Systems Thinking – Open Loop Information Flow

We perform Product Development System Assessments (PDSA) for our customers. I’m frequently surprised by how many product development organizations still use email as their primary medium for the communication of information. Attached to these emails are test reports, marketing information, requirements, etc. Documentation that is critical to the performance of their product development!

I recently read a British study stating 38% of a knowledge worker’s time is spent looking for information. I can’t really believe that. We’ve run into organizations where it is that high, but not as a standard or average. But event if you discount that and cut it in half, that is about 20% of the time that knowledge workers spend just hunting for information. And this time spent hunting, this loss of efficiency, is invisible because it just gets buried with everything else inside the charges to project time within specific projects.

The other issue we have with email is that it’s open loop. It has no feedback. If the timing of the sending of some information is wrong, then the recipient will have to search through their inbox for the information after the fact and often times will ask for it to be resent rather than hunt for it. Also, you have various revisions distributed across the organization sitting on various hard drives – some of them current and some of them out of date.

When Bowen & Spears, famous researchers, talked about the need for a direct link between internal suppliers and internal customers, I think they talked about that connection as more personal, more collaborative, and closed loop. For your information flow, if you’re still using an open loop system, find a collaborative tool — PLM for instance. Help your researchers and knowledge workers take the pain out of their information flow.


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