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Beyond Efficiency: Print Managers should think Productivity

In an often-quoted Harvard Business Review article three years ago, Michael Mankins argued that U.S. companies have maxed out on improving efficiency over the past 30 years. Print managers should focus instead on increasing productivity to be truly successful.

The difference between efficiency and productivity:

  • Efficiency is about doing the same work with fewer resources. This saves money by reducing the inputs labor, time, and materials required. For example, in printing, reducing waste and overtime costs are ways to be more efficient.
  • Productivity, on the other hand, is about producing more with the same resources (increasing output by doing things differently).

To put it another way, efficiency means maintaining a holding pattern (not slipping). This increases profits through savings, while productivity means growth.

In the pandemic, many businesses have tried to hang on by being as efficient as possible. This means doing the same (or less) with less. But with COVID vaccines and economic recovery on the horizon, printers, print buyers and marketers would be wise to begin shifting to a productivity mindset. Think about ways to grow by producing more.

Print management systems

A key area of opportunity is your print management system. Here’s why: By changing the way you do things (remember, productivity is about increasing output by doing things differently), the right print management software and service can eliminate one of the biggest drags on productivity today—email.

By some estimates, employees spend three to four hours a day (up to 20 hours a week) checking and handling email. A 2015 survey put the numbers even higher, at six hours a day or 30 hours a week. This time suck has probably grown in 2020, as remote work has replaced more office work.

For many print managers and buyers, email (and spreadsheets) are the prime method of managing print projects—with a typical project generating dozens of internal emails, as well as external emails between buyer and supplier.

This erodes not only efficiency (it’s time-consuming and inconvenient for employees), but also productivity—obviously, staying on top of so many emails means you get less done because things take longer, and you may be ignoring important things altogether.

Freeing up time spent unproductively is a way to increase productivity. Purpose-built print management software can free up time wasted on email communication by replacing email with automated notifications, tracking, and monitoring of print projects. (This is different from simply making email more efficient.) It can do the same with other aspects of print procurement, such as qualifying printers, writing specs, and getting bids.

And today more than ever, productivity matters because it creates top-line growth. Mankin writes that without it, “trying to wring out greater profits through efficiency (is) the managerial equivalent of attempting to squeeze blood from a stone.”

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