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The Eight Wastes and Internal Social Business Platforms

As organizations progress through their social business journey, for every believer who had drunk the Kool-Aid and thinks social is the solution for everything, you’ll find a skeptic, who is typically less eloquent, but is probably asking things along the lines of:

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Why do I need to learn this “social business” platform? I can’t see the business motivation behind it, it’s all hype and no meat. Our current toolset – email, phone, meetings, SharePoint and intranet – is more than enough for our needs. We don’t need yet another tool to make our work life even more complex.

I confess that, between the two groups, I like the skeptics better, as their questions – when vocalized – keep us all honest and make us think about the actual value of introducing “social” to the workplace. It’s easy to understand why a significant number of people don’t see anything wrong with the conventional ways of handling information and knowledge at the workplace. Ultimately, because information is not visible or tangible, it makes it much more challenging to notice the inefficiencies in processing it.

I wish we could “paint” information in bright colors so that manufacturing concepts could be applied to optimize the way we handle it. Then, production systems frameworks like Lean could be used to better identifies where improvements are needed. If you don’t know what Lean is, the following excerpt from Wikipedia provides a 30-second primer:

Lean manufacturing, lean enterprise, or lean production, often simply, “Lean,” is a production practice that considers the expenditure of resources for any goal other than the creation of value for the end customer to be wasteful, and thus a target for elimination. Working from the perspective of the customer who consumes a product or service, “value” is defined as any action or process that a customer would be willing to pay for. Essentially, lean is centered on preserving value with less work. 

As part of that framework, eight types of waste were identified. This blog posts discusses how a well-implemented internal social business platform can help to reduce information processing waste in our workplace based on the 8 wastes identified by Lean practitioners.

1. Defects

Our collaboration and communications via conventional channels is full of defects. That innocent email commentary that was grossly misunderstood, the requirements that somehow became a system that nobody wanted, and the obscure corporate policy that is ignored by most employees are all defects in our processing of information. Had information been visible, we would be able to see many of the imperfections in the final product. In the absence of that, a social business platform offers the second best option: by moving conversations from peer-to-peer channels to a Facebook wall-type of rolling board, more people become aware of what’s happening and can help reducing defects in the communication: clarifying a point of view, bringing other perspectives, adding other sources of information and vetting the content.

2. Overproduction

Private peer-to-peer communication channels like email and phone calls are great for exchanges that need to be private and restricted to a few people. They are horrible for content that could benefit a larger group. Look at your inbox: unless you are some kind of chief strategist behind a super-secret initiative, chances are that the vast majority of emails there have content that would help others make their work better. In our organizations, the same information is created and consumed every day with no or little reuse via email, phone and meetings, with a shelf-life of days or even minutes. Like book publishers before Gutenberg, we are over-producing valuable content for the consumption of a few. Internal social business platforms bring the Java programming motto to content: create it once, share it everywhere.

3. Waiting

Many of us despise the Blackberry today, but it had the merit of making information flow better by reducing the waiting intrinsic to the email communication pattern that’s asynchronous and batch-ish by nature. As people could answer emails on the go, it reduced the time information would be sitting in inboxes without processing. However, its benefits were still confined to email limitations: short reach and private in nature. Social business platforms are like Blackberrys on steroids: information that’s interesting, important or popular never just sits there. It’s continuously re-tweeted, discussed and improved upon.

4. Over processing

Most corporate intranets are a victim of over processing. We use very sophisticated web content management systems to create web pages that are beautiful but are often under-utilized. If you create a very elegant page of content but nobody – or very few – actually consume it, your content is like the beautiful flower that blossomed in the middle of the tropical forest but nobody saw it. The look and feel of a Google Search or a Facebook is dead simple and somewhat inelegant, but is very efficient. Good social business platforms mimic that: they are not as capable of creating glossy web pages, but oh boy that activity stream in the home page does attract lots of eyeballs.

5. Transport

You have no shortage of good content in your enterprise systems: email, SharePoint, intranet, corporate wikis and local drives. The actual problem is that you don’t have efficient ways of moving that content efficiently from where it is created to where it is needed. Your corporate search tries to follow Google and rely on cross links to establish relevance, but you don’t have enough cross-links in your intranet to make that ranking meaningful. Efficient social business platforms mitigate that by leveraging social bookmarks, wall-sharing of interesting content and blog posts to provide a social layer around relevant content and bring it to the top. Socially-influenced results are a much better ranking algorithm for corporate intranets than cross links between top-down editorialized pages.

6. Inventory

By far, the biggest “inventory” of information in most organizations are each employees’ email inboxes. You go out for some well-deserved vacation and suddenly you have 1,000 emails waiting for you, completely unprocessed. Had most of that communication happened via a social business platform, others working on the same department or project could have picked up the slack and kept the ball rolling.

7. Motion

Likewise, the most notorious example of motion waste in terms of information processing in a traditional corporation is meetings: no matter if they are face-to-face or remote, people “move” to a physical or virtual meeting room and share a fixed-box slot where they are only partially productive. While some meetings are crucial and necessary, most are just poor substitutes for our inability to move information efficiently. Because information is often not digitized or searchable, we use meetings to move it from the source to the destination–from the person with the knowledge to the person who needs the knowledge. Fedex and Walmart would laugh at us if we moved physical products the way we move information. Social business platforms help you to digitize more content (via status updates, wikis, blog posts, etc.), filter it better (via likes, bookmarks, shares, ratings) and distribute it better (via walls, “mentions,” personal and group streams), reducing the need for meetings for everything.

8. Human Intellect

Your organization knows so much more than what the organizational chart tells you! That person now working as a business architect may have been a good financial adviser or teller in a past role, but you don’t know that, unless you allow her a platform to express herself. Your business analyst may know a cool MS-Word trick that your Java programmer never heard about and could save his team hours every month. There’s so much unused human talent out there. And people feel better when they are perceived as full human beings with a broad set of skills and knowledge, not human APIs processing a single service queue. Work can be much more rewarding personally when you let employees contribute beyond what’s listed in their job description. And a social business platform is a powerful enabler of that: by flattening the communications channels, the person you are and the knowledge you have both come across much more naturally compared to using tools from yesteryear.

A single blog post, of course, cannot cover all aspects of how the eight wastes framework is applicable to our corporate communications and collaboration. But I hope it can help your analytical mind to identify where you can use a social business platform to improve the way your organization processes information.

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Aaron Kim

Aaron Kim is the Head of Digital Social Collaboration at the Royal Bank of Canada, and led the efforts to bring social business and social collaboration to an organization of 79,000 employees. He’s also been a public speaker at several events across the globe, from the Web 2.0 Expo to JiveWorld, from Singapore to Barcelona. He has a passion for innovation and for making work smarter, more meaningful and rewarding to all. Born and raised in Brazil, to a Korean father and Japanese mother, he also volunteers in several diversity initiatives, inside and outside RBC. In the past, he worked as a consultant both at IBM Canada and Unisys Brazil, having played the roles of solutions architect, Basel II analyst, performance engineer, Java programmer, Unix administrator and environmental biologist. He holds an MBA from the University of Toronto, and a bachelor’s degree in Biology from the Universidade de São Paulo. He lives in Toronto, Canada, is married to Tania and have a son, Lucas.

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