Note: I want to give a big shout out to Dan Markovitz, author of A Factory of One. It is an excellent book on how to gain efficiency in your personal work. Dan outlines things you can do in regards to email that will help with efficiency. While I have been doing almost all of the suggestions for a few years now, Dan did have one suggestion that was new to me and helped me with a problem I was having. I have implemented the suggestion and it works very well. I will point it out below.
On with the blog post.
We all want to improve our efficiency and free up time. In my personal work and in observation, one of the biggest culprits of causing inefficiencies is email. Here are three things I have done to help eliminate some of the distractions and inefficiencies email causes me.
1. Turn off Email Notifications: In Outlook, I have turned off all notifications of incoming email. Nothing popping up in the bottom corner showing a new email has arrived.
Result: When I am working on something I don’t catch the notification out the corner of my eye distracting me causing the back of my mind to have to know what the email was about. I stay focused on my work and can finish what I was doing.
On my phone, I have turned off the lights, sound and vibration of new email notification. There are two reasons: 1) if I am in a meeting and it is making noise or vibrating it is distracting me and others from the meeting and 2) if I am working at my desk is acts the same as the Outlook notification as it beeps or vibrates or flashes on my desk next to me.
Results: I am not distracted by incoming emails at all during meetings or while working at my desk.
2. Open Mail Software to Calendar: This was the new suggestion I found in Dan’s book. Thanks, Dan! When I open Outlook, it opens to my calendar. Not my Inbox! Most mornings, I have a quick email I thought of on the way into work that I have to send when I get in, but I was getting distracted by waiting email in my inbox. I might even forget to send the original email I went to write.
Results: I am able to send an email from the calendar view by selecting New Items –> Email Message from the menu at top. I always finish the email I intended to send out and I am not distracted by the other messages in my inbox. I don’t check email first thing in the morning and get off on the email tangent. I am able to complete something off my personal kanban board before checking email. I feel more productive and less distracted.
3. Use the 4D’s: I have been doing this for a few years, but never had a name for it until I read Dan’s book. When I decide I have time to process my emails I do one of four things: 1) Do it: reply back if it is a short reply or completed the action if it is less than 5 minutes, 2) Delegate it: delegate the work to someone that can help, 3) Designate it: for me this means if it is a larger task I add it to my personal kanban board or 4) Delete it: I have read it and don’t need it.
Results: My inbox is not cluttered with messages that I lose. I know what I have to process when I go into my inbox. I don’t loose track of requests made of me via email.
One last thing. Just because someone emails you doesn’t mean you have to read and respond immediately so don’t feel like you have to be hovering over your email waiting for it. If the person needs an immediate response, they can call. That is what a phone is for. We all have one in our pockets nowadays. Note: I do know some jobs require constant monitoring of email, like an order processor.
How have your improved your efficiency with your email practices?
As a person helping others implement lean, there is no better feeling than knowing things have been sustained and benefits gained.
I recently had a walk through with a team I have been working with for 10 months. The most rewarding part of the walk was seeing that 90% of the things we have talked about and the team implemented has not faltered. 5S to daily metrics to visual management. It all has sustained.
What is different about here vs other places I have been?
1. The leadership commitment. The managers have been involved and leading the effort. Not supporting the effort. This does not mean they are making all the decisions and doing all the work. They are getting people involved and auditing to make sure the improvements are sticking.
2. Leadership is involving the employees. Leadership is asking what improvements the employees need and what they feel is most important. Then clearing a path so the employees can help make those improvements. Showing the employees their ideas and thoughts do matter.
3. Leadership is hungry to learn and improve. The leadership wants to understand more and learn themselves. They do not think lean is for “someone else to do.”
It sounds simple, but if it was everyone would be doing it and doing it well.
How are you sustaining your lean improvements?
All too often, this aspect of lean is missed. Most people are looking for the BIG savings. They don’t deem 2 seconds worth the savings. People miss the value of a bunch of 2 second savings adding up quickly and creating a lot of capacity and savings.
Recently, I was working with a group that found several 2 second savings in their area and it added up to over 200 hrs of gained productivity over the year.
The picture below is an example of a 2 second savings they found.
The box on the right shows where the label was outlined to be placed. The label is low and is blocked by the lip of the shelf. Every time a person has to put something in the box they have go scan the label, so they have to push it back to scan the label and then pull it forward to put the item in the box. Several people doing this over 300 boxes with upwards to 20 items per box.
The box on the left shows where they moved the label. Now a person does not have to push the box back and pull it forward saving about 2 seconds per box per item. This alone saved over 28 hours of time during a year. That is over a full day’s worth of worked that can gained from this simple change.
All savings are important. Seconds matter. Save them every chance you get.
“If it’s not improving, it’s degrading”
This is a quote that I found a few years ago from someone at Toyota. I find this to be a very powerful quote.
The quote implies there is no status quo. As an organization, a process or a person, you are either improving or degrading.
Some will make the argument that their metrics are holding steady and haven’t moved; therefore, they are holding in a constant state or in status quo. And that may be true, but while you are holding there are others that are improving. This is degrading your status.
A great example of this is GM. The maintained what they were doing for years, while Toyota kept improving, slowly degrading GM’s status over time until Toyota passed them.
We should be working to improve at all times. Being satisfied with where we are at does nothing but cause problems down the road.
How are you pushing to improve everyday? Every year?
I have talked in the past about the importance of direct observation. The power in seeing the waste for yourself. It really shines a light on what is really happening and it also is the best way for a person to continue to learn.
The question is, “What do you do with those observations?”
Most often, I see people run out and try to eliminate or reduce the waste or even assign it to someone else to do. While not entirely a bad thing, if you are trying to instill a lean culture don’t just jump to trying to improve.
Stop and reflect about what you are trying to do as an organization and use the waste you saw as a way to further the lean culture.
Most organizations I have seen do not have a systematic way to eliminate waste. Usually, this is because waste is one of the first things people learn about lean. What happens is people just go out and attack waste (again not a bad thing) without any direction.
If your organization is early on in trying to implement a lean culture, think about how you can make the waste elimination systematic.
Is this a good way to engage employees in a kaizen event to start to build trust? Could be an easy win for everyone.
Should an improvement board to post the waste seen and how it is detracting a better option? Use the waste you saw as an example of how to use the board and go and eliminate it yourself or with the help of others, but be involved.
If you observed multiple areas, do you want to concentrate in one department? Make it a model for others in the organization.
Think about how you can make the waste elimination sustainable and systematic. This will benefit you and the organization in the long run.
Then I tried again. I had great success with the 2nd board. I used it for a year and a half.
With a new role where I have multiple desks, I am constantly in different areas of the building. I may not be back to my desk for several days or even a couple of weeks. I wasn’t able to keep my board up and I had work to do written in several places.
I wanted to find an electronic kanban that would work for me. I found one that worked well. It was a computer only board. I explain it more in this post here.
This new electronic kanban work well. I could take a note or email myself on my phone with what needed to be on it and then transfer it when I got to my computer. If I had my computer with my, I just added right then.
As a person always looking to eliminate waste, you can see where there was waste in emailing myself and then re-typing it for the kanban board. A friend of mine recommended Trello for me to try. It was web-based. I was able to download an app to my phone which I could open and enter the work and not send myself emails to re-enter.
Everything looked great so I gave it a try for the last 3 months of last year.
It wasn’t hard to use. It had plenty of features and it was setup very similar to the electronic kanban I was using. For some reason, I couldn’t get the flow of it. Trello was not working for me. I tried for three months and I couldn’t get into the flow of using it and making my life easier to manage.
I have no idea why it didn’t click with me but it was a disaster. I forgot some things that needed to be done. I felt disorganized and stressed.
So, to start 2014 I am going back to my electronic kanban board on my computer and not using Trello. I already feel more organized and less stressed since I switched back.
I’m not dismissing Trello yet. I need to reflect as to why it wasn’t working for me. Was it something truly with Trello? Or did it have something to do with the enormous project I was on and I just couldn’t keep up with trying something new at the same time?
The important thing is to understand what was happening because maybe Trello can work for me and help me reduce my waste in maintaining my kanban board.
Learning is important and not just living with a change because we need to change. The change needs to be given a fair chance and if it is failing then you can’t be scared to change back if necessary.
Does anyone else have any experiences with a change that totally failed?
Today I am highlighting the five most popular posts written in 2013. Then in January I will post the Top 10 posts for the year.
Enjoy and have a Happy New Year!!!!
5. Visual Management at Home (February 2013) – A great example of a visual board used at home of a friend of mine.
4. Hoshin Planning – Catch Ball (April 2013) – A great video explaining the process of catch ball during the strategy development process.
3. My Continuous Improvemnt: Personal Kanban 3rd Revision (January 2013) – The latest update to my evolving personal kanban for work.
2. Guest Post: Moneyball – Hoshin Kanri (March 2013) – Chad Walters does a great job explaining strategy deployment using the movie Moneyball
1. When Standards are in Place, Everything is an Experiment (May 2013) – Talks about the importance of setting standards and using them to understand your processes.
Have a Happy New Year!!!!
Last week, I attended a lean forum with speakers and breakout sessions. It was done very well. I was very excited that I was able to attend.
One of the speakers was a General Manager at a distribution center. She told the story of how lean has evolved at her facility and where it stands now.
When listening to transformation stories I try to listen for a few different things to see if they are really getting it or just going through the motions and implementing tools.
I will say her story, I haven’t directly observed, is a very promising and exciting story. I believe they are doing things right and well. There were two bits of evidence that lead me to believe this.
First of all, she is holding the staff, managers and all employees accountable for learning about lean and taking action. Not a lean group or a someone else. Herself and everyone around her. In fact, they integrated the lean staff into manger roles and no longer have that crutch to lean on.
There were stories of the General Manger’s own learning and changes. How getting dissolving the lean group but expecting better results helped make everyone accountable.
While dissolving the lean group worked for her and her facility don’t go do this just to remove the crutch. This General Manager was a true believer in what lean could do for her and she partnered with other local companies that were doing lean very well. She had a support system but it was one that held her accountable for leading lean. Not supporting it.
The second piece of evidence was a video she showed of a great employee driven improvement. Great it was employee driven, but what really stuck with me was the General Manager promoting the small improvement. It was about a five to ten second improvement in a manually process. This one small improvement was going to save $40,000 in a $19 million target she was going after.
Most people look for the BIG improvement to get the whole chunk at once. They don’t understand the large gap is made of hundreds of small problems. They don’t have the patience to go after the small problems. This General Manger understood this concept. It was very refreshing to see.
The facility still has a long way to go, but they are traveling down the right path and that was invigorating.
I will share more from the forum at a later time.
There is a lot discussion around big changes and improvements from lean thinking. Usually, this discussion is around how to realign manufacturing processes in cells or value streams or sitting people across a value stream together for better communication in a business process.
I have taken a page from his book and done this with my routine at the gym in the morning. After working out, I get ready for work at the gym. I used to just grab everything out of my shaving bag and put it on the counter. Then I noticed I always brush my teeth first. I was taking my toothpaste out of the bag first, setting it on the counter, getting everything else out, then picking up the toothpaste, put it on my brush and then putting the toothpaste back on the counter. Later I would put the toothpaste back in the bag.
My 2 second improvement. I get everything out of my bag first. The second to last thing I get out is my toothbrush and the last thing is my toothpaste. I don’t set it down though. I get the toothpaste out, use it and place it right back in my bag. When I am done with my toothbrush, it goes right back in the bag too.
It doesn’t seem like a lot, but combined with other improvements I have started to save significant time in the morning. It allows me more time to workout.
What 2 second improvements have you made?
It amazes me how companies will setup an accounting system this is designed to drive bad decisions.
Recently, I have been working with a client on improving an internal process to the team. During the direct observation with the order writer something very interesting surfaced.
The order writer can write orders to be processed one of two ways. The order writer said that method A costs $400 and only takes 1.5 hours to write the order. While method B costs $30 and takes 2 days to write the order.
I asked where the costs came from because the orders are processed by another internal group. The order writer said it is the cost of systems and labor time for that group and they charge back the order writing team the cost of each order.
The internal order processing group is managed as a Profit and Loss center. They are treated like a company.
Sadly, I have seen this accounting set up quite a bit. Even the support groups like IT, HR, etc… are setup as P&L centers.
This drives decisions to be made that are not in the best interest of the company.
In this case, the order writer is considered value added because they are changing the order to get product to customers. They help generate revenue. Half of order processing is non-value added (entering all the information they get from the order writers) while half is value added (executing the order).
Because the business gets charged back over 10 times more the cost per order for the more automated order, the value added order writers are asked to take 2 days write an order which then adds actual hard dollar cost because it takes more order writers to get the orders written and submitted.
What is wrong with being a support center, knowing it and accounting for it? Why does everything have to be a P&L center to “prove” it’s value?
The places who treat support areas like support areas and don’t worry about P&L centers for everything don’t typically make decisions like the one above. They understand how a supporting area adds value and don’t feel the need to quantify it in a P&L statement.
Have you encountered this in your work?