If you stop and think about that one thing that drives you crazy in your shop, what would that be?

  • Maybe you’ve burned screens using the wrong mesh count. Or worse, youth shirts are on the order and the art is too big. It’s at the press and now you have to have the screens remade.
  • Maybe your company store inventory counts are constantly off. The inventory area looks like a tornado just hit too.
  • Maybe nobody has sent invoices off for over a week now and that’s hurting your cash flow. They were just “too busy” to get to it.
  • Maybe you only have one trained screen-printer and you know you need more. That guy better not call in sick.
  • Maybe you just hired a new employee to solve that problem, but nobody has the time to train them properly.
  • Maybe sales booked a job that you can’t possibly produce on time. Unless of course, there is some overtime. Conveniently, the sales guy can’t help out because his kid has Little League.
  • Alright, maybe it’s more than one thing. Are you keeping a list?

There are only a gazillion things that need improvement. Usually, this is followed by a long list of excuses as to why they can’t be resolved. It doesn’t have to be that way.

Good news!

You can break any change down into four steps. Plan. Do. Study. Act. This is a tried and true concept called “The Deming Cycle,” after W. Edwards Deming, who coined the term. For history buffs, here’s the story:

Deming went to Japan as part of the occupational forces of the allies after World War II. There, he refined and taught this method of continuous improvement and learning, and it serves as the basis for the Total Quality Management mindset that he advocated. It’s what made Toyota and other Japanese companies great.

This is a method you can use in your shop, and it isn’t as complicated as it might sound.

Let’s look at each of the four steps individually and then see how you can use them to launch a world-class continuous improvement program. All you have to do is start.


The PLAN focuses your attention on what you want to change. Can you describe the problem and paint the picture of how the future expectation should look? If you can describe the story of how something should happen, then you can build the engine to get there. Nothing fancy. Just describe what you want to happen.

Then, make a grocery list. What do you need to make it better? Trained employees? New Equipment? A bigger building? A better performing something?

Finally, how will you know if what you change in your continuous improvement plan is a success?

• Can you boil it down to an objective way to measure it? Is your goal to increase throughput by 30%? If so, you’ll need to measure your performance now so you can benchmark your current state.
• Do you want to drop your misprints by half? If so, how many do you have and what’s the most common?
• Do you want screens ready for production the day before they are needed to run? If so, how are they planning their day now? Are they just reacting to what the art department gives them? Do they know when production is going to start the job?

Remember, you can’t manage what you don’t measure.

You have to ask a lot of questions. Interview the people responsible for what you need to change. What are their ideas? What do they think might help the situation? Throw everything into the pot and stir. Talk about it. Then, devise your continuous improvement solution on what you need to make the change possible.

Develop your PLAN. This means writing it out in a few sentences. Be specific. List who is responsible. Write out how you will know you are a success. When will this start? When should you see good results? What are the timing benchmarks along the way? What happens if people don’t want to do it the new way? Will you need training?

Your PLAN should reflect the change that you seek. Because it’s the roadmap that drives your continuous improvement journey.


This one is obvious. It’s action. Except you might want to take small baby steps and test your plan in a controlled environment. Shoot bullets, not cannonballs.

For example, maybe before you switch emulsion, use a new white ink, start barcoding, or buy a new hooping system, you try the new way in a limited run. Test it over a few controlled experiments.

To understand what needs to change, you need to test some theories to see what could happen. Does it work in every circumstance? Will it work for the night shift staff? What happens if there is a language barrier? Here’s where you bring in help if you need it.

Put your PLAN into place and test it. This is in very controlled situations, and not necessarily on customer’s orders. Don’t just try it once and say you tested it. Give the new way plenty of time to breathe. Repetition is the key to learning. Don’t worry so much about if it achieves the goal or not.

Because next up is:


1. Test your results. Is it working?

2. Yes? Awesome! Look at the results. Make sure it can achieve the result you want over time. Slowly broaden the number of test cases to see if the results are consistent.

3. No? Study what happened. Where is the failure or breakdown? It’s fine that something didn’t go according to plan; so don’t sweat the details if there is an error. Just examine everything and describe the problem.

Then, change it. Test your new theory on improvement by changing that variable. Repeat steps 1, 2 & 3 above until it works the way you want.

After that:


Now comes the fun part. You need to standardize the process and train everyone on the new way of doing things.

This means a ton of communication so everyone understands why something was a problem and what you are changing. Discuss the new way. Show them the new results and talk about what it means to change.

There might be some pushback or confusion. That’s okay.

People don’t always like change, and are often scared of it. The old way might even seem “easier” or “better” to them.  People will want to do the old sucky way of doing something as it seems safer. Your goal will be to get them to comprehend why the change is needed and the benefits from moving in another direction.

As a result, it is crucial that everyone is on board with a clear understanding of the new expectations. If you want the change to stick, this is mandatory. You may have to constantly follow up with your team as they progress through learning to do things differently. Some will get it right away, others may struggle.  There may even be that one guy that says you are wrong because he did it differently somewhere else. Know how you are going to handle each reaction beforehand.

Communicate throughout the process regarding your expectations. Share how someone learned how to do it, or gave a great suggestion on adopting the new strategy. You may feel like you are a broken record for a bit, saying the same thing repeatedly. However, that is what’s going to drive the new habit home.

It’s been said that “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” If you feel that you are in a vicious cycle of mistakes, challenges, or bottlenecks, it is up to you to fix them.  That’s the benefit of working a continuous improvement program.  Making things better one thing at a time. Remember, a goal without a plan is just a wish.

If you have a plan, you just need to implement it and make sure it works.

Keep going!