A highly efficient and productive organization works like a machine. We take this statement literally. This does not mean that we treat human workers as robots. On the contrary, we pay extra attention to the dynamics of human-machine interaction and expand the concept of process design to address human protocol as well.
Our process optimization typically results in the reduction of ineffective communication methods, namely paper, email and spreadsheets.
There was a time when some companies claimed to have reduced or entirely eliminated paper use at the office. The reason we don't really hear about this anymore is because some paperwork simply cannot be bypassed. It could be a legal requirement, or simply a matter of user preference.
Still, we can reduce the negative impact of excessive paperwork. The key is to design the information flow, so that it stays in digital form as long as possible, and introduce paper at a non-bottleneck stage.
Email is a ubiquitous form of communication. It is also a major productivity killer. When one worker writes an email to his fellow employee, the information is embedded in an unstructured format. Being unstructured means being error-prone and cannot be automated. The core idea of emailing, or messaging in general, is one person telling another about some information.
A properly designed system should centralize the knowledge and distribute the control. When an order is placed, every person responsible for the fulfillment of this order should have access to the same information, without requiring the sending of internal emails.
Another misused and abused tool is the spreadsheet. A spreadsheet is a handy tool for crunching data; it works well for a one man show. In an organization that has more than one administrative staff member, however, the spreadsheet quickly gets in the way.
First of all, it's difficult to share spreadsheets. The moment a spreadsheet is copied and emailed, it is potentially outdated. The cloud-based spreadsheet, such as the one in Google docs, has somewhat addressed the real-time sharing problem, but it still fails to bypass the other obstacle: spreadsheets are too flexible and open for interpretation.
The understanding of why the above protocols are ineffective serves as the foundation for building software systems that enable effective structured communication.