The Only Question

There are a lot of questions that we need to answer every day. “Did my parts ship?” “Did the material arrive?” “Where is that special tool?” “Does anybody know where the tool room guy went?” “Who is John Galt?”Who?


There are a lot of questions that we need to answer every day. “Did my parts ship?” “Did the material arrive?” “Where is that special tool?” “Does anybody know where the tool room guy went?” “Who is John Galt?”

Who? What? When? Where? Why? How? How many? Does it seem like some days you live in Questionland? Don’t you just love being the person in your company that has the answers?

Do you ever think that perhaps you should be the one asking the questions rather than being the answer person? Do you wonder what it’s like to be the one that poses the questions instead of the one held accountable for the answers?

There are a number of critical questions you can ask; trying to get the answers for them could fill your whole day. I’ll bet that, together, we can come up with a hundred such questions. But as an experienced quality assurance guy, I remember the lessons of Vilfredo Pareto, who taught us about the importance of the “significant few” as opposed to the “trivial many.” His law, the “Pareto Principle,” states that, “for many events, roughly 80 percent of the effects come from 20 percent of the causes.” It’s also known as the
“80-20 Rule.”

So what is the one question—the only question—that you, I and every one of us should ask each day? I think it is this: “What is better today because we came to work, did our job and will be a permanent improvement in what we do or how we do it?” That’s it.

What did we do? What is now better? Is it permanently better? What then is our plan for continuous improvement?

As managers, we are responsible. As craftspeople and professionals, we are responsible. As mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters, we are responsible for a lot of different things. But as human beings, we face a constant struggle against forces of nature. (Volcanoes, earthquakes and tornados just happen to be in my recent history.) We also face an economy that is wildly variable and uncertain. And, we face a regulatory and commercial regime that is openly hostile to our mission.

What is better today because we came to work and made something better and because that improvement will stick? Can you show it to me? What is its name? Where is it in your process? Will your customers notice?

We should all ask this of ourselves, “What is better today because of what we did?” If we do, our organization will benefit from all of our activities. This is the key to continuous improvement. And continuous improvement is the key to sustainability. Sustainability of our businesses is the foundation of our American dream, a better world and a solid economic future for us, for our employees, for their families and for our communities.

It’s a better world because we made it that way. Each day. Every day. Today! One continuous improvement at a time.

What question do you ask yourself every day?