Print Manager
December 2008
Let a dashboard gauge your goals
Keep an eye on all aspects of your shop
If you’re like most owner/operators you know your accounting department can produce more reports than you know what to do with. Seemingly, they have reports for everything and they throw them at you with some inkling that you should know what to garner from each detailed piece of information. As an accountant, I know that the information is important and relevant, but who has time to dig through report after report to find the information you need?
Once you’ve done your strategic planning and developed your key metrics and critical success factors, you’ve got to make sure that you’re getting the numbers that’ll show you whether you’re meeting your goals or not. Try the dashboard approach.
What is a dashboard?
The dashboard approach to tracking numbers is similar to the dashboard on your car. On your car you have a speedometer, an odometer, a fuel gauge, oil gauge, and temperature gauge. Some of the newer cars have a GPS screen and a monitor that lets you know where you’re going. They’re all  fairly handy things and make it possible for you to know the status of your car without getting out and opening the hood to see if there’s oil in the engine or coolant in the radiator.
What are some of the dials?
The dials on your car’s dashboard should give you some good indicators of what’s going on without getting into the myriad details of running your car. The same should be true with the reports you receive in your office. You should be able to tell what’s going on in accounting, invoicing, sales, and production, all by glancing at the dashboard.
One example of a dashboard that’s being used in a $5 million sheetfed operation has the following dials:
  • Sales booked by week, month-to-date, year-to-date
  • Sales booked vs. budget by week, month-to-date, year-to-date
  • Sales booked last year by week, month-to-date, year-to-date
  • Sales billed month-to-date
  • Gross margin month-to-date  
  • Sales backlog, month-to-date
  • Bank balance
  • Line of credit available
  • Cash in last week
  • Cash out this week
  • Current cash commitments
  • Receivables: total under 30 days, 31 to 60 days, 61 to 90 days, over 90 days 
  • Payables: total under 30 days, 31 to 60 days, 61 to 90 days, over 90 days.
The dashboard also shows the following information broken down by department (prepress, press, and bindery) for the week, hours available, hours booked, hours used, hours billed, productivity ratio, overtime hours used last week, and all spoilage and re-work.
While the information in the example is issued each week on Monday, the print firm is working on having it fed to management’s desktops live on a daily basis. 
Another firm, a larger sheetfed operation approaching $50 million, works with a dashboard that tracks the following items:
  • Sales
  • Variable costs of manufacturing
  • Billing cycle (from when the job closes to invoice). Billing cycle time was critical to this firm and managers developed MIS that told them how long it took the CSR to close a docket, how long it was in pricing and how long sales kept it before sending it back to invoicing. (This firm reduced its billing cycle time from 25 days down to 13 days) 
  • Accounts receivable days outstanding
  • Customer survey results
  • Market share
In both examples, management is tying the reporting into its critical success factors (CSFs) and getting targeted reports on the goal vs. actual results on a very timely basis. You should be getting the same type of reports so you can tell at a glance how your company is doing.

What are the benefits?
In the quality world there’s a saying: “If you don’t measure it, you can’t improve it.” If you take this principle to heart and have a dashboard report for the company, as well as key departments, it will push each of them to improve their analysis and internal reporting regarding efficiency, cost, and customer service. One of the most important results from this is “benchmarking internally against yourself”. With this type of continual process improvement, your organization will see better results.
Getting started
If you’re not reporting key performance benchmarks, start out on a small scale. Reduce it to the essentials and then build on that. Just get the reports up and running and make sure that you and your managers have data to use in running your business. 
Lorne Patterson saw managing director of Bowne's financiak printing operations across Canada. Since 2006, he has been a consulant to the printing industry. He lives in Vancouver, but heads to his second home in Puerto Vallarta whenever he can. Reach him at
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