A consistent and efficient workflow system helps keep shops on track

Establishing an effective workflow system keeps orders on track and stabilizes cash flow. Reviewing each step a job takes from the front counter through installation helps to streamline production and increase profits. It has taken our company years to create a system that works smoothly. A quick run-through of our operation’s workflow may help others set themselves up for success.

In our shop, pre-printed work orders with our logo and a grid are stacked in clipboards at the front counter. All notes related to the job are written on these sheets and attached to the invoice. We currently use software called Activity POS at our front counter for typing estimates and invoices. There’s a large selection of software on the market to choose from, depending on individual company needs.

Two copies of the invoice are printed at this time. A white copy is given to the customer with a record of their deposit. A 50 percent deposit is required on all jobs over $50, full payment if the job is under $50, unless an open account has been set up.

A pink copy is printed, and all work order sheets, artwork or other job related items are attached to it. If photographs were taken, special materials need to be ordered, or, if the job is a rush, then a note is written on the front of the pink.

We have a folder rack system with dividers for tracking ongoing jobs. The system is split into six categories: Waiting for a Proof, Waiting for Approval, Jobs on Hold, Waiting to be Cut/Printed, Outside Orders and To Be Boxed. That’s how we do it, but remember that every shops is unique and may offer different services, which can be organized with additional categories.

A new job goes into a legal sized yellow hanging file folder and is placed in the To Be Boxed section. One person is designated as the scheduler and is responsible for adding new jobs to the schedule. Toward the end of each day, new jobs are entered onto scheduling sheets in a binder and any materials that need to be ordered go onto an order form.

The scheduling binder is one of the most important tools of running an efficient shop. All jobs are entered on the scheduling forms five to seven working days from when the order was taken. This tells us when the job is due. The scheduler is in charge of knowing the turnaround times based on work load as well as approving any rush jobs.

All rushes are charged a 20 percent rush fee, or $20 minimum. Since the jobs are on a scheduled system, customers with rushes need to be charged extra to move to the front of the queue. This doesn’t mean that existing customers are pushed back, but that employees may need to stay overtime to get the jobs completed.

The schedule provides an overview of one week. The daily sections are divided for individual jobs. Each line has a space for the customer or company name, job number, proof approval and the type of job it is. “Must go” jobs are marked in a separate box next to the line to help ensure that they don’t get overlooked.

For the proof box, we put one slash if the job has a proof and we’re waiting for approval from the customer. Two slashes - an X - means the proofs have been approved and the folder is under Waiting to be Cut/Printed.

Clearly marking what type of job it is makes it more efficient to find approved jobs that can be grouped together. Producing jobs in groups saves both time and money.

An installation section is included on the schedule sheet and is divided into six rows for Monday through Saturday. Any inside or outside installations are written in these boxes.

Engraved, routed or electrical jobs that are handled by specific people outside of the flow of production are tracked on a separate scheduling system. Every Monday, the two schedules are reviewed together and the installation sheet for the week is updated.

Placing each person in the shop – including the owners – in charge of specific duties ensures that all bases are covered. Each person in the shop is responsible for a task, that when put together guarantees that a job is handled. By designating tasks, any problems that arise are easy to pinpoint and can be swiftly corrected.

Multiple tasks may be handled by the same person. In our shop we have a store manager who is in charge of the scheduling and job flow, as well as setting up and sending all prints. He fills out a daily to-do list for the production manager and helps with customer service, proofs, and installations.

The production manager oversees all the vinyl cut jobs and handles the finish work at the production table. He too helps with customer service, proofs and installations.

When jobs are boxed, the supply inventory is checked and any needed materials are entered on a specific order form. Having one person in charge of ordering materials is important to avoid having duplicate items ordered and to be sure supplies are ordered from the correct supplier. A spreadsheet has been created listing all the items we typically order and which supplier is the most cost effective.

A proof is created within one to three days from the time an order was placed. The customer is either called to come back in, or the proof is faxed or e-mailed to them for approval. If we have not heard back from the customer within two days, a follow up call is made. Anytime the customer is contacted, a note with the date and time is made on the proof, as well as who we talked to or if a message was left.

Upon approval, we require a signature on the proof. The folder is then moved to the Waiting to be Cut/Printed section and the schedule book is updated.

The job is then cut or printed and moved to the production table. A separate rack mounted in the production area keeps paperwork together and at hand for quick reference.

When an order is finished, the customer is called and the front of the pink invoice copy is stamped with a Completed Job stamp. The stamp has boxes for filling in the date, the caller and notes for whom we talked to or if a message was left. A storage system was built for keeping finished jobs organized while they wait for pickup. Separate slots are numbered. The customer name and slot number are entered on a dry erase board hanging on the wall, making it quick and easy to find a completed job.

If installation is required, the customer is called to schedule a day and time to either bring in a vehicle, or for us to go out to their location. Unless an account has been set up with the accounting department, we let the customer know the balance and we either take a credit card number over the phone or a check is picked up while installing the signs. Installs are checked with the scheduler, and are written in the installation section of the weekly schedule.

On a designated day, once a week, the production manager does call-backs on finished jobs that have been sitting for a week or more to remind the customer the order is ready. Each time the customer is called we fill out a box in the Completed Jobs stamp. If a job has been called two times after the initial call, which means it’s been sitting for two weeks, then a white copy is printed out and mailed to the customer for any outstanding balance. Invoices are considered due from this time on.

The front of the pink invoice should have all payment information clearly recorded, as well as the customer’s signature upon job completion. A card has been designed to record any cash payments. The amount paid, the date and the invoice number are written on the card and placed in the cash box.

The invoice number is written on the front of all checks, which are also placed in the cash box. Credit card slips are attached to the front of the pink invoice. Finished job paperwork is placed in a wall rack above the front counter computer.

For billed jobs, a white copy of the invoice is either mailed to a billing department by the office manager, or given to the person picking up. If the pick-up person takes the white, then WWC, “white with customer,” is written on the pink copy next to a stamp with the billed date.

The office manager gathers the pinks and enters payment or billing information into the front counter software. The pink copy of the invoice, as well as all important notes and signed proofs, are stapled together and filed alphabetically for future reference. A yellow copy of the invoice is printed for accounting.
Creating an efficient system in your company can be achieved by sketching out a diagram illustrating the flow of jobs. This will expose areas that may need to be reorganized. An efficiently setup job flow system makes it quicker and more profitable to produce jobs.