Wikileaks made big waves by releasing information that was meant for internal consumption. Your document center may not be harboring secrets that can affect international diplomacy, but have you ever stopped to think what would happen if your internal operational procedures were ever published? Would your customers feel secure or would they be horrified?

I've been in plenty of shops that processed documents in ways that left them open to making errors with no way to realistically catch them. They've never been impacted severely enough to make changes or to invest in tools that could make the workflow more trustworthy. That's pretty risky - especially as documents become more complex and personalized. It's like neglecting to back up your data because you've never had a computer hard drive failure. It's only a matter of time.

Nobody wants to explain to a customer that the reason a critical statement insert was missing or the wrong return envelope was used or the letters were printed on the back side of the stationery is because your procedures don't call for the kind of quality control that would have prevented those errors. Those customer conversations can be pretty uncomfortable. And correcting the mailing errors can be expensive and embarrassing. Severe or high-profile errors can even result in the loss of business - something no one can afford right now.

Mistakes can happen in any shop, regardless of the strength of their procedures. Extremely odd circumstances that allow errors to make it out the door because there was no way to test for them is defensible. Having no process to identify catchable errors or ignoring the established quality control processes is not.

Are your procedures good enough?
A good rule of thumb is to imagine that an investigative reporter interviewing you on camera about a printing and mailing mistake. The story is going to appear on the local news and the reporter has no reason to sugarcoat the incident. Will your explanation about how it happened sound like a dodge of responsibility or a bunch of whiney excuses? Would you be sweating profusely? If the average television viewer would view you as incompetent, then it's time to tighten up the workflow.

I've said it before, but it bears repeating. Today the integrity, efficiency, and effectiveness of printed mail pieces need to be unquestionably exceptional. Anything less just adds fuel to the fires burning around do-not-mail regulation, accelerated migration to electronic communications, or thoughts of outsourcing document operations. Besides the embarrassment of dealing with an error, mailing mistakes can have a significant impact on the future of printed customer communications in your organization.

You regularly upgrade software and hardware, but what about your quality control procedures? That's an aspect of document operations that frequently gets overlooked. I've seen many a shop floor binder containing samples, machine set-up specifications, and instructions that were obsolete and were missing entries for jobs that have been in production for months.

Even if all the jobs are accurately documented, it is not uncommon to find out that the QC steps performed are no longer adequate. Balancing the piece count from the inserter to the totals supplied by IT might be sufficient for single-page letters with no intelligent inserting. But the clipboard method isn't good enough to assure that every envelope contained the correct contents if the job now has variable page counts or selectable inserts.

Time to review
Think of some worst-case scenarios for printing and mailing errors that could happen with the jobs you process in your shop. Then review your internal quality control procedures. If you'd be comfortable with revealing those processes to an angry customer or to the public, then you've probably got things under control. If not, then figure out what needs to be done to avoid ever having to make excuses for mistakes that shouldn't have happened and correct the document workflow.

Mike Porter is an expert in Print and Mail operations and President of Print/Mail Consultants, an independent consulting firm that helps companies nationwide be more productive, adapt to changing requirements, and lower costs in their document operations. For more ideas and tips about effective documents, sign up for Mike's free newsletter at or email him directly at