In the print industry, efficiency is everything: the faster you can get jobs processed, printed, and delivered, the more jobs you can take on—and the higher your earnings potential and customer satisfaction.

At the same time, print workflows are growing more complex: as the print industry evolves, commercial printers must add new capabilities and technologies to their portfolio. The new hardware and technology involved are often bolted onto existing systems and workflows, creating disparate islands of automation.

Over time, this bolt-on, grow-as-you-go approach leads to a messy, convoluted process. As a print business adds capabilities and services, it adds complexity and often loses workflow efficiency.

A workflow analysis helps print businesses understand what’s happening in their workflows, identify redundancies and inefficiencies, and ultimately chart a better course based on a holistic workflow plan.

By reading this article, you’ll learn what a workflow analysis or workflow assessment process is. We’ll give you some highlights on how to conduct one, followed by some actionable tips for improving your workflow efficiency based on the results of that analysis.

What Is a Workflow Analysis?

A workflow analysis is the process of examining any workflow (series of tasks and subtasks and the processes that relate to them) for the purposes of:

  • understanding that workflow
  • identifying areas of weakness, confusion, or inefficiency
  • creating a plan for improving the workflow

Example: Assembly Line

Picture a simple manufacturing process, where a product gets built along an assembly line, start to finish. A workflow analysis evaluates the steps and stations along the assembly line, looking for choke points or bottlenecks, evaluating whether a different task order would yield better results, and so forth.

A broader workflow analysis at this same company would look at the processes surrounding materials acquisition, packing, and shipping, along with whether the assembly line can produce its output fast enough to meet demand.

A workflow analysis could identify that the fourth step on the assembly line consistently gets backed up (or has an unusually high error/failure rate). It could find unnecessary steps in the post-assembly process, like moving products around more than is required.

Workflow assessments like these can identify problems and weaknesses, though they don’t always identify the solution.

Your print workflows are exponentially more complex than our imaginary assembly line. Still, the principles are the same: a workflow analysis finds the weaknesses, choke points, and potentially unnecessary steps in the process. It sets you up to craft a better, more holistic workflow plan that resolves the issues you’ve identified.

Conducting a Workflow Analysis

So far, this workflow analysis idea is a good one. But how do you conduct one?

While the specifics will change based on your company’s current workflow quality and what you’re analyzing, these basic steps are a helpful guide for almost any workflow analysis.

1. Document current workflows and processes

Before you can start improving your workflows, you must understand what they are. Even more importantly, your senior staff must agree on what they are.

It’s all too common for various department leads to work from different understandings of how a process should work, quickly leading to dysfunction.

If you’ve never visually mapped out your process and defined each step along the way, now is the time to start. And even if you’ve gone through this process before, you’ll want to revisit your previous work and update it to fit the way you’re working today. Having a cadence for ongoing checks and balances to map the journey is important for your whole team to set expectations with milestones and transparency on changes and improvements.

2. Identify pain points and problems

Somewhere between the beginning of phase 1 and the end of phase 2, you’ll need to compile a list of pain points and problems you’d like your workflow plan to address.

Some of these will be obvious before you start documenting current workflows. Others will become apparent when your leadership team disagrees during that process. And still, others won’t appear until you start gathering more data.

Speaking of:

3. Gather more data

During this phase, you’re answering the “what” questions that the first phase created.

You’ll want to gather both quantitative (numerical) and qualitative (descriptive) data on the various pain points and problems and on the workflow and process steps you identified in the first phase.

Quantitative or hard data is objective, usually numerical: How much time is job setup taking? How much faster does production need to go? What factors contribute to your frequent delays on a specific piece of equipment?

Qualitative or soft data is more subjective: How does this problem affect the success of your sales staff? What are the implications of job setup taking this long? Is that specific subtask necessary? What are the benefits and risks of automating a set of manual steps?

4. Analyze the data you’ve collected

Once you’ve collected the “what” data, you need to answer the “why” and questions it generates. For example:

  • Why are we hitting these bottlenecks?
  • Why does job setup take as long as it does?
  • Why are we repeating manual data entry?

You also need to prioritize: Which of the identified issues are critical priorities, and which ones will you leave alone for now?

5. Identify the changes you’ll make

Once you’ve identified the problem and the reason for the problem, it’s time for the “how” question: How will you fix it? To answer “how” questions effectively requires careful thought, brainstorming, sometimes trial and error, and occasionally consulting and professional services.

6. Implement identified changes

Once you’ve identified a set of changes to make, it’s time to implement them. Don’t forget staff education here: If you’re changing processes, people need to know (and be shown how to operate in the new process).

7. Follow up

Last, recognize that a workflow analysis is not a single event. You’ll need to reevaluate sometime after implementation and do the process again. It shouldn’t take as long this time, but you might be surprised to find a new set of issues that your team will need to work through.

How to Improve Workflow Efficiency

Not sure what methods and strategies will lead to results? Consider these methods for improving workflow efficiency in commercial print:

  • Automate repetitive processes
  • Minimize or eliminate manual data entry and rekeying
  • Streamline your order entry with Web-to-Print (W2P) portal
  • Use better print shop management software

Improve Efficiency with Workflow Automation Using RICOH Supervisor™

The print industry is changing. New technologies will enable some to excel beyond competitors, adding services and improving outputs. Others run the risk of crumbling under the complexity of bolting on more and more new tools to an old process that can’t support them.

A carefully crafted workflow analysis could help your business avoid the latter category and fully enjoy the benefits of the former.

As you engage in workflow analysis, you may find that the problem isn’t your process exactly. It’s the software powering that process.

RICOH Supervisor™ is the modern print shop management software solution built for the future of print. This cloud-based, vendor-agnostic platform gathers and interprets data from sources throughout your print workflows, giving you the insights you need to answer the “what” and “why” questions and helping steer you toward the “how.”

Implementing a RICOH Supervisor in your own organization could be the key to unlocking unprecedented productivity and profitability.

See what’s possible with a customized demo. Request yours now:

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Lisa Oakleaf

Meet the Author

Lisa Oakleaf

Lisa is a Colorado native who has always had a passion for print. Before beginning in product marketing at Ricoh, she worked in the commercial print segment for more than 20 years. Her experience encompasses all aspects of the print workflow: production management, scheduling, planning and advanced prepress integration from Kodak, Agfa, Screen and many more. Her fluency in offset and digital technologies has served her well in the product marketing landscape where Lisa manages commercial print software solutions. Always a customer advocate, Lisa applies their feedback to help develop better products for their business success.

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