You might think that by now, after years of tough economic times, all possible extra expense has been trimmed from document operations workflows. But it is rare that I visit an operation where I don't observe some opportunities to lower costs, reduce waste, improve productivity, or raise quality. There is always something.

How can that be? Operations managers have already cut the staff to the bone, eliminated travel and training, re-negotiated service contracts, and done everything else they could think of to save money. What could they have missed?

The answer is different in every shop. Sometimes there are savings to be had in materials, equipment, or labor. Sometimes there are ways to decrease instances of damaged documents and reprints, or chances to reduce postage expenses.

These are just a few examples of cost saving opportunities that may be present, but not exploited. Often, improvement opportunities are not pursued for one of three reasons:

The people working in the operation every day are too close. They tend to miss items because it's almost impossible for them to consider approaches that are different from standard procedures that have developed over the years. And because of staff cuts, the people who are left are fully occupied just getting the daily work done. There isn't time for workflow analysis, much less implementation of corrective action.

There are tools or best practices in use by other organizations that could apply, but the document operations team may not be aware of alternative approaches. This condition has gotten worse in recent years. Companies used to send employees to conferences and trade shows where they were exposed to new hardware and software, networked with peers from other companies, and had a chance to learn about innovative solutions. Today this portal to the outside world is shut for many document professionals.

Operations people feel powerless. They may see opportunities to improve but it requires cooperation and buy-in from several departments. Finding time to develop the relationships with those other areas of the company can be a problem. The good news is there are many resources available that can provide advice, guidance, and ideas for making improvements in document operations. You are reading one of them right now. Mailing Systems Technology does a great job at making information available through the magazine, webinars, videos, and newsletters. Various groups and associations are also creating and distributing helpful resources. There's a lot of information out there.

Finding the time to consume the content is an issue for us all. But the portability of tablets, phones, and notebook computers along with Wi-Fi internet connections makes it easier to take advantage of those small slices of time when they do become available. One effective tactic for staying up to date is setting aside a certain time each week when disruption is unlikely and faithfully use that time to read material or download a recorded webinar on a topic that applies to situations in the workplace. I actually have had to set a meeting in Outlook and then force myself NOT to ignore the reminder when it comes up!

For a fresh perspective, try looking at document operations workflows from the viewpoint of someone that knows nothing of how things are normally done. If it helps, grab someone who has never spent time in document operations and explain the workflow processes to them, encouraging them to ask questions. I've used that tactic many times to unlock my brain that was rigidly making assumptions and conclusions that turned out to be inaccurate.

There are still places in document operations to save money. I can almost guarantee it. Finding those opportunities in the reality of today's environment is going to take different approaches than what has worked in the past.

Mike Porter is an expert in Print and Mail operations and President of Print/Mail Consultants. For more helpful tips, visit and sign up for their free newsletter for document operations, Practical Stuff. Or look for the book "Take this Job and Stuff It! - A Practical Guide for Document Operations Managers" in the Mailing Systems Technology online store.