Inbox Zero?

InBox Zero

Recently Inbox Zero popped up again. Not a surprise considering summer holidays in the Northern Hemisphere are coming to an end.

Automated responses

The BBC ran an article 2 days ago where German car maker Daimler offered employees to delete holiday emails in a very friendly way:

I am on vacation. I cannot read your email. Your email is being deleted. Please contact Hans or Monika if it’s really important, or resend the email after I’m back in the office. Danke Schoen.

Comments are consequently positive: “This is good email management.” It doesn’t address the standard flood of emails although it makes the re-start after being away a lot easier and not daunting.

Another approach is trialled by the Christchurch City Council. The management team implemented a suggested response when the recipient is “just copied in”. The response reads similar to this:

“Thank you for your email. As I’m just copied in, your email has been parked in my “for info” folder. I’ll endeavour to check those emails once a week. If your correspondence is urgent please re-send it to me directly with your expectations of my action.”

The objective is to reduce cluttering email inboxes with information that doesn’t require an urgent action by the recipient or in short to reduce clutter.

Most email applications allow for such automated actions via rules and filters, and categories, folders and labels.

Decisions

While the technology allows for such things, it’s up to us humans to actually do it. That means,

  1. consider your response types (do, reply, defer, delegate, archive, delete or see the original post from Merlin Mann),
  2. create good auto- and template responses,
  3. and then actually do it.

The reality looks, unfortunately, different. Some follow their good intentions and put such actions into place while others don’t. There are some good and not so good reasons:

  • a full inbox means I’m busy
  • I actually like having that many emails
  • the Inbox search is great – why hiding important stuff in many folders
  • those rules are too complicated
  • I fear I miss important stuff
  • people expect I’m informed what’s going on
  • the tools don’t match how I work

Some options

Hey, it’s your Inbox, isn’t it?

or

Could we check how you work and see if there is a process that can be adjusted, another tool be found, or expectations managed more efficiently? There are systems like Sanebox, or MailBox, Mailstrom, and Tapermail that all take a different approach. And there is this blogpost for Outlook fans. One might work for you well 🙂

 

BI or Business Intelligence

BI CubeSome time ago I started this series of blog posts on Information Management. Just to recall we are talking about People, processes, content, and technology. Today I’d like to dive a bit into the content aspect.

Big Data

has a number of components, namely volume, variety, velocity and lifespan.

The volume of information we create and capture has increased exponential over time. Using electronic systems has made that a lot easier than just 60 years ago. And sensors everywhere – thinking “Internet of Things” will continue to push that volume up. Although, volume is no substitute for quality. Finding the information that has value for you (or your business) is critical.

Many data sources are now from automated systems. If you ever watched “Person of Interest” you know what I mean. But simple things add to the variety of information that is collected and created. Think SmartPhone (location based data), wearables (heartrate, …), optical sensors, pressure sensors, and so on. Not everything is standardised and that makes it challenging from a technical perspective to sort, analyse and generally make sense of it. Just have a quick look at the different standards for spatial information.

10 years back doing a daily back up was acceptable and monthly ones were kept for a long time to cover regulatory compliance. Just a few years later many organisations couldn’t complete a full back up every day. The schedule timeframe was too short. Incremental back ups were necessary to cover just the changes. Velocity driven data management started then. Today sensor created data and the multitude of people providing information are updating the knowledge of many domains continuously.

Quality

All 3 factors provide us with up to date information. It’s just the question to find the relevant information for our specific challenge. BI or Business Intelligence is the key buzzword for some time to address this. ETL or Extract – Transform – Load are the processes BI employs to provide actionable information from the big bucket of collected data. BI relies heavily on the accuracy of the source data and their actuality. Hence 2 processes are consistently applied, one that ensures outdated information is archived or reviewed and another that qualifies the data on its source reputation.

BI can then be applied to provide 4 stages of information

(1) hind sight – an explanation why something has happened

(2) summary – a condensed version what is happening right now

(3) foresight – an exploratory view of what might happen

(4) influence – a set of possible actions to achieve a certain result in the future

Challenges and Opportunities!

Internal versus External

Enable or Protect

In many discussions the view of customer  is often cited as a core driver. Organisations have long made a distinction between an external customer and an internal employee. While there is a strong push to only see one customer in recent times, this push comes from a UX (user experience perspective) and “mobile first” perspective.

In this post I’m looking at Information Management from a security perspective. I strongly believe there are differences for employees and customers. In this case customer includes the B2B (Business to Business) and B2C (Business to Customer) elements.

The Internal View

Enable and Protect

Most organisations have adopted a policy of openness and information sharing. Fileserver security is often implemented as open unless specific needs require folders or files to be secured. The latter is usually bound to confidential or sensitive information like commercial negotiations and agreements, NDA (non-disclosure) data, and personnel files. Other information is shared to achieve better re-use of data, enable master data management, foster staff engagement, and nurture cross functional teams.

The element of trust plays a significant role at what level data is shared.

The element of control plays a second level role which data is classified and who is the gatekeeper.

The balance between those two is for each organisation different and largely influenced by what is commonly called Culture and the Industry the organisation plays in.

A good description is “Enable and Protect if necessary”

The External View.

ProtectAndEnable

Customers want to have easy access to their information with the organisation. Repeat data entries is a turn off. If I can’t see what I’ve done previously is also a big no – no. At the same time my information should be protected from other customers or organisations but not necessarily from other employees of my business. For example a third party is working on a project with the organisation, then this information should be shared between the relevant team members of both businesses.

Consequently such external collaboration is often implemented in closed groups or spaces where membership is controlled. This model requires a much closer attention to detail and review of membership in particular when staff on either side move to a different business or part of the organisation.

Trust and Control play again an important role, although the weight towards control is much larger and often reversed to the Internal implementation.

The description here would be “Protect and Enable where appropriate”.

How a junior staff member can review the work of his senior

Jedi Master and ApprenticeA story

There is a small team of 4 developers. These guys are very different from each other.

John is experienced and worked for more than 15 years with the company in different roles. His mantra is “never change a working approach”. He preservers the status quo.

William has the same level of experience in the company but has developed a love for the latest “best practices”. He is always on the look out how to improve things.

Mary is with the company just for a few years and then fresh from University. Some of the “old stuff” she is dealing with is hurting her sense of “doing it right” albeit she acknowledges it works. Refactoring would make maintenance and support easier but would have no visible benefit for the end user.

Alan joins the team and it is his first job. He likes the solid and calm approach from John, the energy from William who always seem to find a way to make stuff better for the customer, and the quick thinking Mary who knows tech stuff in and out.

The team leader struggles at times to get them working together effectively. 2 pairs emerge initially, William and Mary driving change with John and Alan asking, isn’t it working fine? Both have very valid points and the team leader would love to get more synergy going and not risking confrontation between the pairs.

Several approaches come to his mind and he settles on breaking the pairs up by switching the 2 younger members around. To get the learning going he asks the pairs to review their work. One of the older guys, John, has a problem with that as he feels Mary being “too cocky” about the old and well proven way he does things.

The team leader remembers a story he heard once how an airline handled a similar challenge. He takes John and William for a walk and explains to them the idea. He asks them to purposely insert some mistakes in their code. That way there is no loss of face, even if the younger guys find things that were made accidentally. He also tells the younger guys so they know there is no conflict between reviewing code and not making friends with team mates.

This approach can be refined to address the different ways of coding, create appreciation of a new way of doing things as well as proven methods.

I missed the point …

Papal election result

For years my dear wife is telling me some businesses (companies, government agencies, etc) are just covering their butts. They are not interested in the well being of their staff, customers or populace. In fact they have been taught not to make mistakes. The same time I have been arguing the opposite being true for the majority. There are plenty of examples where innovation, technical or medical break throughs etc take place; there are managers and business owners who have the best interest of their people at heart.

Having worked now in the private and public sector I have changed my mind. It is sad but true, many people work to uphold the rules and regulations. You can call it standards, operating procedures, or even culture “that’s how we do tings around here”. The focus is on compliance, policing and governance.

We are missing what we have set out to do, for example:

  • service to the community or our customer base
  • providing solutions and results for the customer
  • develop and build tools / systems that last and do the job well
  • make and distribute healthy food

The common cause is often cited as the growth syndrom:

  • making money
  • gaining power
  • becoming famous

BUT, is that really the case?

How many dads or mums simply want to provide for their children to have it better (education, house, job, ..)?
How many of us simply would like to go on with their business without thinking about mortgage, tax, bills, regulations, … ?

Albert Camus once said, freedom is the freedom of others.

It took me long time to understand. My freedom to do what I want is impacting on the freedom of my neighbour. And here our governance approach started. Instead of common sense prevailing we rely on some authority who tells us what we can or can’t do. And while they are at it, they make it a rule and apply it across the country so a single instance is solved for eternity.

What a load of rubbish!

In Germany it takes months for some decisions to be made because so many committees and sub committees have a say and need to review all the rules, regulations and bylaws. In New Zealand we are getting closer by the minute to the same situation. The recent “super city” is a great example. And I don’t mention the stalemate in the US where some egocentrics in both big parties blame each other rather than sit together at a table and don’t get up until the issue is solved. The election method of the pope is a better example how to do it right.

None of this means the people working in such organisations are bad, stupid or ignorant. No, most are intelligent, focused and trying their best. But they have been taught – like all of us – in an institution called school that rules and regulations and compliance is what drives this world and keeps the order. Challenging the status quo is hard and in school we have been taught not to do so.

Asking questions in school is a sign of ?

(a) intelligence (because you actually thought about it and didn’t come to the same conclusion)

(b) lack of intelligence (because you should know this [by now] and probably haven’t paid attention)

 

Ask your children. Then wonder why I wrote this post and comment below or use the answer and go back to the start.

Ask the “why” question and find out the reason behind a process, rule or regulation.

Don’t get me wrong, some are necessary, some are good, and some (most ?) are covering exceptions. Those are the ones slowing us down. Shouldn’t we go back to “Use good judgement?”

A Process Guide

Librarian, the Original Search EngineIn the world of Information Management we encounter a lot of different types of data. In order to get the most value an organisation (or individual) would need to know what is perceived as valuable. And also, how the value is realised.

For example, recently Tesla announced making their priced intellectual property available to the public. That is a change in the business thinking of perceived value from keeping the information secret to stay ahead of the pack to sharing the information to innovate faster and create momentum.

My process guide includes these questions:

  • WHAT to document?
    Not everything has value, identify it and exclude it from being treated as such. Simplify the management of non-value items.
  • WHERE to save or publish
    First, understand the difference between a simple “save” = making sure the document is recoverable and a different concept “publish” = making information available for consumption by others. Second, have rules or guidelines where such artefacts are physically located. This can range from your local hard-drive, file servers, dedicated cloud services, to document or record management systems. You decide but spell it out.
  • HOW to document
    This looks like a trivial idea, it is not. The level of detail may make a difference for regulatory information compared to a customer record. One must have certain details to ensure compliance, while the other may be okay with only some meta data relative to the current conversation.
  • HOW to version
    luckily many systems have version control build in – see document management systems in Wikipedia. However, there are still plenty applications that do not. Email is first on that list.
  • HOW to share
    You may ask, what’s the problem? We access the same file on the file server / cloud service / etc. And external people get a copy by email or memory stick. The distribution of uncontrolled copies is enemy no. 1 for Information Management. You will never know who still got the old copy with the incorrect pricing information in chapter 5.
  • HOW to manage access
    Having mastered a better sharing solution, you will find another stepping stones along the way. The best way to manage access. 2 different schools of thought exists – (1) everything is open and only special items are secured. (2) everything is closed and access is granted where needed. Option (1) is common in internal networks and (2) in extranets.
  • WHAT is the change process
    2 core change processes exist. (1) how becomes a saved artefact published? Are there stop gaps, control mechanism, approval workflows, or gatekeepers involved? (2) how is a published artefact updated? And in particular how are stakeholders notified?

I hope those few ideas are helping to get some discussion going!

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Note, the above image is taken from this blog advertising a role as Librarian in 2013. I recommend reading it 🙂