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 🙂

 

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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 🙂

Planning – Doing – Done

agile PMAgile Project Management is one of the buzz words for the past few years. It’s based on the success in agile (software) development and lean management in general. But, does it actually work?

Agile is usually used as a synonym for scrum. You have 5 or so team members in a room or around a whiteboard and discuss / agree on the next deliverable. The standard is 2 or 3 weeks for such a sprint and the effort involved is measured in story points. Assuming you know the amount of story points in the project you can measure how fast you go and depending on the success rate (eg completing the stories in a sprint) the project manager can easily tell if the project is on time. ideally the reports tell the PM much more. He can see which area the shortfall is and mitigate the problem with a targeted approach. During a sprint the team gets together regularly for a short standup and inform each other on progress or hold ups. This allows early intervention. At the end of a sprint the team gets together including the customer and show the deliverable. This also allows early detection if the customer is satisfied and the team delivered on expectations.

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Business growth = Fire your Managers!

Essence of SuccessThe idea stems from an article on Linkedin, written by Ilya Pozin. Essentially he says,

eliminating established hierarchy (that is multiple levels of top-down management) frees people from working for their boss to working for the company goals.

Ilya goes on and describes a set very practical approaches and steps. His achievement is a company

  • people loved working for
  • enjoyed reduced costs
  • increased customer satisfaction and
  • improved quality of work

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The one thing we really do well

At work we had some visitors last week. They did a workshop in parallel to guiding a project team through a week of change. I was fortunate to be part of the “peripheral” and observe.

The project content and deliverable at weeks end was not the main thing as you may expect from a project. At least not for me. No, the result of the week was actually summed up during a presentation in the middle. Joe Justice of Wikispeed said:

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With Intention!

I’ve seen people busy themselves with reports, spreadsheets, documentation, and meetings. I’ve heard it a thousands times “Gosh, I don’t know how you do it, I don’t even know where to start so much work is in front of me.”

(1)

This sounds to me like the rabbit in front of the snake, unable to move a muscle and petrified. The rabbit is quite capable of outsmarting the snake. But some instinct doesn’t allow it to do this. It’s like the person who is hording seemingly important tasks and not getting any done. In that case it’s not instinct but habit. Nonetheless, it takes an outside nudge to jump out of it.

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Doing the right things

When I was still at High School my Dad explained to me the difference between efficient and effective. Or in plain English, doing things right compared to doing the right things. I could see value in both and debated about what is better. It took me some time and a fairly extreme example to understand the importance of the distinction.

These days lean manufacturing, lean thinking, and lean approaches are the holy grail. Since Toyota became the standard in efficiency there are few organisations that don’t follow that herd. And boy, there are some amazing savings to be made. Having the right structure in place and everybody knows what they should be doing it is like cogs and gears churning along at full steam.

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