Classic Lean Techniques Worked Wonders at a New York City Government Office

The staff at a bureau within a large NYC municipal agency did not have an effective approach to managing the increasing burden of email. As a result, work piled up and deadlines slipped. People were overwhelmed and felt as though they had no control over their jobs.

The staff was taught how to apply lean manufacturing principles to their work. By focusing their efforts on keeping the value stream moving, staff learned to deal with the work that entered their systems — an email, a phone call, a memo, a project, — by taking one of four courses of action: doing it, delegating it, designating time to address it, or dumping it. These are the “4Ds.” When workers rigorously applied the 4Ds, nothing returned to the inbox; value always moved forward.

They implemented individual work habits that smoothed the flow of the value stream. The staff was able to:

  • Reduce needless, non-urgent interruptions
  • Schedule and block out their own value work to focus on those tasks
  • Establish sustainable “service level agreements” for email responses, rather than supporting the expectation of instant response
  • Reduce the amount of multi-tasking in favor of “single tasking”

These changes resulted in a 35% reduction of time lost to interruptions, and a 35% decrease in overtime — indicating that people were getting more done in less time.

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