Production & Operations Basics for Sculptors


“While your art business may not require an assembly line,
it can certainly benefit from good production and operations management”

As a sculptor you make and create things and in many respects you have the same challenges as any other company that makes a product or provides a service. There is a field of study and practice in business management that concerns itself with making things called “Production and Operations Management”.

Production and Operations management is all about managing all of the things that go into making a product or service like materials, supplies, technology, methods and labor (called “Inputs”) and transforming them into a finished product or work of art (called “Outputs”). The overall goal of production and operations management is to produce goods and services in an efficient, cost effective and profitable manner while maintaining the desired level of quality – a goal you should have for your art business as well!

The field of production and operations management is divided into several areas that you need to be aware of. These areas are:

  • Production Planning
  • Production Scheduling
  • Work Design, Flow and Measurement
  • Inventory Control and Management
  • Quality Control
  • Operations Management

Most every one of these will affect how you produce your art in one way or another. Take a look at these areas; see how they apply to your art business and how you might make improvements – now you are practicing Production and Operations Management!

Production Planning


“A stained glass painting plan is a good example of one type of production plan”


Like putting together a plan for your business or a plan for your marketing efforts you need a plan to produce your art.   Your plan can be formal, written down on a napkin or just in your head. Your production plan will help you answer questions like:

  • What am I going to produce/create?
  • What materials or supplies will I need?
  • What types of technology or processes will I need?
  • What other resources will I need such as labor or outside suppliers?
  • How much will it cost to produce this art?
  • How long will it take to produce a final product?
  • Where will I produce the art?
  • When will the art be complete and delivered?

Production Scheduling

Scheduling is making sure that the proper materials, supplies, technologies and labor are brought together so that the job gets done in an efficient manner and meets your customer’s expectations and deadlines. In order to make your scheduling effective you will need to “break down” a project into steps that you can track and measure. There are many scheduling tools available to you from a simple to-do list, calendar to elaborate project scheduling software.

Work Design, Flow and Measurement

The idea behind work design, flow and measurement is to take a look at how you are producing your products. Some questions you should be asking yourself:

  • Have you formalized the steps necessary to complete a project?
  • Are you doing any unnecessary steps or procedures?
  • Do you know how long it takes to complete each step?
  • Do you know how much it costs to complete each step?
  • Are they ways you could improve your production process?
  • Can you use this information in future projects?

Inventory Control and Management


“Inventory comes in all shapes and sizes and in all stages of completion”


For most businesses having inventory is a necessary part of producing their products – your art business is no different. There are three basic kinds of inventory: finished goods (those that are completed and awaiting sale or delivery to customers); work in progress (these are projects or products that are partially complete); and raw materials.

The important thing to remember about inventories is that they cost you; you have your money tied up in them! The idea is to reduce your inventories as much as possible without running out of goods to sell while having the necessary ingredients to make more art. Inventory is a delicate balancing act between having too much on hand, being able to fill customer orders and not being susceptible to supply shortages.

Some questions to ask yourself about inventory:

  • Do you purchase your materials and supplies at favorable prices?
  • Do you know the quantities of inventory that you hold and their cost?
  • Do you have a system in place to track inventory?
  • Do you frequently run out of materials or supplies?
  • Do you have finished products available when customers want to buy?
  • Is your inventory properly stored and easy to find?
  • Do you carry enough inventory, not enough or just the right amount?
  • Are your procedures for purchasing adequate?

Quality Control

For most companies the quality of the products they produce and the level of service they provide are a big part of their brand – your art business is no exception. Quality and value are closely linked to your customer’s expectations. The quality expectation of an inexpensive item may be different from that of a luxury item. It is important that you keep your production focused on quality and meeting or exceeding your customer’s expectations.

  • Here are some questions to ask yourself about quality:
  • Does the quality of your products, meet, exceed or fall short of your customer’s expectations?
  • Do you build quality into every step that goes into producing your products?
  • Do you have a lot of rejects or rework?
  • Do you need better equipment or processes to improve your product quality?
  • Do you have a system or way to measure quality?
  • Does your quality extend to packaging and delivery of your products?
  • Have you made quality an integral part of your business?

Operations Management


“Operations concerns itself with many of the other things in your art business, like your back room operations”


The second part of production and operations has to do with the processes you employ in running your business. These processes start when an order is placed and continue until the product is delivered to the customer. Many would consider operations to be a big part of the “back office”.

Some of the areas that make up operations include:

  • Order entry – The placement, tracking and finally billing the customer for items sold
  • Purchasing – Making sure that the proper materials and supplies are ordered and received in a timely and profitable manner
  • Delivery and Transportation – Making sure that your products reach your customers as promised
  • Forecasting – Developing forecasts for finished goods as well as the inputs (materials, supplies, labor) that go into you products
  • Systems – Developing systems or processes for all of the things you do in business
  • Purchasing – Buying the right materials and supplies at the right price
  • Facilities Management – Making sure that your facilities are adequate, meet building and other requirements and are maintained properly
  • Project management – Managing a project so that deadlines are kept, costs are minimized and quality levels are maintained.

The bottom line(s)…

Whether you produce one of a kind art pieces, commissioned works, limited editions or go full out with mass production you need to manage the production and operations areas of your art business. It doesn’t have to be complicated, just start with the question, “How can I improve the way I produce my art?” Make some adjustments and repeat. Good Luck!

By Neil McKenzie

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