Monday, May 7, 2012

A sworn enemy of LEAN: EMAIL (sometimes)

We LEAN people know that inventory (raw materials, wip, and finished goods) is the arch enemy of lean and flow, because it hides our precious problems.
In this edition, I would like to talk about how technology, especially our computer systems, can be an arch enemy also.

Let's start with e-mail. How much of what you do on a daily basis is non-value added activity related to reviewing, reading, sorting, replying, forwarding, blind forwarding, filing, and ultimately deleting twice (once to trash, once forever) e-mail? Do your customers really care? Are they very excited knowing how much we move e-mails around? When they do contact you, how long does it take from the time your CUSTOMER sends you an e-mail to the time you give him the value-added information he needs?

I have a big issue also with how e-mail sometimes gets in the way of "going to gemba". In some companies, there are instances of people in the next office or cubicle over communicating by e-mail, and then covering their fanny (another arch enemy of lean) by bcc a supervisor, a vice president, the CEO, Obama, etc. Can we all assume that the best communication is usually face-to-face? What about the VERY important people (the one's who usually add the value) who don't have access to e-mail all day?  I've learned that steady A3 activity eliminates the need for a ton of in-company e-mail. In fact, I suggest to my customers that when the time comes to invite your newly formed A3 team members to the first meeting, go see them. It's hard to delete or ignore your smiling face like an e-mail or meeting notice. (I've never seen people say no in fact!)

Great LEAN leadership is at GEMBA, where the work is. Talk to your customers, suppliers and off-campus sales people by e-mail, but make sure you SEE your team face-to-face constantly. Better yet, heed the advice of many great Toyota leaders and move your desk to GEMBA. You'll be glad you did!


  1. Good reminder on why to be with your team face-to-face. Email can be a sneaky killer of productivity, connectivity and trust.

    1. Well said Paulina....I couldn't have said it better myself. Thank you!