Monday, January 30, 2006

Can you Read the Handwriting on the Wall?

Regardless of what productivity improvement method you subscribe, the area of communication always shows up on the list as a much needed area of improvement. As humans, we have struggled with this problem since the beginning of time without significant results (with the exception of speed and distance). From the earliest cave drawings to hieroglyphics to the written word, people have expressed their ideas, thoughts and instructions to others yet many times there is a breakdown in conveying the message. Knowing this, why not take every opportunity to prevent the muda of poor communication or miscommunication?

From a lean manufacturing point of view, the muda associated with poor communication causes, at minimum, a stumbling block in the value stream all the way up to a major disaster that could jeopardize the survival of the company. Sometimes the mistakes in communication create a humorous event with little harm to the organization (the best kind of communication error if there is one).

One of the earliest and most common methods of communication is writing. Of course, the earliest form was the handwriting on the wall (of the cave). Even today, the skill in reading the handwriting on the wall helps in the business world. But that depends a lot on the quality of penmanship. Unfortunately, many of us have poor penmanship. Our 7 could look like a 1 or 9. Our 6 could be mistaken for a zero. Words like kick, lick, nice and kiss get confused and cause problems...Just ask Guy Kawasaki.

Quite a few years ago, before the PC could be found on every desktop, our computer system at Hill-Rom (one of my previous employers) was housed in the large, central computer room. In order to add, delete or modify any computer records, engineers had to submit a transmittal. A transmittal was a simple formatted sheet of paper with designated spaces to hand write the information of the record that was given to computer programmers for entry. I was adding some work centers to our MRP system for the fabrication department and one of these work centers was for a 105 ton punch press. Keeping with our naming convention, I wrote 105T Press on the transmittal sheet. After waiting on the batch process (3 days back then) to clear, I received confirmation of my new work center. The only problem, my 105T Press was added as the Lost Press. That error did not cause a lot of harm but certainly was the source of many wisecracks. Every time I walked through the fab department, somebody would shout out, "Hey, Mike. Did you ever find that press we were missing?"

By avoiding handwritten communication and using computers, label makers or printed out forms of communication wherever possible, you can improve you chances of getting your message across. Look around your office and factories at all the handwritten information posted. Can you read the handwriting on the wall?

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