Posted by Dr. Gwendolyn Galsworth   |  

Chronic information deficits—offices and the production floor are flooded with them, saturated with questions. Those questions divide neatly into two categories: questions we ask and those we do not. And what happens when we don’t ask questions that need answers? Another two-category set forms—we either do nothing and simply stop and wait. Or we make stuff up. We simply make up an answer…something that sounds just about right. When that happens, we can get lucky and our jury-rigged answer works and doesn’t harm. Other times, we make stuff up and it works against us and the company. Accidents happen, material is lost, components or medicines get mixed up, defects occur, delivery times are missed, customers flee. In other words, they trigger motion.

Questions are one of the most obvious and useful ways to recognize the information that is missing from your workplace. But because questions are so common—and answers so vital—some people (including managers, supervisors and leads) can sometimes think that their main job is to answer questions—day in and day out, all the time.
Organizations that are ignorant of the connection between missing answers and motion attempt to cure the situation through supervision, micro-supervision, measuring, SPC, warnings, classroom, and OJT training. But the problem does not go away. The company has motion sickness. And there is only one sure-fire cure for motion-sickness: a) track the motion until it leads you to the information deficit; then b) excise that deficit through solutions that are visual. Imbed the answer into the living landscape of work.

Here’s one easy and elegant way for you to do that (first mentioned in my article in the April 15 issue of the Visual Thinker). Try it out for a week or two on yourself. Then teach it to everyone else, including your mother, and your so-called communication struggles will come to an end. I call it: “The-First-Question-Is-Free Rule.”  You can help a lot of other people and yourself by applying it. Here’s how—in two parts.

Part One:

      1. Get a pocket memo pad like the one you see here (preferably the vertical-flip kind, coil binding across the top).
      2. On the front of the pad, keep track of the number of times you ask a question…tick tick tick tick. (This is your need to know, as in “what do I need to know?”—visuality’s first driving question.)
      3. Flip the pad over, make a mark every time anyone asks you a question…tick tick tick tick. (This is your need to share, as in “what do I need to share?”—visuality’s second driving question.)
        •  These tickmarks serve as a simple metric—so you can measure the number of information deficits related to your job.
      4.  Go a step further and make note in your memo pad of the actual questions you ask and are asked.

Part Two:

      1. Now when someone approaches you with a question, answer it politely, accurately, and completely as you can.
        • For example, Joe may come up to you and ask the same question he asks every day at about this time: “Hey, what am I supposed to be making now?”
        • Answer him politely and clearly; and, as he walks away, note inside your head, “That’s one.”
        • Then wait until you are asked that same question again, either by Joe or anyone else.
        • Again answer the question politely and clearly; and as the person walks away, note inside your head:  “That’s two!
        • The first question is free; and the second time you hear that same question from the same person or anybody else, it’s time for you to create a visual device—so you never ever have to answer that question again and no one has to ask it.

Though The-First-Question-Is-Free-Rule cannot replace a systematic visual conversion methodology, it is a smooth and easy way to verify the level of info deficits in your area (or company)—and therefore the need for workplace visuality. Use it as your company prepares to officially launch its visual workplace initiative—and take a big bite out of motion sickness.