I was watching a television show recently that told the story of a company with a production throughput problem. The business owners didn’t seem to know how to fix it. The company wasn’t producing documents, but the episode got me thinking about similarities to challenges faced by print and mail operations with whom I’ve worked over the years.

The business owners featured on the show would have never recognized the simple solution to their problem without the assistance of an outside expert. This is also a familiar scenario.

Sometimes the people running a print and mail operation are so used to the status quo that seemingly obvious improvements never occur to them. It always amazes me when site assessments spawn recommendations for productivity or quality improvement ideas right under client noses, surprising them when revealed. It happens quite often.

In the television program, the production issue stumped company management because they were keenly focused on a workflow that developed almost by default when they first started their business. Doing things another way just never occurred to them.

A Print/Mail Example

I saw the exact same condition while working with a company in a regulated industry. The law required them to provide a particular document to every customer at least once every twelve months. Before my assessment, compliance with the regulation was insured by mailing the document to every customer every July. It was a massive undertaking. The company had lots of customers. The expense to print, insert, address, and mail the material was considerable.

Other than regulatory compliance, this annual project generated no benefit to the company. Most of the customers probably didn’t even read the document which was several pages of definitions, terms, and conditions. And yet the huge annual mailing job had been going on for years.

During our assessment we discovered the company sent the very same regulatory document to new customers when they signed up, and to existing customers when they renewed or made certain types of changes to their account throughout the year. In fact, the only customers who didn’t receive the required notices were those who had multi-year agreements and made no account changes.

My client didn’t ask me to save them money on this annual mailing. They didn’t even mention it. I honestly don’t believe anyone saw it as a problem. They met the regulatory requirement and that was good enough. Once I learned the details however, it looked like a golden opportunity to have a positive effect on their bottom line.

In July, we simply used the file of customers who had received the regulated document in the last year as a suppression list. The gigantic mailing job was significantly reduced and the company saved a bunch of money while still remaining in compliance. What previously took an entire month to complete was done in a week, returning the print and mail center to normal operations much quicker.

Insiders Can Miss the Details

The point of this story is it sometimes takes a fresh pair of eyes to recognize risks and opportunities. For the expert visiting the manufacturing business on the TV show, it was easy to see the bottlenecks in their operation preventing them from achieving their goals. Once he pointed out the solution, implementation was swift and benefits were instantly realized – just as they were with my print/mail client.

My advice to anyone running a production document center is to bring in someone from the outside who can review operations and ask questions. Do this every year or so. The things you learn might be surprising.

Mike Porter is President of Print/Mail Consultants. He helps his clients get more from their document print and mail centers. Visit www.printmailconsultants.com and sign up for his free newsletters written especially for document industry professionals.