The Secret of Sprints

One of the deepest held productivity hacks that software developers have is working in time blocks called Sprints. These are chunks of time where the folks assigned to the task focus their effort on solving something.

It could be the start of a new product. Maybe something isn’t working like it should. Often, a customer might suggest a fantastic idea and there has to be work involved to implement it.

Sprints can be any length of time you designate. Common time periods are often two or four-week intervals.

The goal of this article is to outline how you can use this methodology to solve any challenge you are facing in your shop. It’s all about the planning, development, execution and then the recap or learning of what happened.

Let’s take a look.

Planning

The planning stage is the secret sauce to making a Sprint effective. Owners or managers can’t just say, “Hey, we’re going to solve this problem in two weeks…Go!”

Remember the “P” rule. “Proper Planning Produces Peak Performance.”

The effort and thinking you spend on planning your Sprint will kickstart your success. To illustrate this example, let’s tackle a subject in a shop and walk the challenge all the way through to completion.

For our article example, let’s say Shop XYZ wants to reduce the turn time from an average of 7 – 10 business days to an average of 5 – 7 business days. 

I picked this as an example because that is a reality that a lot of shops are struggling with currently.

First Step – The Planning Meeting

The owner of Shop XYZ can’t just shoot a lightning bolt from Mt. Olympus like Zeus and just declare the new turntime. That doesn’t work, and will only get mixed results as the people involved in the process are not included in the solution.

The proper way to handle this is to get the key people from each department involved. The shop schedules a meeting with all of the stakeholders in the process. 

You want to hear their ideas. Ask about their pain points. This discovery conversation may take some time too. Shop XYZ is prepared for a lengthy discussion as the challenge is a critical one that touches a lot of departments.

The more time they spend in this meeting discussing and hashing through the problems, the easier they will find solving the challenge in the days to come. 

Everyone needs to be on the same page.

No Finger Pointing

This only happens with an open and honest discussion. No finger pointing allowed.

So for our article example for reducing the turntimes, the owner gathers the salespeople, the customer service staff, and the department heads for art, receiving, screenroom, production, and shipping. Because these are key people with a lot of “normal” work to do, this is a planned event held on the slowest day of the week. The shop allocates two hours for the meeting, and they start at 10:00 am. At noon, they bring in lunch so they can keep going.

The first part of the meeting is spent defining the problem they want to solve. Here, it’s dropping the turntimes for the shop to be more competitive. 

Using a whiteboard, every single item that affects the turntime for the shop is listed from each department. As this meeting was planned, each stakeholder comes armed with ideas and challenges to discuss.

The whiteboard quickly fills up with items. Everyone contributes, and as it is a brainstorming session there aren’t any “wrong” answers. Then, the group tries to see if there are any items on the whiteboard that can be combined if they solved them or did something different.

Find the Top Ten

Discussing the merits of each, the group identifies the top ten things that they could do to reduce their turntimes for the shop. After a short discussion on each, the group prioritizes this list and the agreed upon idea is set for reducing the turntime. 

For our example, let’s say it was the combination of making sure the inventory purchases happen before the vendor cut off, and only using apparel blanks that can be sourced with a one-day ground shipment from that vendor. 

By limiting the SKU’s, the shop will have more apparel arrive in receiving the day after order entry. The idea being that for the majority of orders that take the longest, the challenge starts with getting the shirts delivered.

At the conclusion of the planning meeting, the goal is to state the action in one sentence so it is crystal clear to everyone involved.

Development

Here’s where the rubber meets the road. Developing the idea means that for each group at Shop XYZ, they have to determine what action has to take place in order to achieve the goal.

Remember, in our example, the shop targeted that the number one prioritized solution for them to try to reduce the turntimes was how they were managing the inventory. 

After all, you can’t decorate a shirt if it isn’t in the building.

However, that might not help the art department do their work faster. What will happen in production when suddenly ten business days of work is compressed into five?

That’s the reason why the Sprint is in a limited cycle. You do the best you can, and if you resolve the issue that’s fantastic. What you learn along the way is going to have a huge impact on the next Sprint cycle.

Are You Learning?

Each stakeholder in the process has to work on their part of the challenge. This is an action-oriented process.

For each area, document what you need to do, the actions taken and the results that happen.

Remember, the Sprint you are working on is only a starting point for the change. It may or may not completely solve the challenge. 

If you look at it as more of a journey than a destination, you’ll have more success.

Execution

This is the day-to-day part of the process. For Shop XYZ that wants to limit the SKU’s, what happens during the week when a customer wants an apparel blank that is not in scope? Do they hold to the process, or extend the turntime? What challenges popped up during the work?

Also, let’s say in our example that limiting the available SKU’s and vendors is effective. For the most part, the goods are ordered and they show up the next day.

However, that produces a problem in Receiving as they can’t check in and count everything on that day. There is too much for them to handle. This produces an unexpected challenge.

That’s ok and even expected. 

Executing on the idea is going to bring up challenges like this. That’s normal. How the challenge is tackled is worth noting.

Is the plan abandoned? Maybe something else needs to be strengthened? In this case, adding another worker to the receiving team in the afternoons to help with the counts.

Recap

So for our example, let’s say the Sprint was scheduled for two weeks. After the time is up, the group gathers all of their information and meets again to honestly discuss the results.

(Remember, no finger pointing!)

Prior to the meeting, one person sends out a short recap and stats of what took place. At the top is the Sprint mission sentence that was agreed on by the group.

For Shop XYZ, in the ten business day period (two weeks), 127 orders were put into the system. Of those, 118 met the criteria for the plan and were ordered and delivered next day ground. 

For the 9 that didn’t, 2 were for orders that had to be placed with vendors outside of the set parameters for the inventory. The other 7 had inventory challenges due to missing sizes or colors and had to come in from the vendor’s warehouses in other locations.

Success!

The group acknowledges that this was a success.

However, this did not completely solve their challenge as it was determined that of the 127 orders, only 88 of them shipped in that new seven business day max window. 

There were 39 orders that were shipped later than that. 25 of those were due to the timing of the art approvals. 

The other 14 were due to challenges getting the jobs scheduled on a press and produced as the equipment was over capacity. They just couldn’t get it handled in time.

Still, that means that 69% of their production was handled within the new timeframe. 

But along the way, they learned many valuable lessons. During the next two-week Sprint planning session, the group uses those hard-learned lessons to identify and vote on the next priority to work on. This time, it will be to push the art department approval process for faster turn times on approval.

And with that, the Sprint journey keeps on cycling. This is how you work a continuous improvement process.

 

“Intellectuals solve problems, geniuses prevent them.” – Albert Einstein

“Most people spend more time and energy going around problems than trying to solve them.” – Henry Ford

“There are no problems that we cannot solve together, and very few we can solve ourselves.” – Lyndon B. Johnson

 

Production Manager Tool

From day one, we’ve been devoted to making InkSoft the most useful tool for printing and customization professionals across the industry. While thousands of users are growing their businesses with InkSoft Stores and the Design Studio, we know we still have a lot of work to do to help print shops run more efficiently.

The next big step is a production management tool. We want to bring InkSoft full circle by providing a powerful way for you to streamline production and communication, ultimately boosting profitability and reducing costly mistakes. Not to mention, solving the challenges outlined in this article.