Want the Job Done Right? Call an In-plant Manager
As in-plant managers, we are often expected to confirm our value to our parent organizations. We are asked why the organization needs an in-plant. Our bosses and supervisors hear stories claiming savings from managed print services or outsourcing, and they wonder if the organization’s investment in staff and printing equipment is justified. Sometimes the value we bring is difficult to measure in terms of dollars—but it is very real.
The following is a true story. Only the names have been changed to protect the...Well, bear with me.
This story involves the in-plant manager at a large university on the East Coast. It seems the university was invited to a bowl game. In higher education, going to a bowl game is a very big deal, and not just to the athletes and the athletic department. The entire institution gets swept up in the frenzy of the event. Call it institutional pride on steroids.
Our story is centered on production of the Bowl Media Guide, the high-profile piece used to tell the university’s story to members of the media covering the event. The Bowl Guide includes information about the school, its mascot, location, student body, coaches, team members, distinguished former players, previous bowl history, and on and on. Anything you ever wanted to know about the school is in the Bowl Guide.
It also describes the practice schedules and media events, and outlines guidelines governing media access to team members and coaches. It even includes a pronunciation guide to help announcers with challenging names. It lists every official team event during the hoopla leading up to the game. Arguably, this will be the most important piece printed by the university’s in-plant. If you think schools are hard on losing coaches, you don’t want to see what would happen to the in-plant manager who fails to deliver a media bowl guide.
Back to the story. The athletic department did its job putting the bowl guide together. It worked with the in-plant manager to set a realistic schedule and to design something that the in-plant could produce. The only catch, and it was a manageable one, was that the book was bound on the short side, so the in-plant would have to farm out the bindery work. No big deal; the in-plant manager had a good relationship with a local commercial shop that could finish the booklets. Arrangements were made, the commercial shop bought into the schedule, and everything seemed under control.
This story takes place over the Christmas holidays. The in-plant manager had made plans to travel to the West Coast to spend time with family long before the bowl game became a reality, and the visit coincided with the bowl guide production schedule. She thought about changing her plans—it was that important—but her staff was well trained, people knew their jobs, and the production schedule contained a cushion. There was no reason to change her travel plans. However, the university would be closed the week after Christmas, and the team was scheduled to arrive at the bowl December 29, so the Bowl Guide had to be completed and shipped before the start of the Christmas break.
The first problem occurred on the trip to the West Coast. While waiting for a connecting flight in Phoenix, she called the shop to check on things. No answer. It turns out that one of this winter’s massive snowstorms hit unexpectedly. Streets were impassable and the university had closed. If the schedule was followed, the Bowl Guide should have been printed and ready to send out for binding that day. The schedule could still be met, but it would be close.
The following day the manager finally reached the production coordinator and verified that, yes, the Bowl Guide had been printed. No, it didn’t go to the vendor the day before as scheduled because of the weather, but the vendor had promised to get it out in time to meet the schedule. No worries. So her visit continued as planned.
When the visit with family was completed, the manager flew back to the East Coast to enjoy the holidays. She visited her shop, which was closed, to check on things and found everything to be, seemingly, in order. No irate e-mails. No hostile voice mail. No notes from staff. It was all good.
On the night of December 28th, the day the team arrived at the bowl, she got a call from the team’s sports information director. "Where were the Bowl Guides!?"
There she was: The university was closed, it was after hours so the vendor was closed, and another storm had blown through, so she couldn’t drive to her office to check the job jacket for shipping information. So she reached for the phone.
She called the production manager: yes the printed sheets got to the vendor and were delivered back to the shop.
She called her delivery man: No he didn’t take them to the Campus Post Office for shipping. He thought they went out with the daily mail pick up.
She called her mail manager: She remembered seeing them but she didn’t write the shipping ticket and didn’t have a copy.
She called the customer service representative: Yes, she completed the shipping ticket, but she didn’t see the job go out.
She tried to call the media hotel, but media center was closed.
She finally called the manager of the campus post office at home. The manager agreed to meet her the following morning, even though it was a university holiday, to search for the tracking numbers. Needless to say, it was a sleepless night.
This story has a happy ending. The campus post office manager located the tracking numbers and was able to verify that the Bowl Guides had indeed arrived on time. The in-plant manager contacted the hotel, armed with the names of the hotel staff that signed for the job and the tracking numbers, and located the missing Bowl Guides. She called the university’s media staff and arranged for delivery. Life was good again.
To most of you, this probably isn’t an exceptional story. You guys provide this kind of service every day. It’s what in-plants do, and that’s the point.
Do you think that a commercial printer would have gone to as much trouble to find the job? Could you even reach them after hours, and if you did, would they be as tenacious? I think not.
When we are asked why our organizations need in-plants, these stories of extraordinary service tend to slip through the cracks. Being part of the same organization, sharing goals and working for a common purpose—whether it’s a Bowl Guide, a new product announcement, policy support materials, or whatever print your organization uses—leads to loyalty, commitment and knock-your-socks-off service.
And that’s what we do best.
Ray Chambers, CGCM, MBA, has invested over 30 years managing and directing printing plants, copy centers, mail centers and award-winning document management facilities in higher education and government.
Most recently, Chambers served as vice president and chief information officer at Juniata College. Chambers is currently a doctoral candidate studying Higher Education Administration at the Pennsylvania State University (PSU). His research interests include outsourcing in higher education and its impact on support services in higher education and managing support services. He also consults (Chambers Management Group) with leaders in both the public and private sectors to help them understand and improve in-plant printing and document services operations.