Organizing a Workshop System in a Small Space: Universal Process Analysis in Action

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Update November 2012

I first wrote this post waaaaaay back in mid 2010 and updated it at the beginning of 2012. Thought it was time for another update because things have changed again.

Most of the post below still stands as far as process analysis goes. I am still a system architect and still labouring in obscurity but have recently realized a dream that was with in reach for a long time but I was just too stoopid to see it.

I now have a dedicated (ish) workshop space. I converted my 6'x6' garden shed into a sort of studio. All I had to do was get rid of a lot of crap that got put in the shed because that is where crap that you are never going to use again ends up.

This has totally changed my life and ambitions for my ceramics work. I can go out to the shed any time I want and work and don't have to worry about packing everything up again after an hour or a day. It is a small space but it is a pottery only space.

Still have stuff piling up and still having trouble with photographing work. And there is more work than ever!

Do you have a studio? How organized are you?

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I think there is a general conception that people who are creative are also some how disorganized or at least prefer chaos or order.

Let me tell you!

If you are a creative person and are trying to turn your creativity into something you can make cold hard cash with then the last thing you can afford to be is disorganized.

Bit of background:
I have been creating ever since I can remember. What ever it is that drives certain people to pick up a pen and write or throw paint at a canvas or make a cupcake stand out of three candle holders and several secondhand sandwich plates, I have it in me.

Through the years I have found several creative outlets that I have become quite proficient in.

I have decided that this nine-to-five m'larky workin' the MAN kinda sucks. I would prefer to work for myself at the things I love doing.

So this year was the year. IS the year.

Get a shop up and running.

Start producing.

Alllllll good right?

Well kinda.

I have a very small garden apartment. Like very small. Some of my North American readers may have trouble relating to just how small. It is the norm here in the UK. Space and housing is at a premium. Coming from Canada it takes some getting used to.

I have a bedroom that fits a double bed and not really anything else, a small kitchen, a bathroom that is maybe 6'x4', and then the living room which has to do double duty as a lounge, dining room (the kitchen is not big enough for a table), office, and workshop.

So it isn't only a case of small space living but also small space working.

Now that the shop is up and running I need to get organized. Implement some sort of system. Right now I can't afford to invest in anything (I could do with lots more shelving) so I have to make do with what I have until I can.

If you are a creative or crafts person you are probably aware on some level that all art is process oriented. In other words before you can paint your canvas you need to make your canvas, get out your paints, mix your paints, dip in your brush, and then you can put a mark on your surface.

My 'day job' is also very process oriented. I am a systems architect and analyst. I examine and analyze processes and then build systems to facilitate them and make them more efficient and centrally managed through data exchange interfaces. In other words: I design and build business enterprise web sites.

So I applied my professional knowledge and experience to my problem. That is the great thing about being an analyst and architect. I can apply the same problem solving methodology to just about anything. So last night I took the time to analyze what I wanted my system to accomplish and determined how to best implement those goals with what I had on hand.

These are the same questions I would pose and answer for any client who needs a system to manage their international logistics operation or business critical document archive.

What is the current situation?
My ceramics were all over the place. Some in a box in the shed. Some on the shelves. Some under the sink in the kitchen. All in various states of being finished, glazed, fired etc. I am not sure what is ready for listing. I am losing track of what I have photographed for listing in the shop which is leading to duplicated work. I am not sure how much needs to be done and how many pieces are ready to be fired. This is making getting pieces into the shop difficult and slow.

What the budget?<£5.00

When does the system need to go live?By tomorrow morning

What processes am I going to want to manage?
The making and selling of my original ceramics work

What are the objectives of the project?To organize and make more efficient and tidy the process of making and selling of my ceramics work. I would like to be able to see at a glance which pieces are at what stage in the process so I can gauge my productivity and ensure that costly trips to the kiln are only undertaken when necessary. This will help to boost stock, lower costs, and therefore lower prices which could mean more sales.

What are the steps in making and selling a piece of ceramics?1. Make the piece
2. Finish the piece
3. Bisque fire the piece
4. Glaze the piece
5. Glaze fire the piece
6. Take pictures of the piece for the shop
7. List the piece in the shop
8. (And this is proving quite tricky) Sell the piece
9. Ship the piece


Taking the time and budget constraints into consideration what can I implement to manage this process and also meet the objectives of the project?
Use the shelves behind the door in the living room to create a work flow for pieces by dedicating areas of the shelves to particular steps in the process.

How will the proposed solution meet the objectives of the project?
1. Once the piece is made it needs to dry so it can be finished. Drying requires a warm dry area. The shelving sits above the heater so pieces will dry more quickly and won’t get damp.

All pieces that require finishing should be grouped together so I can keep track of what needs to be done and what is ready to be bisque fired. Separating pieces that need to be finished from those are ready for bisque firing will prevent needless tinkering.

2. Once the piece is finished it needs to dry some more so it can be bisque fired. Again the location of the shelves will facilitate this.

Each finished batch should fired at the same because they will be dry enough at the same time. Keeping the batches together will help to raise visibility of productivity and ensure that trips to the kiln are only made when there is enough work to warrant the expense.

3. Once a piece is bisque fired then it needs to be glazed. Pieces for glazing should be grouped together to raise visibility of volume of work to be done.

4. Glazed pieces need to go back to the kiln for a final firing.

Grouping pieces that are ready for glaze firing will ensure that trips to the kiln are only made when there is enough work to warrant the expense. Separating the pieces in the process of being glazed from those that are ready for glaze firing will mean there will be less tinkering with the ready pieces.

5. Glaze fired pieces need to be photographed so that they can be listed.

Having a To Photograph area and a To List area will help to keep me on track. I can see how much needs to be done at a glance and make an appropriate amount of time free to take the pictures and prepare them for the shop listing. It will also stop the duplication of work. Once a piece is photographed and the photos are deemed acceptable it is moved to the To List area.

I am having trouble keeping track right now of what I have photographed and what I haven’t but this step is also an example of what I choose to call and extra-developmental process. This is a process that is vital to the proper functioning OF the system but cannot be enforced BY the system developed.

Taking the pictures isn’t enough. Once the photos are taken I need to make sure that they are a good enough quality to put on the listing. Until I know that I cannot move the piece to the To List area because with out a good photo I can’t list it.

In going through this analysis of the process I now know that I will have to make more time for the photography so that I can take the pictures and ensure that the pictures are listable.

6. Having a To List area will help to keep me on track to post listings and raise the visibility of possible stock shortages.

If there is nothing to list then there isn't anything to sell. Or it could mean I am behind on photography or some other step in the process. I will be able to see which step it is quickly and easily.

7. The listed area will keep pieces in the shop clean and safe until they are sold

8. Once sold pieces are moved into the sold area so I can see how much shipping there is to be done and can make plans to purchase appropriate shipping materials.

How will you implement the solution to meet the objectives and time and budget constraints?

-Use masking tape to create the designated areas on the shelves

-Make sure that the areas are appropriate to the particular stage of the process. The drying and finishing area will be closest to the heater and the Listed and Sold items should be as far away from the floor, dirt, and heat as possible.

Sometimes I really do surprise myself. I have been an architect and analyst for a long time and can forget how much of an impact it has had on my life. And also how useful it can be. Being able to look at a problem and a process and figure out where something is broken and how it can be fixed is a really handy thing to be able to do. And most of the time I don’t even know I am doing it.

It is just another area of my life where I get to be creative.

If you would like me to analyze your business processes to help you solve a problem or make them more efficient please leave a comment. Good rates plus expenses!

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