Workflow Digital and Offset – Process vs. Non Process

By | September 17, 2010

I worked on an assignment recently that reinforced some thoughts about the differences and similarities in philosophy and skills needed in offset and digital workflows. I often find that an offset staff workflow is better with scheduling and consistent ticket writing while the digital staff are better at file correction and faster turnaround. Often this conversation leads to a bigger picture conversation about the pros and cons of a process vs. non process approach to both Digital and Offset Workflows. Here is my experience.

Briefly a process approach is:

  • a proactive approach created before or right after a problem occurs;
  • includes training and monitoring of performance;
  • is consistent across equipment, staff and procedures; and
  • requires ongoing cross training and scheduled procedures such as maintenance.

A process approach is proactive. It is designed to avoid problems before they occur or the procedure is corrected after a problem is discovered.  When a problem occurs, it is more important to change the process than fix the job.

A process approach is often slower to implement due to the initial steps that include creating SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures), training staff in those SOPs, monitoring compliance and correcting those who do not comply. A non process approach is often faster to deal with a specific problem on the fly, but may not communicate the resolution or monitor compliance and can result in more of those same problems.

When process is encouraged it is filled with relentless training and close monitoring until a confidence is created in the procedure and staff. In many cases, the training component requires the creation of training materials and a scheduling of training times. A non process approach is typically filled with inspections at the end of the line before shipping and a higher percentage of rework. A proactive approach is filled with cross training and scheduled maintenance. A process approach often has job descriptions and SOPs. A process approach often requires intense scrutiny for a period of time. Often consultants talk about the advantages of the process approach and how companies must follow this approach to succeed.

However, I have seen companies using either approach succeed or fail. Anyone that says that either approach will ensure success is exaggerating. The major difference in these two approaches is that each has what some would consider a pain point.

A lack of process often makes staff feel like they are firefighters. Each day is filled with putting out one fire after another. On the other hand, the complaints I hear from companies migrating to a process approach is how slow and painful the process of creating, monitoring and enforcing procedures are when they would rather just get the job out the door.

Which is less painful for you, a process or non process workflow?

Howard Fenton is a Senior Consultant at NAPL. Howie advises commercial printers, in-plants, and manufacturers on workflow management, operations, digital services, and customer research.

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4 thoughts on “Workflow Digital and Offset – Process vs. Non Process

  1. Kathy Sandler

    I think if you want efficiencies, you will always want to look at making a process for your workflow. Success will depend on several factors, including buy-in from upper management. It will also depend on what you are producing. For example, at Hearst we had monthly magazines, and while there was always something new, the process could be adhered to.

  2. Howie Fenton

    Great comments. And as you say efficiency = process approach. But as someone who travels way too much and visits a lot of plants I can say that not everyone has seen, knows or appreciates the importance of a process approach. In this assignment I was asked over and over again to define a “process approach”. I think it would be fair to say that they had never experienced this before. For companies like this it is tough to get them to try a process approach and it requires ongoing coaching to get them to stick with it. Does anyone have any secrets about how to motivate this change?

  3. Jim Dornbos

    I think that process approach motivation for the company boils down to this question – is there a “best way” to perform this task/job? If the answer is no – then there is no motivation for a process approach and really, no justification for a process approach. I can’t think of a job or task, offhand, where the the honest answer is no. For any sequence of steps, I think there’s always a “best way”.

    The motivation comes from “why does it matter (to me)?” Take some time to address that question with everybody involved in the process and it will have some lasting meaning. We assume everybody knows that we’ll make more money, we’ll be more reliable for our customers, we’ll offer better turnaround, I’ll get eventually get a raise because I’m more productive. But maybe it means I don’t get the opportunity work overtime hours, maybe the company hasn’t been reliable in the past with raises for employees, maybe I think streamlining how my job is done will result in having my hours cut. You probably have to uncover and deal with a bit of that sort of stuff before you get everybody heading in the same direction together.

    My 2 cents worth.


  4. Elizabeth Gooding

    Jim – I agree – it’s all about the people and the perceptions. The technology will take care of itself if the people are on board!

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