Emails can be muda too

The New York Times recently ran an interview with Ed Reilly (American Management Association) on the distractions that can result from technology. Email, for example:

“Companies go to great lengths to set up lists of authorized approvals, meaning who can approve what size of purchase. But you will find that people who are not authorized to spend $100 on their own are authorized to send e-mails to people and waste hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of company time.”

(Link via Merlin Mann at 43folders.)

For me, this is not just about the distraction caused by receiving email (although re-acquiring the flow state does definitely cost). In Ed’s comment I see the muda of working on the wrong stuff – of spending time on conversations, research, or even whole projects, that aren’t on the value stream.

This isn’t about finding the right balance between creative freedom and strict customer pull. It’s about making sure that everyone can always identify the business value of the things they spend their time on. Is this project right for our strategy and markets? Is this feature ever going to be used? I’ve spent time in three very large (>20,000 people) organisations at various times in my career, totalling sixteen years in various roles in software development. And only twice did I work on projects that were actually delivered into the hands of users. The remainder all seemed to be great ideas to someone, I’m sure. But the waste incurred was huge. This is the muda of working on the wrong stuff, and very often it begins with an email…

One thought on “Emails can be muda too

  1. Maybe muda is also muda?

    The value stream is an elusive thing. What about the guy at 3M who accidentally made the glue for post-it notes. Was that muda?

    Email is not muda. It can be a blinking awful way to communicate, and an excuse for people to bother a lot of people simultaneously as a result of their own lack of imagination, but it’s not muda.

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