Is self-Inspection possible?

In an effort to streamline your operation, you may come up with a brilliant idea:  Because history has proven that Mary, your shirt presser, is not only very good at her job, but also, very concerned about doing a good job, plus, she respects you, she is something like family and you can trust her to take good care of you and your business, perchance you should give her more responsibility. 

You have often wished that Mary was your shirt inspector.  Problem is, she is a great – and fast – presser.  You can’t replace her readily.  Cloning Mary would be a great option if only it was possible.   How about if Mary becomes her own inspector?  She can do her own touch-up, too.  After all, she does a great job, and there isn’t that much touch-up anyway. 

You can do the math.  Mary is doing 50 shirts per hour.  There are three people in the shirt department.  That means that you are getting something like 17 shirts per labor hour (50/3=16.66).  You are able to project:  Mary will only do 42 shirts per hour now, you estimate.   But there will be only 2 people in the shirt area!  That will raise the PPOH to 21!   So that’s how it’s done, you imagine.  21 shirt per labor hour isn’t great but it is 4-5 shirt more than before.  Kind of like getting those 4-5 pressed for free, right?

Let’s say, that your figures and projections prove to be extraordinarily accurate and let us limit our goal here to trying to determine if a presser can, rather than if a presser is capable and/or qualified to inspect and touch-up his or her own work.  Let us assume that we all have a “Mary” at the shirt unit.   I am sure that we do not, but we can assume that because if you do not, then you probably would never consider having him or her inspect and touch-up their own work in the first place.  I think though, that we all fantasize about doing that at one time or another.  We probably then discard the idea once we come to terms with exactly what kind of employee our shirt pressers are.

So, to repeat, for the sake of this thought, we are assuming that we have the “perfect” employee at the shirt unit.  That is, one that we know would not send out a poor shirt, even if it means that production will suffer which may well translate into longer hours.  Longer hours that are a by-product of slower production only, not a result of “padding” the time clock.

I have tried “self-inspection” many times and have never come close to succeeding.  To the best of my recollection, my motive was rarely, if ever, to cut labor.  It was always to keep the pressers from sending the touch-up people really bad shirts.   I reasoned that if a presser simply looked at what they were taking off the press, then perhaps they would learn from their mistakes and become a better presser.  Surely the first step towards this goal is to see the shirt that comes off the buck.  If they never looked at the shirts, they would never see their mistakes.

Let’s say that the touch-up girl complains that the body press operator is putting creases across the pocket.  Let’s imagine further that it is something that the presser can prevent.  We have discussed touch-up in this column before so you should know my feelings about it.  Touch-up people do not exist so that they can do the presser’s job over again.  If the presser is able to do his job correctly, then he should.  So then, the presser needs to be corrected.  We have a conversation with the presser that goes something like this:  “Betty, we are getting creases across the pockets.  There is something that you aren’t doing correctly.  The next time that a shirt comes off the buck with this crease, call me at once and we’ll fix it together and try to figure out what you’re doing wrong.”  Betty readily agrees, of course.

Now all that we really want to accomplish here is to determine whether or not Betty actually sees her pressing error.  That is the sole point of this exercise.  Will she or won’t she.  Chances are fair to good that she will see the next one, for some reason, but based on my research the chance that she sees subsequent ones is startlingly low.

This is an important point.  The point is further magnified when you consider that Betty knew WHERE to look for the problem area (across the pocket).  How can it be that something like this is so hard to see?  Why is it not obvious?  Simply answer:  I don’t know.  But it does seem to be the case, consistently.  It is very hard to “see” the shirt that you are taking off the press.  I wish that I knew why, but I do not.  If I did know, then maybe I would be able to prevent it.  Today we are simply trying to come up with a determination:  Is it possible to effectively inspect your own work?  It seems possible in dry-cleaning, for some reason, but not in the shirt department.

You may wish to disagree with me if you currently have a presser doing his/her own inspection.  If this is your situation and you are truly getting great shirts, my research says that it is simply because your shirt presser habitually does a good job.  You probably cannot expect the same results from another presser. 

There have been many days that I had to fill in for a presser and spend the day at a body press.  Many times, maybe every time, I would take shirt after shirt off the press and give them a quick look.  A quick look is not a look that slows down production.  It is an eyes-open observation of the finished shirt, done as the shirt is removed from the press.  This is the procedure that does not seem to be effective.  You may think now; “Oh, of course not, you really need to look at the shirt in order to find pressing errors.”  You may think that what I describe – a quick look – is not really self-inspection.  Maybe you are right, but I argue that this is what you will get in the real world – a quick look – but a look that, to the presser, definitely seems to be enough.  It isn’t.  I have been in that situation many times.  I would take shirt after shirt off the press and give them a quick look, then minutes later; I would observe the very same shirts in the inspection area.  I would see pressing errors that I had not seen while at the press.  Why is that?  I still don’t know.  Remember a couple of months ago when we talked about bad cuff pressing?  If I were wrong about self-inspection, then we would not have bad cuff pressing.  When the head of a collar-cuff press opens, how much more obvious can bad cuff pressing be?  It is right there in front of the presser.  The fact is, the presser looks at the collar and cuffs, but does not see them.

The lesson of the month:  There are ways of reducing labor costs, but eliminating touch-up and inspection is not one of them.

Picture of Donald Desrosiers

Donald Desrosiers

Don Desrosiers has been in the laundry and drycleaning industry for over 30 years.  As a management consultant, work-flow systems engineer and efficiency expert, he has created the highly acclaimed Tailwind Shirt System, the Tailwind System for Drycleaning and Firestorm for Restoration.  He owns and operates Tailwind Systems, a management consulting and work-flow engineering firm.  Desrosiers is a monthly columnist for The National Clothesline, Korean Cleaners Monthly, The Golomb Group Newsletter and Australia's The National Drycleaner and Launderer.   He is the 2001 winner of IFI's Commitment to Professionalism Award.  He has a website at and can be reached at or my telephone at 508.965.3163

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