Trends in Print and Mail

The Berkshire Company Blog

The World's Slowest Cook

Posted by Mark Fallon on Oct 4, 2022 4:00:00 AM

Growing up, Sunday morning breakfasts were always special. Whoever woke up first – usually my mother – would fry up bacon in a cast iron skillet. Using the grease from the bacon, we would fry up our eggs in the same skillet. (I said the breakfasts were special, not healthy.)

Getting the chance to make breakfast was a rite of passage. One Sunday, I woke up early, and went down to the kitchen before anyone else. Excited, I heated up the skillet, got the bacon out of the refrigerator, and started cooking. A few minutes later, my mother came downstairs, gave me an amused smile, and asked if the coffee was ready. In my rush, I forgot about the coffee. So I lowered the heat on the bacon, and fired up the coffeemaker.

Soon, my father walked in, and reminded me how he liked his eggs cooked. He poured himself a cup of coffee, went into the dining room, and opened the newspaper. I turned up the heat on the bacon, and cooked enough for all my brothers and sisters. Before the bacon was done, I heard my father ask, "Are those eggs done yet?"

When I finally did get to his eggs, I made sure they were done just right. I put the eggs on a plate with some bacon and toast, and proudly placed them in front of my father. He looked up from his paper and said, "You've got to be the slowest cook in the world."

A bit defensive, I said that food cooked at the same speed for everyone. He countered that the diner near the post office cooked faster than me. My father would place his order when he walked in, and his eggs, bacon, toast and homefries would be at his regular seat at the counter before he got his coat off. And that certainly didn't take 10 minutes.

For years, I dismissed my father's story as an exaggeration. Nobody could cook that fast. But one semester in college, I was a third-shift waiter at the local Howard Johnson's restaurant. My second week there, the cook quit. The manager convinced me to take the job. My father was certain that all the customers would starve to death.

I struggled for the first few weeks. It was difficult to keep track of all the orders. And it was difficult to cook the food so it tasted good and looked good. At the end of the shift, I spent another hour finishing my extra duties – preparing eggs and potatoes for the next shift, restocking the supplies, and cleaning the kitchen.

But with some coaching from my manager and the other cooks, I soon developed the techniques needed to be successful. I knew I had the routine down when I was able to cook a customer's breakfast before the waitress had time to write up the order. I was no longer "the world's slowest cook."

Most people never get the opportunity to work in a restaurant. It's one industry where you can be assured of immediate customer feedback on production quality and service. A short-order cook is always managing multiple priorities and filling different roles. There are 5 techniques of a successful cook that apply to many business situations.

Technique #1– Use the right tools for the job.  At the restaurant, I had special cooking forks and spatulas. I also had a four-burner stove, a commercial toaster, and a large griddle with adjustable heat zones. I could keep extra bacon and homefries simmering on the low heat area of the griddle, with plenty of room for eggs and pancakes on the high heat area. Do you and your employees have the right tools to get the job done right and on time, or are you trying to cook bacon and eggs in the same small skillet?

Technique #2 – Clean as you go.  A clean work area improves productivity. I learned to constantly wipe down the cooking areas. Spills were cleaned when they happened. Used pots and pans were moved to the dishwasher as soon as possible. The end-of-the-shift cleaning went quickly because the kitchen was already neat and orderly. What does your work area look like?

Technique #3 – Use downtime for "prep work".  A lull in the orders didn't mean it was time for a break. There were always potatoes to be diced, egg batter to be prepared and supplies to be restocked. We kept a list of tasks posted and checked them off as they were completed. You always knew what needed to be done during a break in the action. Are you using your downtime to prepare for the future?

Technique #4 – Know your regular customers. Every morning, between 5:30 and 6:00, two guys would meet at the restaurant for breakfast. One would order oatmeal with dry wheat toast, and the other would have eggs over easy, bacon, homefries and an English muffin. I learned to watch the parking lot, and start their breakfasts when I saw their cars pull in. Their food would be ready before they reached their seats. Do you know your customers well enough to anticipate their requests?

Technique #5 – Learn from the veteran cooks. My success at the restaurant – and the rest of my life – was possible because of help from more experienced people. The other cooks taught me how a good cook works. If I was willing to learn, they were willing to teach. Do you actively seek help from people with more experience?

The next time you go to your favorite diner, sit at the counter and watch the cook work. And learn.

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Operations Management / Leadership / learning / success / mentorship

Aggressive Address Management is Essential to Mailing Success

Posted by Mark Fallon on Oct 20, 2020 6:00:00 AM

Last month, the United States Postal Service (USPS) filed a notice in the Federal Register of their intent to update address standards for mailers. In addition to aligning the address database product cycle with other mailing products, the proposal calls for more frequent updating of mailing addresses. Effective July 1, 2021, the period for coding addresses for automation and carrier route mailings will be reduced from 90 days to 60 days before the mailing date.

This is a reasonable standard and should be embraced by business mailers.

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United States Postal Service / Operations Management / USPS / U.S. Postal Service / address management

Huddle Up!

Posted by Mark Fallon on Dec 2, 2019 6:30:32 AM

Before every play, a football team forms a huddle to call the next plan of action. In the best teams, players give feedback about what they’re seeing on the field, so the quarterback has the best information possible to make the right decision. When they break, everyone knows the objective, and their role in helping achieve that objective.

In businesses, teams should follow a similar pattern. At the start of each day, or shift, everyone on the team should come together for a briefing. We call this “the daily huddle”. It works for all types of organizations, and is especially helpful for print and mail operations.

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Operations Management / Leadership / mail / print

Workflow Change is Hard and Necessary

Posted by Mark Fallon on Sep 23, 2019 8:54:34 AM

Production inkjet presses. File-managed processing with job and piece level tracking. Seamless acceptance for full-service Intelligent Mail barcode mailings. Artificial intelligence extracting information from inbound paper documents.

Implementing just one of those solutions is a challenge. Taking advantage of the capabilities of those technologies requires transforming digital and production workflows. In most cases, print and mail professionals will need to venture far outside their comfort zones.

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Operations Management / Technology / Strategy / USPS / Digital / U.S. Postal Service / Quality Control / mail

The Threat of Second Guessing

Posted by Mark Fallon on Mar 19, 2019 5:01:00 AM

“True understanding comes from reflecting on your own experience. You are your own best teacher.” - Warren Bennis

Buyer’s remorse. Monday morning quarterbacking. Second-guessing.

Whatever you call it, we’ve all been guilty of wondering “what should I have done differently?” Especially when our plans don’t turn out as we expected. And if we aren’t careful, dwelling on our missteps can prevent us from succeeding in the present. And the future.

Reflection after something goes wrong is a good idea. We should analyze our mistakes, and determine how to prevent them from recurring. A good process is to write down what occurred, and what we were thinking as we made key decisions. In light of the actual outcome, we can uncover flaws in our methods and ensure that we don’t repeat our mistakes.

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Operations Management / Strategy / Leadership

Planning for the Future When Buying for Today

Posted by Mark Fallon on Feb 25, 2019 12:21:23 PM

The technology used in the print and mail industry is changing rapidly. Every year, equipment speed and capability is improving. It’s challenging to buy for the present and keep an eye towards the future. So how do we solve today’s issues and prepare for tomorrow’s needs?

There are 4 key principles to follow when buying and planning:

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Operations Management / Technology / Outsourcing / Strategy / Purchasing

Become a Positive Deviant

Posted by Mark Fallon on Feb 4, 2019 10:37:26 AM

As my clients know, I’m a fan of Dr. Atul Gawande, the surgeon and writer. At one point in almost every engagement, I hand the manager a copy of Dr. Gawande’s The Checklist Manifesto – a book that explains the importance and effectiveness of using checklists. If pilots and doctors can use checklists to prevent errors, so can we who work in the print-mail industry.

I recently read one of Dr. Gawande’s earlier books – Better: A Surgeon's Notes on Performance. He shares his lessons learned as a young intern, the struggles encountered as a volunteer dispensing vaccine in India, and his thoughts on accountability. The decisions we make every day impact ourselves and our professions.

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Operations Management / Technology / Strategy

Trust: The Linchpin to Client-Service Provider Relationships

Posted by Mark Fallon on Jan 7, 2019 5:01:00 AM

As a mailer, you took the right steps to select a service provider for your documents. The Request for Proposals (RFP) process helped you select the vendor with the best services at the best prices. Careful contract negotiations locked in pricing and service levels.

As a service provider, you bring on customers that best match your capabilities. A contract is signed that provides value for the customer, while providing a reasonable profit for the company. The next step is to complete the onboarding process.

Client and provider work together to transition work. Following a project plan with ample testing, documents are reviewed and approved. On schedule, the mail is moved into production.

This is only the beginning of the relationship. Just like a relationship between two people, there must be trust between the two parties. Establishing trust isn’t a one-time event, but an ongoing activity with the customer and the service provider taking active roles.
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Industry Vendors / Operations Management / Outsourcing

Trends in Print and Mail - The Top 10 Posts from 2018

Posted by Mark Fallon on Dec 26, 2018 5:01:00 AM

Just in time to approve the 2019 postal rate increase, the Senate confirmed two members of the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) Board of Governors. One of the new governor’s term expired in December, other nominees didn’t even receive a hearing, so the administration will have to resubmit their names in 2019. Postal Legislation is still mired down in subcommittees of both houses.

After one White House report caused an uproar by recommending privatizing the USPS, the long-delayed Task Force report side-stepped that option while providing few other ideas. The Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC) has taken no action on their own proposed changes to the rate-making process.

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United States Postal Service / Industry Vendors / Operations Management / Outsourcing / U.S. Postal Service / Quality Control

A Failure to Communicate

Posted by Mark Fallon on Oct 3, 2018 5:01:00 AM

Thanks to technology, we have more ways to communicate than ever before. Then why do we still have a problem getting our message across?

The most common problem is choosing the right medium for your message. Instead of capitalizing on technology's ability to foster closer relationships, we use technology to distance ourselves from others: leaving voicemails instead of having a conversation; sending broadcast emails instead of holding a meeting; or posting a notice on a website instead of distributing the information to everyone concerned.

Are you using the wrong medium for your messages?

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Operations Management