ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum


Online Edition - June 2001

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Issue Highlight — A Sad and Grateful Remembrance
- Peter Block reflects on the life of friend and colleague, Joel Henning. Read about his lifelong contributions and what we can learn from his vision for a brighter future.

 In This Issue...
A Lesson In Leadership
Holding On
Microfiching For A Solution
Solving The Presentation Puzzle

Reopening "The Diary Of A Shutdown"


 Features...
Peter Block Column
Views for a Change

Pageturners
Brief Cases


Return to NFC Index



Solving The Presentation Puzzle
Uncovering Hidden Organizational Clues
Through Visual Communication

Do you ever feel like there’s too much information out there? When you want the answer to one little question, you have to sort through hundreds of possible solutions.

   Most would agree that simple is better, and Doug Collins of GumshoeKI, Cincinnati, Ohio, has based his business on this concept. Through knowledge investigation and visual communication, GumshoeKI “detectives” help companies put their finger on exactly what’s holding them back.

   A customized version of Microsoft Visio aids these associates in this process and helps maintain improvement in the organization long after the consultants are gone.

To find out whodunnit, mystery-novel characters with Fedoras and long cigarettes usually hire private investigators known as P.I.s, or “gumshoes.” GumshoeKI, Cincinnati, Ohio, whose suffix letters identify it as a “knowledge investigator”—is encouraging companies to do a little detective work of their own.
  
   There are a few differences. Companies, in contrast to mysterious damsels, don’t want to know whodunnit; they want to know how to do it: How to know, out of a surfeit of information, what’s important to themselves and their customers; how to pare complex company metrics down to the skinny; how to take the complicated and make it simple. Getting information is not the problem. Presenting it in a way that’s understandable and useful... ah, there’s the rub.

   “Organizations need to find out what’s important to them,” says Doug Collins, GumshoeKI’s principal. “In working with customers we’ve found it comes down to helping them decide. There’s been a very large push in the industry toward group collaboration and teamwork. Although sometimes powerful, it can be hard to make decisions in a team environment.”

   Through dialogue and visual feedback, the sleuths gain better clarity and understanding of a company’s goals and direction. They act as a filter, trying to pull important facts (clues, if you will) from volumes of information.

   “There’s definitely a research aspect to it,” says Collins. However, he adds, the problem is not getting the facts; it is making current fact-getting methods more effective. The Internet is a prime example. “The web has gotten so large and extensive that for a lot of people, it’s overwhelming to the point that they don’t even approach it anymore as a serious research tool,” he says.

   How do you take the teeth out of “too much information” sources like the Internet? Knowledge investigation and visual communication.

   Knowledge investigation is finding the clues. Visual communication involves grouping ideas into logical clusters and presenting them as a whole. It involves flow charts and sometimes the creation of a company “dashboard,” displaying complex data as a bottom line reading on a graphic, like a car’s speedometer. Knowledge investigation and visual communication boil down to finding out what is important and putting it in a straightforward framework. “We hope to make life simpler,” says Collins. “And simple is a thousand times better than complex.”

   Through feedback, they attempt to condense, prioritize and consolidate informational resources into one central location. The end product is an online environment which internal leaders update and maintain, with their day-to-day priorities in mind.

   “One of the problems with a typical consulting engagement is the consultant will come in and raise motivation during the length of the engagement, but when the consultant leaves, the energy level goes back to where it was,” Collins says. In an attempt to avoid this phenomenon, GumshoeKI trains employees to serve as “guides” who are supported, remotely, after the consultants have gone.

   The methodology, which GumshoeKI calls GRASP, is based on human nature. “In order for people to decide how to proceed, they have to mentally ‘grasp’ the set of circumstances in which they find themselves,” Collins says. grasp, then proceed. Look, then leap. The leap, then, takes place within a customized, simple-as-pie version of Microsoft Visio, which GumshoeKI calls “Caper.”

   Caper allows the in-company guides, who can be fully trained inside of 20 minutes, to put information into an online environment.

   “We’ve found that a lot of people would like to make use of web publishing, but they’re relying on their group’s IT department to make that happen,” says Collins, who notes that this approach is often slow and inefficient. “Here, it’s pretty much, you push a button and it’s ready.”

   The online environments, which are typically in the frame of the intra- or Internet, are called “visual nets.” The nets are broken into areas for project information, discussion and collaboration and strategy. They become a one-stop shopping place for all of the company’s dispersed informational resources.

   The leaders in the company—the guides— control the visual net. “If you’re responsible for, say, strategic planning for a business unit, then you would be considered a guide for that activity,” says Collins. “If you receive an e-mail with an idea for how to improve a process or how to look at a certain competitor, it would then be your responsibility to post that information within the context of the visual map.”

   Visio, from which Caper was derived, is a diagrammatic tool. As a result, much of the online environment is in the form of flow charts and branching logic webs. Each major step or concept in these diagrams is linked to a page with further information about it. Each page, then, is maintained by its own guide, whose responsibility is to attach important ideas, meeting minutes, movies, pictures or PDF files involving the topic or sub-topic to that page. A guide can link to resources on the world wide web, too—anything from Amazon.com to the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. Thus, all information on engineering an exhaust manifold (for a car company) is gathered together in one place and overseen by someone who works on the project day-to-day.

   An added benefit comes at progress report time. “We advise against creating presentations,” says Collins. “When you’re working on a project and asked to present to a team, oftentimes you have to leave off from the work you have been doing and fire up PowerPoint.” Instead of creating a separate presentation and interrupting the workflow, the visual map itself can be presented with the aid of a laptop and a projector.

   “It’s a visual representation of workflow,” Collins says. A group is simply showing notes—it’s work-in-progress. The information is more timely. The process is more simple.

   E-rooms, provided by third-party organizations on the web, offer secure areas in which far-flung companies can come together to “meet” and exchange information. A library area holds resources in one central place, sort of like a communal filing cabinet. There are discussion areas, a calendar and sub-folders which hold archival information on different areas of a project. Users can drop information into e-rooms so the rest of the group has access to it.

   The collaborative nature of the visual web also helps the right hand to know what the left hand is doing. “With large geographically dispersed organizations, you’ll find individuals doing similar work and having no idea their colleagues are doing work in parallel,” he says. “One of the things we try to do in building community is identify people and profile them, so others see they’re part of a larger community.”

   The bottom line is simplicity and organization. Failure to prioritize is a time-waster, as is digging for information, because the best information in the world is useless if it can’t be found. Can a company like GumshoeKI help? Maybe. If they can help a company to understand—really understand—one, where they are now and two, where they need to be.
Like a lot of companies, we evolve as our customers evolve,” says Collins. “We set up an environment where they can realize their goals.”

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