out to you, and after covering digital production for however many years, there was one product — a simple product — that stood out to me and still does today.

It was at a time when the quality of toner-based production was still rapidly evolving and graphic designers were still suspicious and critical, and rightfully so. It was a scoring machine designed specifically for toner-based presses. By scoring the folds first, it vastly minimized the classic issue at the time, cracking across the fold. I don’t know why it sticks out to me as being so important, but for some reason, of all the technologies I covered in those Printing News years, it does.

So here’s my Friday question, and I’d really like some input on this from Digital Nirvana readers. Is there a technology like that for 1:1 printing? Something that, to you, stands out as being a “critical turning point” in the area of workflow, productivity, inspection, data management, cross-channel integration, or anything else?

Tell me a story, give me a memory. If you had to pick one critical, turning point technology that you feel fundamentally changed (or is changing) this market, I want to know what stands out to you.

After all, I told you about the “MAN Rolands.” You owe it to me.

What is the “right” tool for improving business performance?

Tuesday, April 10th, 2012

When to use which one, and the need for flexibility!

Every day we hear about tools and programs for improving operating performance. There are many of them, with more versions coming out all the time. They include TOC, Lean, Six Sigma, ISO, CMM and BPI/BPM. Some, such as Six Sigma and ISO, have rigorous training and certification programs which are major projects to undertake in themselves. What is a company to do to understand which to choose, and possibly even when?

The answer to this question requires an organization to clearly define goals, timing, and the rationale for beginning at all. Is there a specific issue, or is there a client/industry mandate, or is the business looking to establish a base for optimizing performance overall? A comprehensive overview is impossible in a short piece such as this, so I anticipate this distillation may provoke some lively feedback and discussion.

TOC – Theory of Constraints

  • Focus: identify constraints or limitations for a task or process
  • Action: eliminate the constraint
  • Results: maximize the throughput
  • Limitation: usually targeted to a single task/function

“Build it and they will come.”


  • Focus: eliminate waste, operate just in time
  • Action: make to order, optimize single piece flow
  • Results: rework eliminated , reduced inventory, reduced floor space, reduced cycle time
  • Limitation: difficult in a project oriented business more effective with ongoing production

“Don’t build it until it is needed.”


  • Focus: variation in a process, tracking error/incident statistics and cause
  • Action: DMAIC – Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control
  • Results: find and eliminate sources of variation, can help with complex problems due to structure
  • Limitations: rigorous, statistical intensive approach, can lead to analysis paralysis; cost for six sigma training and certification can be high.

“Build it exactly to customer specification.”


  • Focus: documenting the process
  • Action: document the existing process in detail in a structured way, and audit compliance to the documented process
  • Results: consistent and repeatable process drives highly repeatable outcomes, improved supplier quality
  • Limitations: focus is on documentary evidence, so a poor process can be documented and followed and certification still achieved. Corrective action focuses on the documentation. ISO is a costly system if certification is pursued.

“Document what you do and do what you document.”


  • Focus: define, analyze, and improve cross-functional business process
  • Action: map the existing process, define tasks and inputs and outputs for each, identify and remove gaps and overlaps, manage with metrics and link actions to results
  • Results: refined and reengineered process with reduced cycle time and cost, and increased first pass yield.
  • Limitations: requires top down support to be truly effective, scope of process needs to be clearly defined, must apply the appropriate problem solving tools and project management skills

“Manage as an enterprise around meeting overall corporate goals; use the right tools as applicable.”

Companies need to have a clear understanding of their goals and needs, and a measure of their tolerance for change. The urgency for improvement is another critical factor. Finally, consider what skills you need to add, and/or assistance you may require to most efficiently and effectively address your needs and the tool you choose. This can reduce the time to achieve results and improve the probability of success.

Increasing Corporate Value

Tuesday, March 27th, 2012

What is your organization doing to improve its value for the shareholders and stakeholders? Companies in general, and specifically those in the print and communication industry, have been working hard to improve profits and increase EBITDA as the economy continues to be depressed. Our industry not only has the economy to deal with, we are also contending with increased communication options and new technologies. Companies have downsized, right-sized, consolidated, and merged. This has helped maintain profits and EBITDA in the short run, but at what cost to the stakeholders – our customers and staff?

It seems to me it is time for a change from the old method of headcount reduction, restructuring, and lowering prices, to an approach that establishes long term stability, acceleratesidentifying and making the right changes for your business, and results in improved profitability. The tools for this new direction exist in Business Process Improvement (BPI) methodologies. By stepping back to look at the whole business,not just one function or production area, and applying the disciplines of BPI, companies can learn how to do more with existing resources in several ways. By eliminating overlappingor redundant efforts that have crept in silently over time,resources are released from non-value-add tasks to be re-allocated to projects like new technology, or products andservices to meet new client requirements. End to end process evaluation also bridges company silos to assure issues are not just pushed from one area to another, and identifies where there are communication and information gaps or delays which canresult in extra efforts and cost to meet client deliveries.

When is the last time you did a detailed review of your process and workflow across the organization?

Hard numbers and real-life cases exist to show that even after significant labor and cost reductions have been made, a structured BPI approach can increase EBITDA, cash flows, and shareholder/stakeholder value.

Part VIII: Social Networking’s Role

Wednesday, August 31st, 2011

Note: This is Part 8 of a 9-Part series based on the book “Business Transformation: A New Path to Profit for the Printing Industry”

Social networking is certainly one of my favorite passions. I truly believe that it can help print, mail, fulfillment, and marketing services providers in many different areas — including marketing, sales, customer support, and HR. However, many companies still primarily view channels such as Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn as ways to simply distribute press releases.

While there certainly is a place for using social networking channels for distributing news, they can absolutely help companies in other areas.

Here are 3 ways that your company may be able to find success through social networks:

  • To Provide Customer Support:We have probably all done it by now. Maybe it was to an airline or a restaurant. Perhaps it was to a manufacturer or retail store. For one reason or another, the company treated us in a way that we didn’t appreciate. Thus, we turned to social networks such as Facebook or Twitter to express our complaint to others. While it might simply feel good to let out some steam, don’t we feel much better if the company does something to react to our public grievance?The same thing could be happening to your business right now. Someone could be displeased with a print job, the time it takes to get a call back from a sales rep, or the lack of information on your website. If those folks complain on social networks, you certainly may cringe. But at least you’ll have the opportunity to know about the complaint and then address it!

    How can you know if someone’s complaining about your business online? There are absolutely tools and services that can help you.  For example, you could use Google Alerts to set up notifications for your company name. You could use Twitter’s search feature. Or you could partner with a 3rd-party.

    No matter what the case, social networks give you the ability to listen to what people are saying and then quickly take action to provide some sort of customer support to them.

    Of course, social networks also allow you to proactively provide customer support. Through your social networking accounts, you could provide links to how-to-guides that provide suggestions and best practices for ordering a print job. You could provide links to other resources and case studies that may inspire a customer or prospect to do more business with you.

    If your customers are on Facebook, Twitter, and other social networks, then you should absolutely be there to provide support when they need it.


  • For Finding Leads:This one may sound obvious, but I do not believe that companies are using social networks enough to actively find and connect with leads.One way that this can be done is to search Twitter for terms and phrases that may indicate that someone needs help with a print job. While you certainly could search for variations of the word “print”, you also could look at companies that are exhibiting at upcoming trade shows or hosting seminars. No doubt, they may have printing needs. Social networks may allow you to quickly connect with them.

    Also, LinkedIn offers plenty of opportunities for sales reps to engage with potential prospects across the verticals that they may sell to. If you take the initiative to join and contribute to the Groups that your target audience participates in, you may increase the chances that they’ll turn to you when they need your services.

  • For Finding & Recruiting New Employees: When a printer is transforming their business to offer additional marketing services, they may recognize the need to find and invest in employees that may have slightly different skill-sets than they’ve looked for in the past. You may need someone that has website design skills, that can write prolifically, or that has a passion for social networking! One way to find these people is via social networks.It’s fairly easy to search for students or recent graduates from schools that traditionally produce people that are interested in the graphic arts and printing communities. Once you find them, you may be able to find out what other passions or talents they may have, and then you’ll have the opportunity to engage them in possible employment discussions.

These are just a few of the ways that companies could use social networking to improve their business. If you’ve had any success with these, I’d love to hear about it!

To learn more about my book, “Business Transformation: A New Path to Profit for the Printing Industry”, visit  my book’s website.

Why should we care so much about data security?

Monday, August 1st, 2011

As I regularly share with employees there are two main ways I think about this question. First is being a good corporate citizen and recognize that we have a responsibility to secure the data we are entrusted with to protect the privacy of individuals. According to ITRC more than 35 million data records were compromised in corporate and government data breaches in 2008. Considering that number is 3 years old I’m sure it’s growing so our focus needs to be “do no harm.” Each of us wants those that have our personal data to protect it and we need to give others that same respect. The second consideration is core in building a strong, healthy business in today’s information based world. It’s a matter of “Trust”. We work hard every day to continue to earn our customers’ trust and in this, as well as many industries, our ability to keep our customers’ data secure is one of those “make it or break it” triggers. So it can’t be an annoyance, overhead, or an afterthought…it must be part of the business as much as quality control, hitting mail dates, or even invoicing.

So what’s the point of this blog…it’s important that we all keep the ‘why’ in mind as it’s the ‘why’ that ensures all the procedures, hardware, and people come together to achieve the goal of protecting data.

Special thanks to Sourcelink for this post. Check out their blog here.

Preparing for the Cross-Media World: The Future is NOW!

Tuesday, July 5th, 2011

For operations executives and marketers alike, the number one challenge in today’s market is reaching the customer. Customers are clearly in control of the media that they consume. Mobile devices, iPods, DVRs, and the Internet have changed marketing forever. Marketing executives of the future will need to leverage every customer touch point with a mix of interconnected channels. One thing is certain — the effective use of cross-media communications will bring better business results. Delivering multiple impressions and giving prospects a variety of ways to respond can have a dramatic impact.

Media Dynamics are Changing

Over the past several years, we have heard about the importance of transforming into a “marketing service provider” with a focus on one-to-one communications and variable data. Today’s media dynamics are changing. As we look to the future, there will be three critical components for success in the much larger cross-media opportunity:

  • Data-driven personal messaging
  • Delivering messages across all channels
  • Campaigns that engage the end customer

We’ll take a look at the first component now…

Data-Driven Personal Messaging

Marketers continue to see the value in developing intimate and direct communication with consumers. Not so long ago, families gathered around the television set. Now, individuals surf the Web and watch videos on personal, handheld devices. Consumers have grown comfortable with — and have even come to expect — a one-on-one dialogue with marketers. Personalized marketing messages are essential to attracting customers’ attention and delivering communications that increase sales. Today’s consumers don’t have the time or the patience to deal with irrelevant information. Data-driven personalized messaging has never been more important.

Organizations that sell products or services (business-to-business or business-to-consumer) must gather and use information about their customers’ purchases, including how much they spend per sale and when or how often they buy. Knowledge about past behaviors is a valuable tool for predicting future purchases. In addition to guiding business decisions, this information is critical for creating personalized marketing messages that increase sales.

Marketers must work with customers to personalize offers based on past purchases and preferences. The marketing must follow the customer (not the other way around), and the offer must be truly customized to the recipient’s specific needs.

In late 2010, InfoTrends published an extensive survey entitled Capturing the Cross-Media Direct Marketing Opportunity. The marketing respondents that participated in this study reported that over 60% of their campaigns leveraged personalized (one-to-one) or segmented (one-to-few) marketing.

From the perspective of the print service provider, personalization is the future of marketing communications. Service providers must clearly understand how to work with clients on data-driven campaigns. The problem is that personalization is not enough to remain competitive in today’s complex cross-media world.

If you want to learn about the remaining two components, visit and download the June 2011 Newsletter. You’ll find even more interesting articles there!

Cross Functional Teams Critical to Problem Solving

Tuesday, June 28th, 2011

In a recent discussion with a number of folks at a client company, the point was raised that one of their main issues was that problem resolution by one function or department often resulted in a new issue arising in another department. In today’s environment, value is placed on taking responsibility for rapid resolution of problems, however, caution must be taken to assure that the root cause of the issue is resolved, and that the issue is not merely a “can kicked down the road”, just moving the pain from one function to another.

Every process, regardless of how simple, has at least three components, and likely three functions involved. There are inputs, work tasks and outputs. In reality, most processes are much more complex, with multiple steps, with the involvement at each progressive function increasing. To truly resolve problems as quickly as possible, it is critical that a cross functional group representing all of the stakeholders from inputs, work, and outputs be included. Successful problem resolution, through defining the root cause and eliminating it, must begin by defining the end to end process in which the issues have arisen. The input, the work itself, and the output handed off to the next process must be examined. In order to do this accurately, and to gain the greatest benefit from this effort, subject matter experts and owners of each functional area should be involved.

In many cases, the step where an issue has been identified is not where the cause is; it might be upstream in the process. For example, a quality issue identified in digital print might not originate in the printing function itself; it might be upstream in the composition function, or even further upstream in the specifications for purchasing the paper. Use of the cross functional team approach in problem solving will assure that the knowledge necessary to identify the root cause is included in the investigation and that communication of the issues to all impacted functions during analysis and implementation of the corrective action is accurate and complete. Without use of a cross functional approach to problem solving, it is easy to make assumptions based on an individual area without considering the impact on the prior step or next step in a process. While putting together a cross functional team might initially be perceived as slower, and certainly involves more effort and cooperation, ultimately it is the most accurate and efficient method to the permanent elimination of a problem. The scope of the team’s assignment and timeline should also be established up front to accelerate resolution. Whatever quality system approach is used to identify a problem: Six Sigma, ISO, etc., the problem resolution will be more successful by incorporating a cross functional approach to problem resolution.

Metrics – Results or Drivers

Tuesday, June 14th, 2011

We all know how important metrics are to successful business. The sayings, “What you don’t measure won’t get done”, and even, “If it didn’t get measured, it didn’t happen”, have become proverbs. Monthly reports of detailed financial statements and key performance indicators are common in large and small companies alike. For business people, this is our report card. It is the basis for “ranking” ourselves, both inside and outside our company. With all this emphasis on measurement and metrics, why do so many organizations seem unable to change and improve their businesses, or see issues coming?

Despite the emphasis on measurement and metrics, two things are often missing. The first is that most of the metrics that we track and report, and which get the scrutiny are in fact “results” measures. The revenue we generate is a result of the sales activity, and quality statistics are the results of the production process and activity. These all reflect what has already happened, and are not, in themselves, actionable. In order to make a change in the results, the focus must be on the drivers that lead to the results. “Driver” measurements provide a means of tracking those process and activity components that can be acted on to improve results. By measuring the driver activities, we can also begin to predict what will happen with the results metrics. Using the revenue example again, if you focus on quote activity and close rate and the way these measurements trend, you will be able to impact the revenue. To affect quality and delivery time, the attention should be on the first pass yield for each step of the process. Improvements in first pass yield improve quality, and reduce the overall time required to complete a job.

Secondly, there is often a tendency to look at individual metrics in isolation. Results measurements are easy to put into individual buckets to focus on. To really understand what is happening in the business or function and effect positive change we must look at the interactions between different activities, and the trends for the driver metrics. For example an increase in process cycle time would generally be a bad trend, however if that increased cycle time is combined with an increase of work volume or new work being developed, the increase in cycle time may be temporary, or if volume related, not be negative.

As more and more organizations are adopting dashboards as a useful tool in managing their business, including driver metrics, and integrating related functions on their dashboards will help to optimize results.

It’s more than Print that’s changing

Monday, February 14th, 2011

Paper making has changed over the past decades. The industry uses renewable energy more that ever, it has reduced water usage and has increased the use of recovered fiber; forest certification and chain of custody now insure the end user that the right things are being done, really!

But it also has been keeping up with the advancing technologies in printing and imaging today. With today’s digital presses paper makers need to work hand in hand and enhance the sheet to work and be qualified on the many machines out there in the market place. Paper like any product has many different variables that go into the making of a sheet.

Because toner and inkjet behave differently than ink, they usually require special papers. Some paper manufacturers offer grades for both digital and offset litho, so that jobs can include sheets printed by both processes. Take Inkjet for example. Inkjet printing is was originally designed mainly for home, home office, and small business use, but is becoming increasingly common for commercial applications. For best results on inkjet printers, use papers specifically designed for digital inkjet technology—with optimized smoothness, sizing, sheet formation, special coating, or enhanced brightness. Inks for drop-on-demand inkjet printing are pigment-based rather than dye-based. This means they are water-soluble and therefore less permanent than inks used in offset printing or toners used in laser printing (electrophotography). Non-water-soluble, lightfast inks are now available for industrial use. Combined with fade-resistant papers, they enhance photo longevity and color fastness. Some printers feature a custom color match (Pantone Matching System – PMS) for high-resolution jobs. Printers can also provide a color chart to designers. 

For Digital laser methods; Static electricity is how toner-based printers work, so humidity control is important. Some digital presses have built-in temperature and humidity control systems, but except for a few models, you will need a humidity-controlled environment. Higher temperatures increase the likelihood of humidity-related problems, including curling, blistering, cracking, etc. The higher the speed, the more heat generated. Proper paper conditioning prior to and during printing are important. Ideal conditions are 45% humidity and 75ºF (24ºC).

Specifically designed digital laser printing papers provide the best performance. Better “runnability” and end results are obtained with ultra-smooth surfaces and high brightness. Because the color range is limited compared to offset printing, laser digital printing is not recommended for color-crucial jobs (i.e. paint or fabric swatches).

Choosing the right media and then the right printing technology pared with the right paper can be tricky but a good printer and paper supplier can help. Trust them to help you get your message across!

Is Data Readability on Your Preflight Checklist?

Tuesday, January 25th, 2011

Heidi Tolliver-Nigro pictureWhat does it take to get the data right? It’s more than ensuring that all of the fields are filled in correctly and the data itself is accurate. In addition to all of the technical issues, you also have to look at the data in terms of how it will actually read on the page. That’s a whole different ballgame.

For example, you might buy a list that tells you how much money each recipient makes. But you aren’t going to send out a piece that says, “John, you make $156,000 per year, so you might be interested buying one of these . . . .” Instead, you’ll identify John as part of a group of people in a defined income range, then use the appropriate images and wording to address John as part of that group.

Also, just because data is accurate doesn’t mean it’s going to read naturally. Let’s say you are looking to sell graduate programs to an audience with specific undergraduate degrees. It would not be unusual for the data to come in abbreviated. Here is a list of the first few undergrad degrees offered by the university here in my backyard, Penn State:

  • Actuarial Science (ACTSC)
  • Advertising/Public Relations (AD PR)
  • African and African American Studies (AASBA)
  • African and African American Studies (AASBS)
  • Agribusiness Management (AG BM)

Imagine dropping the raw data into a personalized piece! “Hi, Bob! Now that you’ve received your degree in Agribusiness Management  (AG BM), you might be thinking about advancing your education.” Or, even worse, “Hi, Bob! Now that you’ve gotten your AG BM . . .”

Or it might not be an abbreviation. It might be the formal name of the program or institution that would never be used in everyday conversation. If you purchase the name of recent college grads, “Congratulations on graduating from Boston College!” will work just fine. But you don’t want to say “Congratulations on graduating from The Pennsylvania State University!” You’ll want to say “Penn State.”

Now imagine combining snafus! Nothing screams, “We just dropped raw data into this postcard” like sending out a communication that says, “Congratulations on graduating from The Pennsylvania State University with a degree in AASBA”!

The point is that you have to look at data as part of the larger communication. Sometimes the data will read fine as it comes arrives in the file. Other times, you have to massage it or be sensitive to setting it up in order for it to read correctly. Abbreviations and formal names not used in everyday language are just two examples of the many data faux pas that can plague even the most seasoned 1:1 practitioners.

Is data “readability” on your data preflight checklist?

Why Direct Mail Is Seldom Sorry

Wednesday, January 5th, 2011

What was on the mind of Neil Berman when he wrote about “Our Love Affair With Apology Emails” for a November Email Insider post?

Apparently, emailers are forgetting attachments, posting the wrong links, fudging numbers and statistics, sending to the “wrong Nancy,” delaying their response, suffering “server” issues, and generally embarrassing themselves. The preferred solution appears to be sending a blushing follow-up that only serves to draw unwanted attention to the initial error.

Loren McDonald addressed the apologetic trend back in April when she posted an article on Keys To An Effective Email Correction Process. “Mistake emails are simply a fact of life for digital marketers,” Loren said. “The question isn’t if, but when, how often, how severe, and ‘How will you respond?’”


I’ve no doubt that “I’m sorry” are two effective header words, particularly when delivered instantly, for free. I mean, who isn’t going to open an email full of slobbering servility. Still, I couldn’t help wondering how long a snail mail marketer would survive a similar trail of error. That’s when I realized that – unlike email – direct mail almost never has occasion to apologize.

How come?

1. A Barrier To Junk Entry. Mail that doesn’t work costs the sender dearly in dollars wasted, so mistakes can lead to termination (and I don’t mean that in a good way).

2. Quality-control Infusion. While direct mail goofs and typos can creep in (some of them quite deadly), direct mail materials pass through many hands and many stages of proofreading. (Note, the pressman himself is often proofreading.)

3. People Plus Machines. Direct mail insertions (“attachments,” in email parlance) are mechanized by regularly calibrated machines. If the direct mail package calls for lift notes, response cards, brochures, or BREs, chances are high that the attachments will be “in there.” On the other hand, email appears to eat its attachments (and often).

4. A Multi-Staged Dance. Direct mail campaigns encompass a series of steps, each requiring considerable finesse: planning, offer development, budgeting, approval, scheduling, targeting, creative, list analysis and procurement, production, mailing, testing, retesting, fulfillment, etc. Each sequence weeds out the unfit. Note: In all fairness – though not yet there — email marketing is moving to the same sort of complex, integrated online campaign. Yea!

Admittedly, the direct mail “oops!” is not unheard of. Dan Kennedy, writing for Glazer-Kennedy’s Insiders Circle, disclosed a couple of very interesting direct mail boos-boos. In both situations, direct mailers turned a sorry situation into hot returns, proving, once again, that results are the measure.