While print is certainly not dead, it is no secret that the market is a lot more competitive than it used to be. Any and all modern printing companies have relatively similar technologies at their disposal, so when it comes to success the secret lies more in a company's business model and less in the product than ever before. This is not to say that product doesn't matter, rather that the relative ease with which any business can purchase and implement the latest technology puts print production quality on a generally level playing field across the board.

So, how does a company manage to remain competitive in this technologically-equal world? Print Week writer Simon Creasey believes that the print industry has lagged behind other manufacturing sectors in their move to implement leaner and more efficient process improvement methods.

British Printing Industries Federation chief executive Charles Jarrold echoed this concern and urged readers from the print industry looking for a competitive edge to invest their time into incremental improvements.

"In an industry where we all use the same equipment, if you can improve your processes even by a few percent each year it's very difficult for your competitors to copy because it's incremental by its nature," said Jarrold, Creasey reported.

Business improvement methodologies for the print industry
There are a sizeable amount of systems that can work to improve process methods within any given company. All of these processes can, in one way or another, be applied to the world of print. However, there are four key systems that, according to Creasey, are particularly applicable to the print industry. For the sake of brevity, we have narrowed the highlight reel down to the top two picks. 

1. Key performance indicators (KPI)
You would be hard-pressed to find a successful business that does not use KPIs in one way or another. However, just because the practice of KPIs is widespread does not mean that all businesses are using it correctly. In an interview with Matthew Peacock, a lean business process improvement coach, Creasey learned that it is very easy for companies to choose incorrect KPIs and as a result lead their business in the wrong direction.

In an article for Forbes, Walter Rogers stressed the importance of understanding how to identify a good KPI. Rogers broke it down by simply isolating each word into a simple question. Key: Is your KPI key to the success of your organization? Performance: Can your KPI be clearly measured and influenced by your staff? And indicators: Does your KPI provide suggestive information about future outcomes?

Peacock set out a good example of a useful KPI for the print industry. He usually suggests that his print clients set out to measure how effectively they are delivering products on time.

"Most printers think they're pretty good at getting jobs out on time, but whenever you put a KPI measure in place most of them find out that they're actually pretty poor and there is plenty of room for improvement," said Peacock.

Rogers sees great utility in the use of KPIs within any company because when used correctly they lead to an overall better execution. When leaders properly push employees towards the right KPIs it often results in skill improvement across the board. Rogers also noted that KPIs can help your employees understand what is expected of them and thus create generally better office communication. Having clearly defined KPIs makes it evident to your sales team specifically where they should be focusing their efforts.

Creasey cited the potential for missed targets via choosing the wrong KPIs as the only major con of this system.

2. The lean business model
Leaning is arguably one of the most efficient things you can do for your company long-term. The process of leaning is defined as a strategy that aims to eliminate waste in business processes while still upholding customer satisfaction. Perhaps the most important aspect of lean comes from the fact that it addresses company discrepancies via the people on the ground. This means that instead of hiring outside help to figure out where your business could trim around the edges, the pre-existing staff is encouraged to self-regulate and inspire a cycle of continuous improvement.

This model of constant refinement can be implemented via monthly reviews, wrote Inc. contributor Sabrina Parsons. Parsons stressed that just because you have implemented a lean business model does not mean you can pat yourself on the back and walk away. Once lean practices have been identified leaders and staff members should incrementally review how on or off target departments within the business are with implementing cuts and then diagnose problems or successes.

Peter Baumgartner of the Business Collective advised companies to be ruthless when it comes to efficiently enacting a lean business model. Lean is a long-term strategy that stretches across every department in a business. As such, everything and everyone should be analyzed equally for efficiency and replaced when necessary.

By implementing either of these process improvement strategies your print company can work to trim excess waste and as a result make the organization a more competitive and efficient business overall.