It’s no different in non-manufacturing setting. Making it personal, it’s no different for me, either. I’ve been bugged the last few years by this concept and, finally, have seen some progress over the last few months. Let me illustrate, in hopes you might find something useful.
My first step was to isolate just what constitutes WIP for me in my managerial role. I concluded it is all in two places:
- My physical in-box. This is all the physical junk that lands in my office. Papers, forms, mail, memos.
- My email in-box. All the electronic junk that comes my way.
Some folks might add Voice Mail to this list, making three piles. For me, VM is not a big deal so I simplified it to two.
And these two are crucial. Virtually everything I do which does not involve face-to-face meetings flows through these two portals. And the degree to which I do or do not deal, promptly, with both flows does all the things WIP does in the manufacturing setting. It ties up cash (slow decisions), limits flexibility (“we’re waiting on Joe”), masks problems (I don’t respond), decreases customer satisfaction (“he's avoiding me”).
The breakthrough that hit me a few months ago is classic lean. I have always tried to minimize and optimize these two queues. Not good enough. I realized I had to take them to zero. Empty. Zip. No email in the in box. No paper in the in box.
Zero is easy to measure and observe. Impossible to fudge. And, I have found, amazingly liberating.
The further breakthrough was pragmatic. In a dynamic business environment, I can't keep the boxes empty. So, my quest is to get to email zero and/or in box zero once in every business day.
Here’s my current metric. A simple blue 3x5 index card. With an “E” for days I get to email zero and an “I” for in box zero.
You can see I don’t get it done every day. I've had some bad streaks. The metric, though, is huge. It sits there on my desk as a brutal reminder I have not flushed out email for 3 days, that I’m avoiding something in my in box.
It’s not perfect. But it is way better than my other efforts. And, as goofy as it sounds, it's fun to get to zero and record the "E" or "I".
How to get to email zero or in box zero? That’s another discussion…if you’re interested, please let me know and I’ll write on either.
But, until I settled on a) the location of WIP b) the zero standard for WIP and c) the simple measurement of WIP, I was not making progress at all.
Hope you can find something here you can use.
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