Get Your WIP Out and Save Time and Money

If you want to improve speed to market, improve sales and save money whilst maintaining or enhancing quality you'll need to eliminate efficiency's enemy - Work In Progress, or WIP for short.

Many people reading this post will be all too familiar with this problem. A set of images comes in, it waits for someone to edit them. When someone finally gets to it (there's so much other work to do) that set has to wait in line behind other images backed up. From then on the lifecycle of the image continues along the workflow chain: an occasional flurry of activity in the retouching, keywording and sales departments, but long periods of inactivity.

Imagine if you were one of those images. Wouldn't all that waiting around to go on the web site/out to clients be a bit frustrating? Actually, you've probably had exactly the same experience as one of your images when you had to wait at a doctor's office, or endured standing in a long line of customers at the bank or the movies.

Book after book has been written about WIP relating to the manufacturing industry. Eliminating WIP is what made Toyota the world's most successful car maker. It can also help you become a more successful photo library manager.

Every time you have images waiting around, not available for purchase, or not keyworded to a standard that makes them easily searchable, you're suffering from a WIP problem.

In the stock photography market delays of weeks or months in getting images keyworded are not uncommon (we work hard to get images back to our clients as soon as we can). With celebrity photography delays of hours can be crucial. In both cases, delay is costing money.

One way to get round that problem is to shove images out the door by doing the minimum of work to keyword and make them look presentable. If Toyota adopted that philosophy they would have been out of business years ago. No matter how cheap or fast a car is to build, no one wants a vehicle with one of the wheels missing or the seats not properly screwed down. Rushing to get a poor-quality, hard-to-find image to market is easily achievable. But all you'll do is move the pile of WIP to your photo library where bad images won't be found or bought.

If you have a commitment to quality you are some way down the track to succeeding, but that's far from the whole story.

Consider this scenario: You have only one keyworder processing your images. He/she has enough hours in the year to do all the work you need - so that's efficient, a savvy use of money, right? That would be true if the images came in a nice steady stream. More likely, photographers send images in batches at unpredictable times so the workflow goes up and down like a yoyo. So either the one keyworder gets swamped (and maybe reduces quality by cutting corners in a desperate attempt to keep up) or you have to hire a second or even a third employee to cope with the busy times. Maybe you call in a guy from sales who can help, albeit inefficiently as keywording isn't his thing.

Whichever way you look at it, you're wasting quite a lot of money and compromising quality at the same time.

We suggest that in looking at your overall workflow you create a spreadsheet that lists all the stages of production from the images point of view. Add up all the time and see how long it takes you to process/keyword/send out an image if you include the time the image sits around waiting. You may be shocked to find it is hours, days, weeks or even months. In the celebrity business you might also find that if photographers sent their image in quicker you'd have way more time to edit and keyword. However it shakes down, you'll be getting a truer picture of your production line than you've ever had before.

When it comes to archive images, it might be years before you get images properly to market with worthwhile keywording and captioning. All time in which sales could have been made, but weren't.

In the international celebrity picture market we've heard of a number of companies who are losing out on sales because they keep office hours in only one time zone. Crucial images are therefore sent out looking awful, with no keywords, or not dealt with at all until staff turn up the following day.

A number of businesses exist to help with consultancy services in this areag. Any book about Toyota, or Lean 6 Sigma (the jargon term for the toyota-style efficiency techniques) is also useful.