Saturday, January 17, 2009

Some things I learned from engineers (that printshop folks might find useful)

Yes, this photo of an engineer is a bit harsh, but not as harsh as the culture shock I had moving from a prepress/printshop to Creo in 1997. Although I had worked with engineers before - as a graphic designer promoting their wares (telecommunications systems, side-looking airborne radar imaging systems, and paper mill optimizing systems) the experience did not really prepare me for working with them in the development and marketing of graphic arts systems - a subject much closer to my heart. Their attitude towards printers was that if the printer got it right it was due to their skills in art of printing. But if they knew why they got it right - that was the science of printing. So, one of my main responsibilities at Creo was to bridge the art and science of printing on behalf of its customers and prospects as a way to make them and Creo more successful.

Here are some things that I learned from working with those engineers that printshop folks might find useful.

1) Record it. Engineers invariably make notes in their daybooks during meetings or whenever they have an idea. They don't trust memory. However mundane the discussion, they record it. If only printshop employees were as diligent in making notes of discoveries, errors, tricks, etc.. They might avoid making the same mistake twice. The knowledge gained by one could be shared and benefit all.

2) Processes can be "deterministic." There is no voodoo or black art. One makes a certain input, therefore one can expect a certain output. If the output is not what one expected - it is not "sunspots" that are the problem. One can figure out what caused the problem if one applies:

3) Basic High School Science. The reason we were forced to take science in high school was to understand the scientific method because our teachers knew that we could use it in our lives to help answer questions that had not yet been thought of. Basically it is a way to objectively ask and resolve unknowns by making observations and doing experiments. The steps of the scientific method are to:
a) Ask a question
b) Do background research
c) Construct a hypothesis
d) Test the hypothesis by doing an experiment. It is important the experiment to be a fair test which occurs when only one factor (variable) changes and that "apples" are indeed compared to "apples"
e) Analyze the data and draw a conclusion
f) Communicate the results

4) Use the right words correctly. If you hear a press operator say "blue" when they mean "cyan" you have a problem. Most screw-ups, misunderstandings, and difficulties in solving problems result from sloppy and/or inappropriate word usage.

5) Read what is written. Do not read into what is written.

6) Hear what is said. Do not read into what is said.

7) If you don't know or understand something that's OK. Say so and get clarification.

8) If you don't know the answer don't offer one.

9) Just because it is "common knowledge" or "obvious" or what "everyone says" or what some "authority states" does not make it so.

10) Think. Take the time. Chart out the issue. Drill down to the core problem. Don't assume.

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