Have you ever made a purchase and immediately wished you had gone for a bigger or faster version with more features? It’s a universally recurring theme. We just upgraded to a new phone system and within one day we were asking ourselves why we didn’t get or weren’t offered a phone with slightly more capabilities. With bindery equipment purchases, this behavior usually is a result of underestimating either the actual volume of work or the time and effort required to complete it.
Why does this happen and what can we do to avoid it? The reasons it happens can typically be traced to a failure of communication, planning, implementation, operation or any of dozens of other variables. Many of these reasons are tied to human emotions which make it especially hard to pinpoint and correct. If we look at seven common reasons why we underestimate our real needs, then perhaps we can prevent miscalculations.
1) According various articles on Wikipedia, the Planning Fallacy is a “tendency for people and organizations to underestimate how long they will need to complete a task, even when they have experience of similar tasks over-running.” In our own experience as a vendor of the CreaseStream Mini line of finishing machinery, it’s common to be asked within months if a trade-in program is available for a faster machine.
According to various studies, we tend to underestimate performance predictions about our own tasks but overestimate predictions about other’s performance.
Another aspect of this fallacy is that in a larger company, the person responsible for planning and recommending equipment needs to get financial approval and has a vested interested in getting the project approved (it will make his or her life easier.) In these cases, it’s easy to see why the planner would tend to underestimate the efforts required and thus underestimate the equipment required. The logic is that it’s better to have a good chance at getting some equipment than a slim chance at getting the right equipment.
The antidote is to involve other people and to focus on real world experience and production history. Don’t rely solely on your own judgment and experience.
2) Another common problem is the failure to ask, "What are we REALLY trying to achieve?" Are we trying to reduce costs? Are we trying to improve turnaround time? Are we trying to get a better quality result such as eliminating fiber cracking? Are we doing this to grow the business or simply to keep one demanding customer happy? If so, the risk of investing in new equipment might be too high for the one customer. Alternatively, if you are trying to keep one customer happy and get new business, the investment might make perfect sense.
Drill down to the real reasons. Keep asking questions until you end up with answers that support your company's mission.
3) Related to the previous problem is the failure to actually define requirements, or worse, a complete lack of planning altogether. It’s easier to guesstimate rather than research actual production history. Putting a pencil to paper will help the requirements start to gel.
If you are buying post-press equipment, the list of requirements will include sizes and weights of papers. It will include the processes you wish to perform such as creasing, perforating, ink jetting, trimming, folding, etc. It will cover turnaround times you expect, staffing, and budget.
4) Big ticket items such as presses or stitching and binding lines are almost always carefully planned. Small ticket items are often neglected or intentionally ignored in planning. The problem, especially in bindery work, is that a miscalculation in the smallest operation can create a bottleneck right from the start. If dedicated manpower isn’t available or if a certain piece of bindery equipment isn’t fast enough, it can clog up the whole print finishing operation.
5) The wrong people make the wrong decisions. “My boss told me to buy this machine because his friend has one in his shop.” Related to this is the fact that some people simply never ask for advice from anyone. It’s an easy sale, but it leads to disappointment if the machine or tool isn’t really right for the job. A few minutes of dialogue with vendors and colleagues can fix this.
6) Buyers choose the wrong size to save money. A smaller machine is usually less money than its larger counterpart. A company might buy a folding machine that’s 23” wide, but it has presses that handle 26 x 40” sheets. I guarantee that within weeks they’ll be wishing they had opted for a 26” machine (or better.)
7) Failing to have a Plan B is also called the Optimism Bias. We believe we are less at risk of having a negative event than others. It’s why people smoke in the face of statistics indicating they will likely get lung cancer. What are we going to do if we get five times the work we expected? What will we do if our regular equipment operator is tied up on other machines for days at a time?
Things go wrong, at the worst possible moment. It’s good to at least talk about an alternate plan of action. Wing walkers have a good rule that applies here: “Don’t let go of something until you have a hold of something else!”
Our list could go on and on because we are human. That’s what makes it all so interesting! But a few simple steps can help us to avoid those moments of equipment buying remorse.
- Make a Plan
- Write it Down
- Involve Others
In the end, as comedian Steven Wright reminds us, “If Murphy's law is correct, everything East of the San Andreas Fault will slide into the Atlantic.” Be prepared. Feel free to share your equipment purchase stories and tips below! Or use the social media buttons to share with your colleagues.