In the opening part to my new blog series examining how to create and apply excellent artwork capabilities, I looked at why packaging artwork matters so much and what happens when you get it wrong. Here in part two I take a closer look at some of the main causes of artwork error, how to prevent them and how to create right-first-time packaging artwork. I also examine the importance of creating a service culture around the provision of labelling text and artwork and the benefits this can bring to the packaging artwork process.
Causes of artwork errors
I have divided the many causes of artwork errors into categories, discussing each of them in turn.
Process gaps and inconsistencies Alternatively termed as systematic errors, these occur when the design of the business processes is incomplete or are conflicting, leading to errors in the content of the artwork. A typical example of this would be a gap in the process definition for the provision of a particular piece of information.
Lack of competence Here, operators do not have the necessary skills, knowledge or instructions to carry out the tasks that are required of them in the business process. This may be due to issues such as an inadequate level of process definition or inadequate training and competence assessment. An issue of particular concern in artwork processes which I discuss later is that of ensuring the competence of people who perform tasks in the process only very infrequently.
Lack of quality time It does not matter how competent people are, if they do not have enough quality time to perform the tasks required of them then they are likely to make forced errors in one form or another. A lack of quality time to perform tasks is typically due to unrealistic process step times being expected, or an overall lack of adequate headcount resource. Clearly, this may also be a symptom of ineffective process and/or tool design.
Inappropriate decision-making In this type of situation, people will make inappropriate decisions during the execution of the business process which leads to errors in the resulting artwork. For example, management may set priorities which are interpreted by operations staff as needing to prioritise moving an artwork to the next stage of the process ahead of doing a task completely and correctly.
Ambiguity The artwork process involves many individuals providing detailed instructions to other individuals in the process, with the resulting opportunity for ambiguity in these instructions to lead to errors in the artwork. A lack of templates or instructions on how to pass on information and instructions in an unambiguous way can be examples of this type of issue. It must be remembered that many people working in the artwork process do so in their second language. This significantly increases the possibility of individuals misinterpreting instructions which are not entirely clear.
Errors in source information The age-old phrase “garbage in, garbage out” applies very well to the artwork process. If incorrect source information is used in the process then it is highly likely to cause errors in the resulting artwork.Typical examples of this type of issue include people using the wrong or incorrect versions of documents and the use of uncontrolled information sources such as ad hoc personal spreadsheets.
Human error A typical artwork process includes many steps where people are directly responsible for carrying out activities such as transcribing information from one source to another and performing multiple complex or repetitive tasks. It is natural for human beings to make mistakes; this can be for many reasons. Sometimes it will be due to limitations described elsewhere in this blog, sometimes it may just be because we are having a bad day. Whilst many steps can be taken to help reduce the possibility of human error, the fact remains that it can still happen and needs to be taken account of when designing artwork capabilities.
Technology errors Technology in the form of computer software and tools is often used to perform or aid the artwork process steps. However, without careful design and control, this technology can introduce errors into an artwork. Examples of the types of issues which may cause such errors include software operating incorrectly; systems not providing the user with a true image of a document and font transcription errors when moving information from one document to another.
Creating a service culture
The development of packaging labelling and artwork involves many different groups across the company and, more often than not, external service providers and supply-chain partners. As I have already discussed, the creation of artwork requires many elements of information to be drawn together in a way that ensures that every detail is correct in the end-result. Without careful orchestration, the separate groups involved in the artwork creation process, both from within and external to the company, will not deliver artwork of the required quality standard. Each person involved in the process must perform their task in the process in the correct sequence, using the right information and tools in order to achieve a quality result.
To facilitate this, it is beneficial to consider the provision of labelling text and artwork as a business service. In our experience, the best artwork capabilities are those that consider themselves to be providing a service to the key business stakeholders and strive to understand their service role and deliver it. Like any service offering, this will evolve over time as the customer’s needs change. The management of the artwork capability should recognise these changes and adapt the service accordingly in a managed and considered way.
The development of clear mission, vision and performance measures can go a long way to orchestrate the successful delivery of the service across the diverse groups that are involved.
Defining service requirements
When designing an artwork service, we have found it useful to take a systematic approach to the definition of the service requirement based on a number of key questions, which we discuss in more detail in our book Developing and Sustaining Excellent Packaging Labelling and Artwork Capabilities.
- What is the service producing?
- What is the scope of the service?
- Who are the customers?
- How do you measure success?
- What do you need the service to achieve?
- Who “owns” the service?
- Who is involved in the service?
In order to answer the above it is good practice to capture the requirements of the service in a service statement of some kind. This may take the form of a service level agreement or any other similar document used in your company. It gives clarity to everyone within and outside the service on what the service is and is not there to do, how success is measured and how the service is expected to grow.
Guiding or underpinning principles
To support the service statement, it is also useful to define a set of guiding or underpinning principles on how the processes and capabilities will operate. These define the “rules of the game” and will help all parties involved in delivering the service when having to make decisions about how to move forward in a particular situation. We discuss typical principles further in our book.
Developing a common service culture across the various teams involved in delivering the overall artwork capability is also a useful means to ensure successful delivery of the service. It must also be recognised that, in providing a service to a broad group of stakeholders, it is rarely, if ever, possible to please everyone all of the time. An element of good service management not only recognises this, but actively helps to ensure its key stakeholders also recognise this and are involved in collaborative decision-making for key aspects of the service delivery.
It is easy for an external supplier to develop a service culture; after all, it is inherent in the nature of the relationship between the two parties. Not pleasing your customer on an ongoing basis more often than not results in a clearly recognisable termination of the relationship.
When managing internal service functions, the service nature of the relationship between the artwork capability and the rest of the organisation is not as obvious to everyone involved unless it is carefully orchestrated. This requires activity not only on the part of the group providing the service, but also on the part of the customer groups. As with relationships with external providers, it is all too easy for a customer group to abuse the relationship and blame the service provider for all manner of issues. To be successful, the service group and the customer groups should strive to see the relationship as a meeting of equals for mutual benefit, not a master and servant relationship.
You will also recognise that the artwork service relationship, if it is to be successful, will last a considerable period of time. Indeed, if the service is provided by a largely internal team, there is little or no practical opportunity to stop the relationship. Everyone in a long-term relationship will recognise that, for the relationship to be successful, effort needs to be put into it from all parties. Managing an artwork service capability is no different and this effort needs to be budgeted for and the necessary work planned and executed.
In part three of my blog series on Excellent Packaging Artwork Capabilities I’ll be looking at the core artwork process and interfacing processes.