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Lean communication: Unboxing your inbox

Shane Soule

For most of my career, email has been my nemesis. “Inbox Zero” was the constant goal, and I only achieved it once a quarter when I finally archived all my unread emails. I’d tell myself that if it was truly important, the senders would reach out again. Unfortunately, I didn’t calculate the cost to our efficiency, and even our reputation, that the flood of unread emails could leave behind.

Last month I calculated that 80% of my inbox was dominated by internal emails from my own team based around these common themes:

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Quote Requests (with blueprints and job specs attached)

  • Sent multiple times to different departments
  • Replies with questions or, “got it”
  • Follow up emails checking for updates

Order Communications

  • Executing orders
  • Confirming status or making changes
  • Confirming if special orders have been received, etc.

We were missing important communications from customers and vendors because we were sorting through emails that most of us really didn’t need to read. In our Monday morning huddle I advised the team that I was banning internal email for the week to force us to create a better way to communicate. The team thought I was crazy, but the ideas started immediately and kept building throughout the week. Sure, we were all annoyed to be forced into change, but by the end of the week we had some great high-level systems and processes to work with.

1. Create a central content repository

Instead of emailing prints, quotes, order acknowledgements, etc., we created a storage system in Dropbox. We now have cloud-based access from anywhere and on any device. A few of the highlights included:

  • CUSTOMERS folders for each customer or prospect
  • PROJECTS in the folders by subdivision and job name
  • TEMPLATED folders to copy, paste and rename including: blueprints, communications, quote docs, order docs
  • QUOTE/ORDER request forms with all specs needed for all products we sell

2. Integrated team collaboration software

Without a means to dialogue about the projects in the Dropbox folders, we were left Microsoft Teams was existing software that once utilized fully, gave us the means to communicate outside of email. Team members could message each other directly or create specific groups (also called Teams) and communicate with multiple people based on responsibility and collaboration. We now have Teams for estimating, truss design, accounting, etc. This is a faster and easier way to communicate; it’s mobile friendly, and it eliminated about 25% of our emails.

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3. Setup ERP dashboards and mobile interface

After checking with our ERP provider to consider recommendations they could offer to help us streamline communication, we implemented a couple more.

Sales dashboards

In a paperless ERP world, everything is tracked, and there is an ability to automate notifications at any step in a quote/order cycle. They helped us create sales dashboards that tracked the status of every quote, order, special order, delivery, etc. from one screen.

Mobile ERP interface

Now sales reps can view the delivery schedule, order/quote status, or anything they need from an app on their phone. They can even see the GPS truck location and estimated delivery time of every scheduled load.

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Did all this matter? Did it pay off? Yes! We went from an average of 156 emails/day per team member down to 45. Those 45 are the important communications from customers and vendors that we can now see quickly and respond to faster while improving customer service.

Shane Soule consults with LBM and component companies to increase productivity and profits, and improve the experience for both customers and team members. Reach Shane at

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