Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Generating Waste via email--an example

The concept of "Just in Time" not only applies to presenting a manufacturing process with the correct material just when required.  It applies to information as well.  And too much information is waste. 
Here's an example you may recognize.
A project leader emails a request to a group of people.  "Please do this task by the 20th of the month."  The leader can then monitor which persons have completed the task. 
On the 19th, the project leader sends out another email, perhaps even a copy of the first email only with a more emphatic subject line, to the entire mailing list she sent it to originally.  "Please, please, please do this task by the 20th!!!!  Dire consequences await if not completed!" 
In so doing, the sender creates waste.
Each of the recipients who correctly did the original request, before the 19th, are now interrupted.  "Did I do it?  Did I do it correctly?" each asks.  She has to check to see if indeed she did it correctly.  Why, yes, she discovers, she did do it correctly.  "Then, why did I get this second, more frantic, email?"  More waste.
The principle of "Just in Time" would ask the original sender to contact only those individuals who had not completed the task correctly by the 19th.  Why doesn't this happen?  It is simply easier for the sender to re-send to the original mailing list.  A minute saved by the sender costs hours of waste by the receivers. 
If you do this, stop. 
If you see it done to you, find some way to raise the question. 
And, if you can't raise the question safely, find someway to influence the culture so you can.

1 comment:

Karen said...

After a number of years as a professor dealing with graduate students(TAs) who had teaching responsibilities (grading, submitting grades etc) I followed the policy of one of my past supervisors. Don’t send reminders. At the beginning of the term, I told the TAs that they needed to show up for proctoring, grading, must submit grades by a schedule etc AND I told them that I would send only one e-mail for these tasks. In addition, if the TA failed to show up, I’d send a reminder and copy the research adviser. And believe me, I followed up on any who failed in these duties. Once everyone realized that I did not send reminders, things went quite smoothly.

ALSO, if subordinates know that you will send reminders, they will wait for the reminder before they seriously do the task. Comments like “Oh, I didn’t think you needed it because you didn’t remind me xxx times.” Just don't send reminders.

Well, that's my take!