A good part of my career in the print and mail business involved working directly with data files, utility programs, postal software, graphics generators, etc. Way back in the mainframe days, these tools were pretty crude, so workarounds were very much part of the standard practice. Today's software can do much more. But a lesson I learned in my early days can still apply.

I recall working on a project where there were certain conditions in the data that caused some production problems. Anytime our custom application program attempted to process a data record containing this unusual condition, it registered an error and aborted. Coming from a programming background I spent about two days trying to write programming code that would handle the anomalies and allow the program to continue processing. Nothing worked.

Finally, in a flash of inspiration, I scanned the data file and discovered just a handful of data records were causing the problems. I'd devoted two days of frustration dealing with less than 10 data records! Using the include/omit logic built into our mainframe sort routine, it took about two minutes to isolate those few records into a file by themselves. In a half-hour I'd written a simple routine to produce the necessary output for the exceptional data, but separate from the main job. The original program ran flawlessly once the offending records were filtered out of the file.

It wasn't the most elegant solution in the world. But this experience taught me to look at what was most important - getting our customer's work completed on time. It didn't make sense to dwell on the "perfect solution".

In the last 30 years, I've applied that concept over and over again.

In today's print and mail facilities, one is likely to encounter software packages that process the data. Altering programming code isn't even an option. So on those days when things aren't working like they should, stop fighting with the exceptions to make them work within the system and concentrate on the bigger picture. You might get more done, have happier customers, and save your sanity.

Mike Porter is an expert in Print and Mail operations and President of Print/Mail Consultants. For more helpful tips, visit and sign up for their free newsletter for document operations, Practical Stuff. Or look for his book "Take this Job and Stuff It! - A Practical Guide for Document Operations Managers" in the Mailing Systems Technology online store.