Email is evil. All of us receive too much. There are many perpetrators of bad email etiquette – the people who email a huge audience with information for just a few people, those who Reply All and cc:, people who try to solve complicated problems through email. Arghh! You’re killing me! Stop it!
Too many project managers succumb to the false allure of email. As PMs we must convey information to a large number of people so email seems like an easy, natural way to do it. But many PMs over-rely on email and they end up spamming people – soon, their emails are ignored altogether.
Email is an example of a push communication. It is pushed from a person to many people. There are three problems with push communications:
- You have to guess the right people to receive the email
- You have to guess the right information that those people need
- Communications are transient
The first two problems are hard – knowing exactly who should receive what information is complicated and takes time. Some PMs don’t bother – they send all information to all people. The result is too many people on the email communication (which is compounded by the numerous Reply Alls ) and too much information in the email. People start to ignore the email because it is either not relevant to them or the relevant information is buried below the fold.
The third problem – transience – becomes an issue on longer projects. Email only reaches the people on the project at the time of the email. Team members that join later miss all of that information.
A better way is to use pull communication techniques. A classic example of a pull communication is Facebook. People don’t email their personal updates. They simply post them to Facebook. Everyone who was given access can see the information.
How can pull communication be applied to project management? PMs should use intranet sites, blogs or wikis instead of email.
Let’s use an internal blog as an example. A PM would post project information to an internal blog (by internal, I mean only employees can see it – and perhaps a subset of employees if security is needed). A blog automatically solves two of the three email problems: 1) you don’t have to guess the recipients – it is posted for all to see and 2) it is permanent – future team members have access to the exact communications that were originally posted.
How about the third problem – how do you ensure people get to the right information as quickly as possible? With tags. Every blog post is tagged according to the information contained in it (see below “filed under” as an example). Tags for a project would be: project status, budget, risk, procurement, scope changes, and other common project management topics. Then someone who is only interested in the budget (someone from accounting for example) would simply search for posts marked with the budget tag. Or they could set it up where every new post tagged budget is emailed to them. (Microsoft SharePoint can be setup to do all this.)
PMs should switch more communications from push to pull. It enables more efficient communication (which we all need) and fewer emails (which we all want).