Are We Experiencing a "Who Moved My Cheese" Moment?

Embrace Change and Accelerate Your Response By Answering Three Questions

  • Howie Fenton
  • |
  • October 07, 2022

The book Who Moved My Cheese was a New York Times bestseller with a clever message about the importance of embracing change. Written by Spencer Johnson in 1998, it allowed readers to see themselves in the characters in the book and motivated them to consider changing their ability to change. The more we learn about the lasting consequences of the pandemic, the more I am reminded of this book. Many parts of the printing and in-plant industry are changing. At first, these are seemingly unrelated until a few people used these changes to suggest a resurgence of the outsourcing management trend, which should motivate and accelerate the importance of embracing change. This is the first in a three-part series about evaluating your current situation and accelerating your preparation for next year. 

Who Moved My Cheese was a clever little book about four mice-like characters in a maze.  Most people could identify with one of the mice. The cheese is a metaphor for what we want in life, such as a job, a relationship, possessions, health, etc. Many people, including myself, see the cheese as the fruit of our labor and discuss how different people respond when someone moves your work opportunities. Do you continue to look in the same place, or have you started to look around and change? 

Change is not new in the printing industry. In some ways, it has been constant, but at a slow or gradual pace. The impact of the pandemic was not gradual, it was abrupt. One day everybody was working. The next day all nonessential people went home, and the challenges created for in-plants were immediate. Several things changed quickly; companies sent staff home, there were production staff layoffs and early retirements, a shortage of paper, a lack of qualified staff, and last but perhaps most devasting is the decline in volume that, for many, remains. According to WhatTheyThink data about monthly printing shipments (published in September 2022), the approximate average print shipments declined from about $7.2 B/month in 2020 to about $6.7B/month in 2022 (year to date). 

Prepare to Address the Re-emerging Outsourcing Threat

At the pace of our normal changes, those changes alone would not be a threat, but there is also evidence that the outsourcing trend is growing. As described in a recent article in In-Plant Impressions entitled Battling an Emerging Outsourcing Trend, there are indications that the outsourcing management trend may be returning. All it takes is a few people planting the seeds of the benefits of outsourcing to start a management trend. Outsourcing companies have started to circle and publish articles such as the 2022 Guide to Print and Mail Outsourcing and Benefits of Outsourcing Printing Projects. I also interviewed a representative from Outsource Consultants, a company that specializes in outsourcing, who said that there has been an increase in interest in outsourcing since the beginning of pandemic and believes that this interest is just the tip of the iceberg. To see a more detailed list, simply search online using the keywords “outsourced printing and mailing services.” 

Unfortunately, the combination of all these changes and the potential risk of an outsourcing management trend has eliminated the luxury of taking your time; you need to act quickly. The next few months could provide the perfect opportunity to plan and position your in-plant to take action. To help in this process, consider these three questions: 

  1. Where should you be headed regarding services, staff, software, equipment, etc.?  
  2. What resources do you need to support your vision? 
  3. How are you going to get there? 

A recent NAPCO white paper summarized the challenges and options in the graphic below. 

Source: Enhancing the In-Plant Service Offering, A NAPCO Study and White Paper, Sponsored by Canon USA

Where to Start – Evaluate Your Current State 

Process improvement strategies such as Lean and Six Sigma start with a current analysis that identifies the current state of business, processes, and workflows. Perhaps most important to a manufacturing process such as printing is understanding what products and services are growing or shrinking. For example, are the offset or digitally printed pages growing or shrinking? What about the large format, mailing, fulfillment, warehousing, and all other products?   

Once you understand your current state, you can create a future state, which could include new equipment, software, products and services and benchmark or compare your performance to other in-plants. According to a NAPCO study, “Trends and Services in the In-plant Industry,” published in June, based on 138 in-plants, about two-thirds (63%) of in-plants are printing fewer pages than before the pandemic. While many of the transactional and larger in-plants have achieved comparable volumes, most of the smaller in-plants we work with are experiencing declines of 15%-25%. 

According to the NAPCO study, some in-plants fared well during the pandemic because of the growth of wide format printing (increasing 5% in-plant adoption in the last two years), mailing and fulfillment (up 6% in the last two years), and contour cutting (up 9% in the last two years). You, too, may have survived based on these applications, but you have to ask yourself if you expect the same trends to continue. All three of these trends could be the result of COVID and its impact on signage and kitting materials sent to staff working at home. 

Other opportunities include scanning documents for electronic access, copier fleet management, installing wide format signage, warehousing/fulfillment, adding embellishments, garment printing, and promotional product sales. 

Another part of your current state analysis would be to evaluate and benchmark your productivity. Are you as productive as other in-plants or commercial printers? If you are not, then your future state would include hardware, software, training, or new staff. As we have discussed in the last few blogs, there is evidence that software and hardware automation may be more beneficial than hiring staff. This is especially true for software automation such as Web to Print (WebCRD), prepress automation (ReadyPrint), and hardware automation such as in-line finishing equipment. 

Start Planning Now to Get your “Cheese” 

Intuitively we know that change is a constant. However, until the pandemic, technology changes have been gradual and did not threaten the in-plant business model. In comparison, the changes from the pandemic have been fast, and they may threaten in-plant businesses. These changes are comparable to the metaphor of someone “moving the cheese.” If you see that these changes are impacting your business, this is the perfect time to start the planning process for next year to help you minimize those threats and maximize your opportunities for the future. You should start your planning with a current state and future state analysis; if you don’t know how to conduct this analysis, contact me or RSA. 

In the next blog, we will discuss question number two- what resources do you need to support your vision.

Help for Conducting Your Current State and Future State Analysis

Now is the time to start your planning with a current state and future state analysis; if you don’t know how to conduct this analysis, contact me or RSA. 

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About the Author

Howie Fenton

Howie Fenton is an independent consultant and trusted advisor to in-plant printers. He recommends equipment, best practices and workflow automation tools to streamline operations. To learn more about measuring performance, benchmarking to leaders, and improving your value e-mail

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