Was the Ham Green?

Communication consist of two parts, the sender and the receiver. While we may think we are being very clear in our message, the receiver’s viewpoint has as much to do with clear communication as the sender’s actual words. Take the book Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss. Are just the eggs green, or is the ham green too?

There are probably as many people who think the ham was green, as think it was standard ham colored. Right now, you are probably second guessing your own color choice. That’s the problem with communication, it often takes an exchange to understand each other and the context of the communication.

In business, mistakes are made when we assume our message was clear. I knew an individual who was given the task to stamp numbers on parts. His first day on the job he was given the stamps 0-9 and told to stamp the parts in sequence. When the individual got to the tenth part, he started back at the beginning, with #1. At the end of the day, he had piles of parts with the same numbers stamped on them. There was no traceability. It seems “obvious” that 10 comes after 9, but not to this individual.

The mistake could have been avoided had the instructor made clear that each part needed a unique number, numbers could not be duplicated. The amount of rework could have been lessened if someone had checked in with the individual early in his shift to quality check his work.

Giving instructions without clarifying what the expect results will be, opens to door for miscommunication and eventual mistakes. Even written instructions are open to interpretation. When a task is new or critical, it is important to check in regularly to ensure that work is progressing as expected.

It is important that when new or critical tasks are assigned that there is quick follow up after the work starts. The follow up should be a work quality check. This is a check for understanding and results. There should be measurable work product characteristics to check. This quality check should be performed no later than 10% of the overall work time. In the example above, of an 8 hour work day, the initial quality check should have been performed no later than 48 minutes into the workday.

No matter how often a job has been performed, the quality check should be performed at least once, half way though the production. The quality check needs to be documented. Often, experienced folks perform their own quality checks. But even those checks should be audited at least 50% of the time.

These checks are not a matter of trust, they are about ensuring good quality, consistent work product.

Was the ham green? There is no definitive answer. But the good news is understanding of the ham color is not mission critical. Sometimes imagination and creativity in work product is good. When there is a tight tolerance, follow up communication and quality checks are required.

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