Top 10 Right-First-Time Tips to Streamline and Improve Your Artwork Process - Part 1

Written by Be4ward on 31/03/2023

Top 10 Right-First-Time Tips to Streamline and Improve Your Artwork Process - Part 1

I always consider that ‘Right-First-Time’ is the fundamental metric for an artwork service. This is a simple pass or fail metric – did the artwork pass through the process once or was any change required? This is difficult to achieve on a consistent basis and requires focus and persistence. This is the subject I am going to explore further in this series of Right-First-Time articles, along with 10 essential tips to help you get it Right-First-Time.

The Importance of accurate artwork for your company

Is the importance of having accurate artwork stressed in your company? Do people assume that artwork needs several versions before it is approved? What happens when your affiliates spot errors that, thankfully, have not reached the customer and what is the reaction when unfortunately there is a recall, when one gets through?

It is essential to remember, a company can only sell its product when they are correctly packaged, can only ship its product when the text on the packaging is correct and at the end of the day, patient lives rely on the text being absolutely correct. If this is forgotten and management live with a lacklustre right-first-time record then the company’s reputation and profits will be directly impacted when errors do occur.

So why is getting artwork right-first-time so important?

Accepting that the first version is unlikely to be correct is a risky business. The closer you get to the launch or the implementation deadline you see what I refer to as the concertina effect – less and less time to deliver. In this environment when chasing for the final version through multiple iterations, the stress increases, confidence drops and the potential for mistakes increases.

Alternatively, when you focus on getting artwork right-first-time, things that are not correct are eliminated early in the process and potential sources of errors are designed out. When lead times are squeezed, as they often are in these types of situations, your risk of an error has hopefully passed and the likelihood of a recall reduced. Focusing in this area will have the additional outcome of more consistent lead-times, capacity will increase and everyone will have more confidence in schedule adherence.

Achieving a high standard in right-first-time requires focus and attention to detail

Best in class organisations achieve a right-first-time figure in excess of 95%. However, to achieve this requires continual focus and likely enhancement or redesign of your artwork process, combined with a degree of focus on what is required at each stage. It will also require regular support from a senior management team, made up from the groups involved. Technology will have a part to play to enable a high quality process, both for the production and checking of the artwork itself but also in the tracking and approval process. Finally, the right culture will be required, displayed across all the teams, to ensure success.

Tip 1 - Measure your right‑first‑time — if you don’t measure, you don’t manage

How to measure right-first-time and where are the figures reported

There are many ways you could measure right-first-time, but in our view it is a simple pass or fail metric – did the artwork pass through the process once or was any change required? The calculation should be straightforward – the number of artworks completed right-first-time divided by the total number of new artworks created (note: we would not include non-right-first-time revisions in this total). This gives a percentage right-first-time. This can be used to give a baseline performance and set targets for the process. As you remove sources of error this will enable the team to track the improvements.

You manage what you measure

It is important the team own this measure and use it to drive improvement and there are a few points to consider here. Trending the measure will show all if performance is improving or declining. Setting clear targets to be achieved shows the performance gap to be closed. A process for the team to analyse the reasons why the artwork requires reworking will help understand what is going wrong (and I will talk about this later in a further tip).

In addition, the figures need to be reviewed regularly by the cross-functional governance group. Errors can arise from many sources and the support of the governance team will be required to help resolve these across the many impacted departments.

So where in the process do you measure and what do you include?

Many companies already measure right-first-time, but there are many differences in the scope of what is measured.
There are numerous points through the end-to-end process where right-first-time should be checked: at the approval of the artwork brief, after creation of the artwork, after proof reading, after artwork approval, after receipt of packaging materials, to name a few. You need to consider the milestone and rework points in your process and measure right-first-time at those points. To avoid the risk of an error being released to the public, you need to drive your right-first-time performance as early in the process as possible.

There are numerous types of artwork change – new products, safety updates, technical changes, line trial components. Some are easier than others, but even though it may be difficult to achieve right-first-time for some, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t manage. However, you may wish to report different types of change separately with different initial targets for each.

Artwork quality standards should be as high as expected for a production document

GMP drives your manufacturing and packaging operation to produce a high quality process so the products produced are safe for the patient. Producing artwork should be considered in the same way. Errors need to be driven out so you end up with a safe, repeatable right-first-time process.

Tip 2 - Use codes to categorise errors, then ensure a thorough root cause analysis to eliminate source of errors

Categorise the types of errors

Measuring your right-first-time will tell you what your performance is but not why. You will need to delve deeper into the data. I suggest you set up a system for collecting and categorising the errors found, reporting them monthly. You need to determine the broad categories, and recognise this list may change, as you understand the issues more clearly. A typical set of error categories may include errors attributable to file identification/properties, text content, graphical content, supplied data, process failures and the technical aspects of the artwork. You may even need to break these broad categories into more specific error types.

Recording the reasons for a non-right-first-time artwork will then let you track the frequency and volume of different types of error, to identify the ones that are most significant. This is where you then need to target your energy for improvement.

A clear differentiator of companies that have excellent right-first-time performance is that they are obsessive about eliminating sources of errors by designing them out of the process. They have managed to minimise the effort they expend on cleaning up after an incident and instead channel that resource and energy into eliminating the potential for errors to occur.

Develop a good root cause process - consider the five why's approach

Once you have decided which category you need to focus on, you need to make sure you root cause the sources of the failures. This will ensure you are applying the right corrective actions.

Every company has their preferred method to root cause but I will suggest you consider the 5 why’s method as it is easy to train and very effective. Simply, you ask ‘why’ for as many times as you need to, until you get to the ultimate root cause.

Looking at an example: an error has been discovered where the braille on a launch pack is obscuring some key information and there have been complaints.

Why has this happened?
Answer: The job was rushed and the team say they were not clear braille was needed until the last minute.
Why did they not know it was needed and where it was to be positioned?
Answer: This information was not clear at the point prior to when the artwork was being generated and had to be added later.
Why was this information not available at this point in the process?
Answer: There is no discipline for providing all the information prior to starting the artwork and people put the braille where it normally fits.
Why is there not the discipline at this point for both of these points?
Answer: There is no process for gathering all the information and signing it off prior to starting. People don’t know where to put the braille in general.
Why don’t people know where to put the braille?
Answer: The line drawing doesn’t show where braille should be.
The actions from this process would be to update the drawings to show the braille location and put into your process the discipline of having all the information available, using an artwork brief, prior to the artwork generation process starting.

Having implemented solutions continue to measure to ensure sustainability

Once improvements have been made you should continue to measure the error categories to ensure the frequency of occurrence for the ones you have targeted for improvement have reduced. This will tell you if your improvements have been effective and also sustainable. The last thing you want is the same errors occurring again, especially if you think they have been addressed.

In the next article, I will explore the topic of right-first-time further and discuss my third, fourth and fifth tips, which look at the artwork brief and raising the need for a comprehensive and effective end-to-end process with clear roles and responsibilities.

Should you have any questions about this or our artwork or our proofreader and document verification training, please contact Be4ward at [email protected].

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