Order Management Best Practices

I know what you are thinking. C’mon already. We know how to process orders. We do them every day you know.

Hey, I get it.

However, I’ll bet you still stumble on some things from time to time right?

Every single time someone from production comes up front and asks, “Hey what’s this mean?” when looking at your work order, there is only one answer.

You didn’t fill out the order correctly.

When someone has a question, that means it could have been answered proactively somehow.

Also, how we build work orders can influence the production schedule, which can impact our on-time rates.

Therefore, let’s take a look at some best practices to use and see how they can help push more work through your shop with less effort.

Best Practices: Start With The Ship Date

The number one chunk of information needed for a great work order is an accurate Ship Date.

Your goal should be to produce the order one business day before that Ship Date. That way, the only thing left to do on the actual date is for the job to leave the building. This could be by UPS, FedEx, USPS, courier, or even with a customer pick up.

See ya’!

That Ship Date best practice rule is very powerful.


The reason is that it can be used as a signal for everyone to coordinate their efforts.

For example, let’s say the order needs to ship on the fifteenth of the month.

That means that it needs to be 100% ready to go on the fourteenth. For production, regardless of the decoration method, the fourteenth is the goal for completing the job, which gives us the green flag on when you need to start running the job.

A business day before that though, the order is staged by the machine it’s going to run. And, guess what, a business day before that the inventory needs to be received, the screens burned or the job digitized if it was for embroidery.

With an accurate Ship Date, all of your scheduling pieces can fall neatly into place. If you do this correctly you can run a very busy shop without ever having to hold a production meeting to talk about what needs to go today.

Best Practices: Inventory Information

This is the number one place for errors on the order.

Yet, people entering the orders commonly don’t stop and double check their work. This can lead to all sorts of challenges down the road.

The most frequent mistake is to somehow get mixed up in the quantity columns when ordering. You needed 123 Smalls, but that 123 went into the Mediums column, and the rest of the sizes cascaded incorrectly from there.

Sound familiar?

Or worse, you have the correct quantities, but are ordering the wrong SKU from the distributor. I think every single person who has ever ordered anything has made that mistake at least once. I know I have.

Best practice? Stop for a second and review the information in your system. I know it sounds hokey, but use your index finger and compare from your customers request to the information in the order. Go back and forth one thing at a time.

It’s only going to take you about a minute. Which is time well spent.

Best Practices: Design Information

As a former art director I can tell you that the absolute most hated set of instructions you can give your creative team is “Do something cool.”

Rather, one best practice is to spend some quality time with the client mapping out what features the designs should have.

What words need to go on the design? How many colors, including the underbase if needed, should this job use if it is a screenprinting order? Is this standard placement on the garment or something funky? What colors are needed or specified? Are there any design elements that they would really like to see?

The more ingredients that you use to pour into the bowl, the better the chance that the cake that comes out will be to your customers liking.

Remember To Use The Ship Date

Remember, we’re using the Ship Date to schedule this art activity and the design needs to be approved by the client several days before the job is to be run in production.

Plan accordingly.

After it’s approved a color mock up needs to be created or the art approval used with the Work Order. This should show exactly what the image should look like to your production team.

On that document, the design should be on the shirt color, show placement directions, and include all of the PMS or thread colors needed to run the job. If this is an embroidery design, print the digitized mock-up showing the center point for placement.

After Production Notes

One thing you might consider is after the job is run, any helpful notes about how the design was printed in production could go back into the system.

Creating a “recipe” for how the shirts were printed or embroidered could help with a future reorder.

For screen-printing, capturing the print order, Pantone colors, flash and cool down stations, squeegee durometer and pressure, and any other significant details could help.

If it is an embroidery order, the tension, run speed, and needle size might help with this as well.

Best Practices: Notes to Production

What do you want your team to know?

For example, let’s say this was a 100 piece, three location, order and you had 6 misprints. Should that job go to shipping, or are you holding the job and ordering 6 more shirts so it can ship complete?

It depends.

If the job was for an event and it had to go 100% complete, if you put those notes in the system and trained your production staff where to look, they would know what the next step should be. (Take the 94 correct shirts, box them up and place them in a purgatory area to hold. Notify customer service to order the 6 replacement shirts. Save the screens. Go to the next job.)

However, if your defect policy states that you are allowed 2% defects by the number of impressions, the 6 misprinted shirts are within that tolerance. The order can go to shipping. It will be updated with the notes accordingly and the invoice adjusted.

And either one of those scenarios can happen without everyone stopping what they are doing and holding up production. You just have to build what you want to happen as a best practice standard and train your staff on what things mean.

Best Practices: Who Owns The Job?

The last tip for this article is a big one.

Who is accountable for the job?

Someone has to own it. And by own it I mean constantly looking at the order’s progress to make sure it is moving through your company correctly without any friction points. This could be a customer service person or a sales person.

Sure, department heads need to be responsible for guiding the jobs through the work week. But they are only managing at their slice of the action.

You need someone proactively looking ahead three or four business days out on a constant basis.

Did that job get approved? In receiving, did those missing larges ever show up? Did someone order metallic gold ink? Are the screens burned?

Look Ahead

I promise if you constantly look ahead to your problems and start resolving them earlier your production schedule will become easier to manage. This starts with accountability with your team. It is a checks and balances idea sure, but you need someone taking the lead.

Proper order management happens with people who care about the jobs going out on time, and with quality.