University of Washington: Keen on Lean

UW Creative Communications’ Senior Management Team stands with the iconic W on the University of Washington’s campus. From left: Patrick McNelly, manager, Copy Services; Steven Roberts, manager, Mailing Services; Heather Prenevost, manager, Client and Creative Services; Frank Davis, director; Michele Mancuso, production manager, Printing Services; 
Jim Heneghan, Manager, Finance & Administration. 
(Not pictured: Katy Folk-Way, associate director.)

Director Frank Davis

Wide-format printing has been an area of growth for the in-plant. Here, Peggy McKinley, Copy Center supervisor, prints a poster on the HP Designjet Z5100.

Prepress Supervisor Ken Beres leads the Production Lean Team meeting in a discussion of their cross-training goals. By slimming down via Lean process-improvement practices, the in-plant has greatly improved its operation.

Ken Dirks, digital press operator, checks the quality of the sheets being printed on the Xerox iGen3.

Operator Charlee Hicks runs a Kodak Digimaster EX110 in the new Copy Services Production Center.

Lean team meeting

One Lean recommendation led to the use of the in-plant’s hybrid mail trucks for advertising.

Faced with a deficit just two years ago, the University of Washington’s in-plant has turned its financial situation around and repositioned itself for success by implementing Lean production practices.

Workplace meetings get little respect in pop culture. Depicted as breeding grounds for interminable incompetence and time-wasting worthlessness, meetings are the punch line of jokes and regular victims of stereotypes, satire and snide remarks.

As the old one-liner goes, “We are going to continue having these meetings every day, until we find out why no work is getting done.”

Funny? Sure. But universally true?

Not by a long shot, attests Frank Davis, director of UW Creative Communications, the University of Washington’s in-plant. Team meetings have been an integral part of the in-plant’s recent implementation of Lean production practices, and critical to its rapid financial turnaround from a $200,000 deficit to a $300,000 profit—a half-a-million-dollar swing from one fiscal year to the next.

The University of Washington has more than 42,000 students and over 21,000 employees in three locations, including its main campus in Seattle. Staffed with 91 full-time employees, Creative Communications has a $10.6 million annual self-sustaining operating budget (for print, copy, design and Web), as well as a $1.7 million funded mailing budget and a $2 million postage budget.

A decade ago, though, the in-plant (then called Publication Services) was even larger, with about 160 employees. It topped IPG‘s Top 50 list of the largest university in-plants in 2004. In 2008, the unit changed its name to Creative Communications to reflect more accurately the growth of its offerings beyond print to include consulting, design, Web and mail services.

Financial Stress

Yet, even as the in-plant expanded its digital, Web-based and ancillary services and capabilities, overall business was contracting.

“Our previous core business—traditional printing—was really suffering,” Davis acknowledges, noting that offset printing revenues had dropped 40 percent over five years. The operation was also forced to cut facilities (such as campus copy centers from 12 to five), equipment and employees. Figures calculated for the 2009-2010 fiscal year had revealed that Creative Communications was $200,000 in the red.

Related story: CTP, iGen3 Come to University of Washington

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