Arguably one of the best business reads of all time is Stephen Covey’s classic book “7 Habits of Highly Effective People”. If you haven’t read this work, get a copy…especially if you are not as effective as you would like to be. It is Amazon’s #1 bestseller in business books every year.

So if we mash-up Covey’s 7 Habits with screenprint production workflow how does it relate?

Habit One: Be Proactive

A great way to think about production is to consistently look ahead and plan. It’s easy to get lulled into sleep worrying about today’s production schedule only. However, those jobs a few days from now might need some attention too. Having a proactive mindset is all about organizing everything in advance so your production schedule works out the way it should.

Today’s production schedule should be already set in stone. By lunch, you should be pulling jobs for tomorrow and gathering everything you need and organizing them by each workstation. Before you leave, the next business day’s work is set out and ready to run.

This only happens when you look at everything booked and work backwards on when things need to happen in your shop in order to accommodate the timeliness of those jobs. Those screens need to be burned. That inventory needs to be checked in and counted. Those activities are due at least one business day before your production team needs to be reaching for them. So, for those jobs when does the all the preparatory work need to be worked on and completed to hit that date? Set the standards in your shop for those activities.

Work from the “Ship Date” on the work order. This is the date that job has to leave the building. Everything works backwards from that date, and your goal is to complete all production one business day before that Ship Date.

This happens only if every member of your staff is constantly monitoring the jobs coming up and resolving challenges as they occur. If the art isn’t approved, or the inventory for the job is short, does the Ship Date move? What happens? Who is alerted? Work out those scenarios and triage your tasks accordingly.

Habit Two: Begin with the End in Mind

This habit is all about detailing your expectations and vision. Can you describe what success in your shop looks like? Are you communicating your goals and standards to your customers, staff and vendors?

These could be anything from the type of work that you take, to the art that you design, even the decoration process and due dates. Maybe you need to communicate your sales goals to your staff, or when jobs should ship? It could be smaller details such as how your breakrooms need to be kept clean.

What does your standard look like in your shop for any point? Paint the picture of the mountain you want to climb, and describe the effort that your team will need to expend to get there. Beginning with the end in mind, is all about working out the steps needed to achieve the goal. What are they? Who is doing them? What happens if there is failure? What could be the challenges along the way?

To get people to buy into your journey, you need to explain to them in detail what victory looks like. Even better is when they get to participate in writing that description. Remember, “man supports what he helps create”.

Habit Three: Put First Things First

What is the most important thing you need to do today? How are you prioritizing that effort? Does everyone know what to do? Do you need to call a special meeting to discuss, or is your internal training so advanced that everyone already knows and is making departmental decisions already?

In today’s business climate, speed is a great habit to have. Shops that can triage their workload and organize their schedule have a huge advantage over others that just fly by the seat of their pants. How would you describe your shop?

One aspect of this habit that should be mentioned is doing things early. If you can, constantly do your work as early as you can produce it. If something is due to ship on Wednesday, and you can complete it on Monday…then that’s when you should do it. As we all know, something crazy can happen between now and then. The more you can get ahead on your schedule, the better off you will be down the road.

As I tell my son constantly, “If you aren’t early, you are running late.”

Habit Four: Think Win-Win

This habit is all about character within people. It is the hardest to achieve, but frankly the most fun to continually work on. Why? Our equipment doesn’t run by themselves, it takes staff to make things work. Who you have running your equipment can make an incredible difference to your overall shop success.

Covey explains that the Win-Win habit is determined by three character traits:

1. Integrity – which is sticking with your true feelings, values and commitments
2. Maturity – which is expressing your ideas and feelings with courage and consideration for the ideas and feelings of others.
3. Abundance – which is believing that there is plenty for everyone.

In a production environment, success can accelerate when your leadership trusts and respects the people your company employes to do the work. Too many production managers get caught up in the “I’m in charge” mentality and don’t realize their job is really about making their staff better.

Do they see your shop’s staff as individuals first? Everyone has different skill sets, dreams and talents. Managers should identify the character traits of your staff and push them to excel in new areas by offering them opportunities to grow. This drives that culture of excellence that all shops should strive for every day.

All shops want to grow. Eventually you’ll buy another press, fancier equipment or want to add a new decoration method. When your staff is constantly challenged by cross training them or giving them opportunities to learn, when that growth occurs you’ll have people ready to dive in and handle it. Bench strength happens by having a management team that invests in the learning opportunities for the staff they manage. Not by holding people back.

Habit Five: Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood

This habit is focused on active listening and good communication. One of my favorite quotes is “You have two ears but only one mouth, so you should listen twice as much as you speak.”

In a production environment there are many challenges that we are faced with every day. Solving the litany of problems always comes down to the communication involved. What’s needed? Where is the problem? When is it due?

If you get bogged down by blaming or looking to flame someone for a challenge, your efforts can get sidetracked by drama. Find out what’s going on first. Ask why constantly. Comprehending the situation in its entirety can lead to better outcomes, than if you just jump to conclusions and rush into resolution mode first.

Habit Six: Synergize

This habit is composed of creative cooperation…you know, teamwork.

Do you have a “defend the castle” mentality in your shop? This means that when something goes wrong, there’s more effort put into blaming another department or person than was spent solving the problem. It’s just finger pointing and excuse making.

Want to move faster? Work together as a team to resolve your challenges. Create a culture where your staff tries to make it easier for the next guy by helping. For example, who cares why the customer was late approving the art? Does your art team quickly sep the file and walk the order down to the screen room so they can get the screens burned immediately?

Talk about what isn’t working in your shop as a group. Then, as a team, invent the solutions that will solve those challenges.

If your shop really wants to achieve more, build that team culture. Every order counts, every person counts.

Habit Seven: Sharpen the Saw

If you were going to remove a tree from your yard, would you whack away at it with a dull ax…or would you spend a few minutes sharpening the saw?

For our industry, how much time do you spend learning about your craft? Investing time experimenting with a new ink, technique, or process can have tremendous long term benefits. Sure, you have orders to fill, but how dull is your blade?

As professionals we need time to reflect on our businesses to make them stronger. This just doesn’t happen, you have to plan for it. Your team should be involved too. They need training and help. They need the opportunity to learn and get better. Does your company provide the time or offer to pay for classes for improvement?

You know all of those shops that constantly win all those industry awards? At one point, they didn’t know anything either. I’ll bet their saw blades are pretty sharp now. They probably keep them that way too.

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