How is your quality control these days? Many shops rely on manual methods to make sure the work they produce meets a certain standard for image quality, content, finishing, and accuracy. While customer expectations for automated quality control continue to become more demanding, some document applications can still be processed using tried and true manual methods. Visual inspection, proofreading, and logging can get you by in some circumstances - if the practices are faithfully followed.

Getting the staff to perform quality procedures on every job over the long haul is challenging. I've seen checklists initialed by supervisors or operators where it became clear (in hindsight) that no actual inspections were done. Errors slipped through the shop and made it into the mail. Without periodic management reinforcement, initialing the checklist can become the important part of the process - instead of performing the actual quality control procedures that the initials are supposed to confirm.

The list of blunders below may seem ridiculous. But I've seen all these types of errors occur. Sometimes the mistakes are caught, sometimes not:

· Printing upside down or on the wrong side of the paper
· Using the wrong pre-printed shell
· Characters missing or mis-mapped in text or barcodes
· Overflow print resulting in extra pages
· Placeholders instead of variable data (Dear InsertCustomerNameHere)
· Addresses not showing through window envelopes
· Double-stuffed envelopes causing a shortfall in the count of finished pieces
· Failure to include inserts or return envelopes
· Spelling and grammar errors

In almost every case, quality control procedures were set up in advance to catch these kinds of obvious errors. They just weren't followed. As you might imagine, the expense and embarrassment that results from mistakes like these can damage the reputation of a document print and mail operation.

Shops that rely upon the eyes and brains of humans to ensure quality and accuracy need to recognize the inherent weakness of manual processes. It is necessary to regularly reinforce the use of quality control procedures on every job. Even if there are no problems 99% of the time, letting the rare mistake slip through can have severe consequences. Periodic review of quality control procedures, recurring training, and perhaps even testing the staff with intentionally erroneous items are all low-cost preventative measures. Managers can utilize these tactics to keep the quality of their product at levels that are necessary to succeed in the print and mail business today.

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 his book "Take this Job and Stuff It! - A Practical Guide for Document Operations Managers" in the Mailing Systems Technology online store.