Managing Systems Development 101: A Guide to Designing Effective Commercial Products & Systems for Engineers & Their Bosses∕CEOs
7 Find & Flush the Full In-Boxes
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You will be amazed about how much good will, increased responsiveness, and cost savings can result by finding and flushing all the full in-boxes in your organization. We are not talking about all the spam in your email in-box, but the old style physical boxes on your desk where your undone work seems to be piling up. They are everywhere. You should be suspicious of any task that has the term “processing” in it. You will find them in Engineering processing bug reports, releasing drawings, reviewing drawings, assessing failures, etc. You will find them in Production processing vendor returns, receiving parts, updating assembly records, etc. You will find them in Customer Service supporting Material Review of defects, waiting to retest returned parts, doing over-reads at customer request, etc. You will find them administratively processing change requests, approving corrective action reports, etc. They are everywhere.
Groups with full inboxes are invariably keeping up. They do not think that they are, but it is easy enough to prove. Just have them track their daily, weekly, or monthly input, output, and backlog over, say the last six months. I have yet to find the group whose backlog was growing. They are just stuck with some large backlog that makes their department disliked by all as nonresponsive.
It seems to be a cultural thing. I do not know if it is satisfying to feel overburdened, if they think it implies they are busier than others are, if they get a sense of power by having others always beholden to their eventual action, or something else. The only explanation I have ever been offered is that they seem to worry that if their in-box were empty then somehow such would be wasteful. My response has always been that I would personally find them something useful to do and that they are at no risk for putting themselves or their staff out of a job. That is not a gamble because the data has already shown that that many staff were needed to keep up with their input. What is wasteful is the time delays and cost of money that these full in-boxes represent. It is enormous.