Becky in our art department asks – “What mistakes have you made that have turned into opportunities?”
On a typical day at Queensboro we process hundreds of orders and produce thousands of custom embroidered and printed polo shirts, t-shirts, hats, jackets, bags and many other types of merchandise. No two orders are ever the same. Rarely are two items exactly the same. There are literally thousands of mistakes we can make every day. A day doesn’t go by that we don’t make a few. One of our top three goals of the year was to change our mindset when it came to mistakes. Rather than feeling badly when we mess up, we have tried to get everyone in the company excited when a mistake is recognized as errors present our easiest view of opportunities to improve.
When we think about mistakes and learning, the first thing we now ask is “Is this something we do repeatedly, or is this a onetime human error?”
Identifying a mistake that is made repeatedly is a great thing. It is an obvious opportunity to improve a process. Identifying a mistake that is simple human error is also a great thing because it shows where the process is vulnerable to fail with constant repetitions.
One of the things that is interesting about being in business for such a long time (35+ years!) is the new ways we find of making mistakes. For example, we recently took a direct hit from Hurricane Florence and while we were preparing and discussing how to minimize potential damage, no one thought to say “We better make sure that if we lose power and can’t produce, for each day we miss, we add a day to the promised delivery date for orders placed on the web site. We are going to need some time to catch up when we re-open.”
Our promised delivery date is a relatively new tool for us and one we’re still perfecting. The last time we had a plant shut down, not only weren’t we closed long enough to impact our delivery schedule, but we had not yet developed the ability to guarantee customer delivery dates at the time an order was placed.
A couple of opportunities came from this mistake. We came back to work with a big backlog of orders. Plus, more orders were coming in every day as we were just getting into our busy season. Somehow, though, the production team found an extra gear to shift into and produced at levels we had never thought possible. We are now working on sustaining those new production levels and have proven we are capable of much more than we thought.
From this mistake we also got the opportunity to learn by experience that while production lead times are important, transparency and proactive communications are even more important. We have been good at this in the past, but we have not been great. We learned from this mistake that our production calendar must be the primary driver of earning our customers’ trust. If we commit to a delivery date, we need to ship the order perfectly and on time or be prepared to explain what is going on proactively to the customer before the deadline has passed.
Finally, from this mistake we learned that we need to plan better.
While in the past we saw ourselves as a small business at the mercy of local weather conditions, the carelessness of our scheduling mistake showed us we were now playing in the big leagues. This expanded our vision of who we were. We learned that our customers see us as a large national organization and that opened our eyes to see ourselves that way.
We know the next time a Hurricane is predicted, (and there will be a next time) we need to start planning early, not under pressure, and keep asking the question “How bad could this really be – what have we forgotten?’ We need to take our planning more seriously. Our customers expect that of us.
It is impossible to predict when our next business shut down will be. We didn’t do badly during Florence, but next time we will do better. We will not forget about the delivery calendar, we will stay available for our customers, and we will make sure to communicate early and often. We now think about risk in a much more serious way and we are going to be better partners because of it.
In many ways, our scheduling mistake forced us to grow up. That is a little scary, but ultimately a great opportunity!
Coming up next week – What’s the biggest mistake you have made running Queensboro and what did you learn from it?