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Jul 1, 2003 12:00 AM
Virtually every graphic-arts company has at least one formal production meeting a day. The similarity ends there.
Through the years, I've attended hundreds of production meetings as an observer. These meetings reveal a great deal about an organization's culture, management, customer orientation and internal communications. Yet, despite all the emphasis in recent years on process improvement and treating the next department as the customer, I have seldom heard senior management identify the production meeting as an opportunity for improvement.
Instead, the production meeting is commonly treated as part of the corporate landscape, as an event that magically occurs every day. Our company has come across several firms where, for different reasons, the production meeting was no longer held regularly — and senior management didn't know about this development.
Following are a few observations about production meetings:
Many companies that hold an early-morning meeting sorely need a second, mid-afternoon production meeting. Particularly in the current quick-turnaround environment, even the best-laid plans from the first session may not occur. One change in the production schedule affects every other job in process. An afternoon production meeting therefore can work as an early warning system, allowing time to communicate with customers whose jobs may be affected, rather than waiting until the following morning.
Most companies do a reasonably good job of communicating duties and responsibilities internally but are not as effective or conscientious about defining authority. It becomes painfully obvious if there is no clear-cut policy about the person(s) empowered to accept or reject specific jobs. It's almost always too late to reject work by the time it becomes a topic of discussion at the production meeting. The earlier the triage, the better.
Most production meetings are devoted to discussing the status of jobs and plans for the next 24 hours. I occasionally witness a meeting at which much more is accomplished. Typically, this occurs at companies with minimal sales-production conflict and with sincere interest in delighting customers. Customer-service representatives provide a “heads up” about work due to arrive within the next day or two. Many companies talk about “proofs due back today,” but proactive companies have contacted customers prior to the meeting and may be able to report whether proofs will indeed be returned on schedule. The production meeting can also be an occasion to educate representatives of the manufacturing area about the business and printing needs of new customers placing their first jobs with the company.
Most interdepartmental contact in a graphic-arts firm involves problem solving. A production meeting is a daily opportunity to improve the quality and civility of that contact. (It may come as a shock to some readers that the sales-production conflict is not a natural condition afflicting every printing company.)
There are production meetings in which the agenda is the same as meetings in all other graphic-arts companies, but the tone and the words are different. Issues are expressed in terms of customer needs. Appreciation is expressed for efforts above and beyond the call of duty. The words “thank you” are spoken several times. At these companies, consideration should be given to inviting customers to attend. The dialog they would witness would be impressive.
The extent to which the production meeting begins at its scheduled time is a direct reflection of the importance and preparation attached to it by the participants. It's unfortunate to witness people shuffling into the production meeting 10 minutes after the starting time with the enthusiasm of someone heading for a root canal.
The moral of this column: Anything that devolves into a ritual runs the danger of losing meaning and potential to many participants and, therefore, the organization. The fact that there are no reported problems at a production meeting doesn't necessarily mean that all is well or couldn't stand improvement. In many companies, that mundane daily activity is worthy of a management review.