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Radically transform email by making it "lean"

(MoneyWatch) COMMENTARY Feel trapped under a daily deluge of email you can't control, don't need, and which simply gets in your way? That might be because the fundamental model of email is broken and needs to be reinvented.

In the Harvard Business Review, Daniel Markovitz recently suggested that email could be fixed by adopting some of the principles of lean manufacturing. Email today, he contends, is based on a push model -- everyone gets volumes of mail pushed to their inbox, which interferes with their workflow and doesn't deliver information in a manner that's most efficient.

In lean manufacturing, on the other hand, resources and components are pulled by downstream workers as needed, "just in time." People take what they need as they need it, keeping all transfers efficient, balanced for workers who perform at different rates and completely asynchronous.

So what would a pull system look like for information among knowledge workers?

Internal social media resources. Replace email blasts that barrage workers with social media tools and wikis that make information available to be pulled down as necessary. Think about it: The last time IT sent you an email with some essential bit of information that you didn't immediately need, what did you do? You probably filed it away in a Word or OneNote document, right? Perhaps IT should just put it in a wiki to begin with, so you can reference it when you need it.

Set up Web-based collaboration tools. I've gushed about the simple, powerful online collaboration tool Trello in the past, and that's just one of many similar products you can use to reduce email by sharing, increasing transparency and providing multiple channels of "pull"-ready information to the entire team.

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