Preston Smith's Corner

How can I break out of the e-mail vortex?

December 2002 Quick Tip

E-mail is a primary means of communication these days. Product developers spend more time on e-mail than they do on the telephone. It can be a great way to communicate.

But it also sucks up vast amounts of time that could be put to direct use in developing products. Worse, it is often a source of miscommunication and project delay.

Fortunately, you can take many steps to improve e-mail’s communication power. Many of these suggestions involve establishing policies or protocols to which everyone in the organization agrees. Thus, to build buy-in, develop these with lots of participation and be sure to focus on a specific deficiency that you have observed. Consider these protocols:

  • A standardized way of writing the subject line, for example, starting with the project number (if you are having trouble sorting incoming e-mails)
  • Always replying within a certain period, such as 24 hours, even if you do not have the full answer yet (if you are wasting time waiting for replies)
  • Putting all requests for action in the closing paragraph of the message (if you notice that many requested actions are overlooked)
  • Consciously trimming or adding to a message (if messages often contain either too little or too much information to respond effectively)

Finally, always be sensitive to how a thread is moving toward resolution. If you notice a message returning a few times without closure, maybe it’s time to forget the computer and pick up the telephone. Often, basic differences in tacit assumptions can be settled in seconds this way.

For more on this, see our article on dispersed product development teams.

(c) Copyright 2013 Preston G. Smith. All Rights Reserved.

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