Interesting News: State Department needs to be Lean with emails

Last week a news item caught my attention. I went on to read it and found to be very interesting. This news was about employees hitting the reply to all button of their emails and eventually sending that to thousands of people on the list. According to the news this has created very high system loads and plenty of embarrassment. I have given the link at the bottom of this page so that you can refer to the exact news item after complete reading this article.

Suddenly I remembered the series of posts I published describing the possibility of using lean manufacturing concepts in the context of communication. I think you will have to go through this series again and refresh yourselves so that you will never do these kinds of communication mistakes. We do live in an overly communicated world. In simple words it is too much of communication to add little or no value. If something doesn’t add value to the customer it is a waste. So it is very important for us to be lean in our communication.

Incidentally I found another interesting article on Mark’s leanblog on with the title 5S for email. I think this might give you some interesting ideas as well.

BTW I think this article is interesting, so you can hit the Forward button and send to your friends.

Lean manufacturing and information technology

I have written few articles on lean manufacturing concepts and its applicability in communication. I wrote about lean and IT sometime back. But it is interesting to see the connection between IT and information flow with a lean mindset.

Information Technology (IT) has revolutionized the world. Now the world is far smaller than it used to be. Suppliers, manufacturers and customers are only a phone call away no matter from which part of the glob they are. It is simple to understand the importance of IT in today’s context. But what do you want to achieve from IT and basically from communication, within and between organizations. What IT can do for you to improve your performance.

Most of the organizations do not exactly know what they want to achieve from the communication process. They might use new sophisticated communication methods to constantly be in contact with their suppliers and customers. Most of the organization would use some of the e-communication methods like email as an internal communication tool. But have they achieved their desired results. Or importantly are these organizations actively looking for some positive improvements in the bigger picture with the help of these tools. For me most of the organizations do not actually know why they use these tools and have no idea about what they want to achieve using these tools.

Not knowing the goals of using these useful communication tools can adversely affect your organization. It can waste time. Also it can waste money and other resources if not used carefully. Most of the mails in a server will never be touched but will never be deleted either. This will create extra requirement for hardware and hence money will be wasted.

On the other hand even most of the medium size enterprises are now use some sort of an ERP. These are very handy systems which will be very useful in effectively managing their resources. In most of the cases these ERP are used to capture tons of data. Most of these data will never be used in decision making. But they spend countless hours in capturing these data and storing them. Obviously this is a waste of resources.

People think every problem can be solved with IT. Some think latest technology can solve their problems. Some think they should capture as much data as possible to make their decision. But they newer understand why they do this.

IT will never solve your problem if you do not understand the problem clearly and if you do not have clear understanding of what you want to achieve. Capturing every possible piece of data and storing will not help if you do not know what you are going to analyze and what you want to know.

Lean manufacturing has a clear purpose. Information flow is simple and effective. Managers will use simple visual controls to manage their operations. There will not be any unnecessary data capturing or there will not be any unnecessary analysis of data. Everything is done to eliminate waste from the system. This has proven to be very effective for decades now. For me every organization must clearly understand the role IT should play in their organization.

Lean concepts in communication – Erroneous information

I have been writing about the possibility of applying principles and concepts of lean manufacturing in the field of communication. In fact it is very necessary to streamline the process of communication in lean efforts.

Information is the key in today’s competitive world. It can lead to disasters if not handled correct. Therefore it is very important to make sure that information we send and receive is correct and also the interpretation is correct. As we discussed in our earlier posts on this subject, information can go wrong due to problems in the system itself. Overloading, data accumulation, longer channel lengths are among them. Wrong or erroneous information is the equivalent of defects in lean explanation of waste.

Wrong information, delays and misinterpretation of information can lead to disasters. With the increased freedom and lower costs of communication methods it is very easy to communicate. But for me the effectiveness of communication has gone down in today’s world. Over communicating, that is endless emails and phone calls and chats are wasting our valuable time. This also leads to problems in communication.

This again shows us the importance of a prime lean concept. We should start from identifying the requirements and using tools to achieve those goals. No tool will solve your problem unless you have understood the concepts and requirements correct.

With this we end the series of posts on lean communication. Visit our archives to find earlier posts on the same subject. It is time to map your communication channels and find out the effectiveness of communication in your organization. Find out your wastes and eliminate them continuously. You will be happy after sometime when you have to answer very little amount of phone calls and reply only few important emails. Won’t it be a good reward for your efforts?

Lean concepts in communication – Unnecessary information movement

We have been talking about the possibility of applying lean principles in communication to achieve a lean communication system. Today we will look at one of the wastes we find everywhere in communication channels. This is the unnecessary movement of information.

Information must go only to the people who really want them. Also this information must be useful and meaningful for the people in the communication process. Otherwise this information will not be useful for the people who receive them. This will waste the time of people. This movement of information does not add any value to the process of communication. This also takes additional resources of the system.

Unnecessary movement of information from one party to another can lead to alterations and distortions of the meaning of the messages. Misinterpretation of information also will be resulted from this. Needless to say that this is going to lead to problems.

Lean concepts in communication – Data Accumulation

We have been discussing the possibility of using lean concepts to achieve smooth communication process. Communication is one of the very important processes of any organization. Therefore it is very important for any organization to streamline and manage their communication process whether they go through a lean manufacturing transformation or not.

Today our focus is on lean concept of WIP in the field of communication. WIP is the mirror of waste in lean manufacturing context. Higher the work in progress in any organization, more the problems they have in their process. This is true for the communication process as well. Organizations can have many pieces of data which are not being used or waiting for processing. This can be treated as the WIP in communication process. Problem with data accumulation is that it can lead to problems and loss of data. This also complex the processes.

Why data is being accumulated in any organization. This is because these data has been received before they are actually required or because they are not possible to convert into proper system inputs due to the problems and delays in them. This is identical to the over production and waiting in the manufacturing context.

Today communicating is very simple task. It will take only seconds to communicate even between continents. This has also contributed to the problem of overloading with information and receiving and sending information before they are required. In either case this will lead to problems. It is very important to understand the communication processes well and use the tools available wisely according to the requirements. This is why just in time processing of information is becoming increasingly important today.

Lean manufacturing concepts in communication 4 – Inappropriate tooling

Communication is very important in lean manufacturing context. To make your communication effective it is essential to use the correct methods of communicating. This is very important in today’s context. With all the new communication methods around, finding the correct way of communicating might be a tricky task.

Correct communication tool is dependent on the situation it is used. If we have to communicate something very urgently, it is always better to give a call. But if it is to document something and to be used for the future reference, we will have to go for an email. If somebody use these methods other way around what would be the effect. Obviously your lead time will go high.

Using inappropriate methods in information exchange, will lead to overloading of information and waiting for information. This can lead to wrong information creation in the system. It is needless to say how complicated your system would be in these scenarios.

Lean manufacturing concepts in communication 3 – Longer channel lengths

We have been talking about the possibility of using lean manufacturing concepts to improve your communication process. We have already talked about two wastes occur in traditional communication channel, which are overloading and waiting. Today we will concentrate on the third. This is the long length of the communication channel. This is the equivalent of the higher transportation in lean manufacturing.

In most of the organizations one piece of information will be passed through many people without any processing of information. For an example a manager to his assistant and from the assistant to the clerk who is actually use this information in his work.

Every additional point in the communication channel adds unnecessary delays and creates the possibility of making errors. People don’t understand the fact that large amounts of information is passed through them because this is done mainly electronically. But this adds up to the lead time of the manufacturing since in every moment that information is waiting for the processing is adding up to the lead time. This also wastes people’s time since they have to process unnecessary information.

You will find this problem of information flow within your organization. You will also find problems like this between your organization and customers and suppliers. Think with lean manufacturing cap on. Draw a communication diagram and map your information channels. Find out unnecessary mid points and get read of them. Make your communication channels short and focused.

Lean concepts in communication 2 – Waiting

Lean manufacturing has its strength in its concepts. As I have been talking throughout my blog lean concepts can be applied to communication. So we will look at the second waste that can occur in the process of communication. This is waiting for information

In manufacturing context waiting refers to the idle workplaces which are waiting to do their jobs. But in the context of communication this is not just wasting of time and resources of one process. Waiting for information can cause chain effect in the process and can stop your full process. Every small bit of information is very important to the process. It is not enough to be 90%. You should have correct and complete information to carryout your work.

Every piece information must be there to be processed when they are required. Having them in very early stage will mean only little since they are not being processed. This can cause problems since this piece of data might not be up to date. On the other hand waiting for information can virtually stop the functionality of the organization. So Just In Time is very important here. Lean manufacturing concepts should be applied organization wide in order to create the perfect lean organization.

Lean concepts in communication 1 – Overloading of information

In a previous post I talked about using lean manufacturing concepts in communication and information handling. Today we will look at the lean concept of over production in the context of communication.

The term overproduction can be defined as the overloading of information in the context of information. Unnecessary information when they are not required creates overloading of information. Unnecessary information creates confusion. This is one of the main courses to problems in processes.

Only the required information must come into the system when they are required. This information should be well formatted so that it will be easy to capture and analyze. Every information processing point must be well defined so that everyone in the communication process will know exactly what information to collect and what to give out. No information should be passed to the next process until that process requires it. Also it is very important to give them the required information in a standard format so that they will be able to use it easily.

Lean communication is a very essential aspect of any lean manufacturing organization.

Is Your CC list long – you are not a lean manufacturer

Emails and other forms of e communication is widely used allover the world. I am sure you do use emails everyday. I found an interesting fact sometime back when I studied few suppliers for an organization. Some emails contained many, many addresses in the CC list of the email. Then I found out these organizations are not performing well and associated with many problems like delays and quality problems.

Lean manufacturing depends on perfection. Every activity is well defined. Not only the work, but the way it has to be carried out is defined. Every responsibility is well identified. Therefore if you are a lean manufacturer you will ideally see only one address in your email under TO field and none in the CC list. Reason is you will be doing something well defined and you have the full responsibility of that activity. There is no need you to tell someone else what you are doing, when he is not directly involved in your activity. Long CC lists creates confusion. Responsibility is not focused and it is scattered. This will create a process where everyone is overloaded with information yet no one is actually responsible for the actions they take. Obviously this can not be a lean manufacturing system.