An Email and Popcorn and Tsunami Analogy

What do emails, popcorn and tsunamis have in common?

As heat increases, corn kernel popping peaks and the scrambling activity accelerates like a tsunami. If not carefully watched, the popcorn kernels may burn, create that awful smell, and start smoking and trigger a fire alarm (waste).

This popcorn-tsunami analogy is similar to email strings. The seemingly calm flow of a typical day’s email flow may escalate to a tsunami level in a matter of minutes. For example, there might be a complaint email from a top customer who copied the CEO to elevate the heat factor. What happens next may lead to an email-popcorn-tsunami if no escalation path has been defined. Sound familiar?

At first glance, email communication may seem more efficient and faster than the old fashioned in-person discussion or telephone calls. This is probably true until the email distribution goes out of control and becomes an email-popcorn-tsunami!

How can an organization prevent this waste?

  • Recognition of the waste. The first step is to identify and recognize this as a form of waste by pinpointing the source and quantifying the impact.
  • Quantify the waste. This inefficiency is commonly encountered in businesses but often ignored since the gravity of waste is not readily quantifiable. There is a saying “if you cannot quantify the waste, it may not be significant to worry about.” Quantifying the waste increases its visibility and solidifies the benchmark value.
  • Do something to minimize or eliminate the waste. Once measured, waste will not necessarily dissipate on its own – do something to reduce the waste! In the case of the email-popcorn-tsunami, create and implement email rules. For example, address the email to the target audience instead of sending the email to the entire plant.
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Company ABC practice of forwarding a complaint to all process owners was analyzed as part of a streamlining initiative.


It was determined that the average number of workers in this email distribution list was 50 but only 5 employees had the ability to investigate a complaint.


Quantify waste and recommend actions to reduce waste by at least 50 percent.


  1. Limit the email distribution to personnel directly responsible for processing the complaint.
  2. Create a central archive repository of all complaints to provide information access and minimize email distribution.

Measures of Success

Measure of email waste and savings after implementation of  initiative are shown in the table below.

Number of People Receiving An Email Before the Streamlining Initiative Number of People Receiving An Email After the Streamlining Initiative Savings*
100 5
Average time to read each email = 0.5 minutes Total time for 100 people read one email = 50 minutes Total time for 5 people to read one email:

2.5 minutes


237 minutes per week or 205 hours per year


* Frequency of five emails per week.

Comments 6

  1. Mustafa Ghulam

    I do like your mention of email rules. Reality is that most organisations are using email programmes such as MS Outlook for more purposes than it was intended for. Furthermore, there appears to be very training emphasis placed on training people about email management and using smart functions part of Outlook. This results in a cycle of inefficiency as you have correctly noted.

  2. Paul

    Thanks for the post. Really useful stuff. I think a lot of people suffer with this.

  3. Fischer

    Wow, it’s crazy to see that nearly 4 hours per week at the end! I know this is an extreme scenario and that my business has much fewer people, but it still makes me think of all the time that gets wasted…

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