So what is wrong with email? It’s great and we can communicate so much easier with our teams. Email is a potential problem in the design office and effective email management should be a priority.
It is this ease of communication that is the problem in project management. When we receive “important” information we want to pass it on quickly so we fill the “to” box with as many addresses as we think need to receive it. Then we worry that maybe others need to know we have sent it, and others might want to know too, so we fill the “cc” box with more and then we click send – job done!
So lets say we have now messages to 20 people. To some receivers the information is of no immediate interest so it gets filed or perhaps more accurately it gets left in the inbox and forgotten about. How many times have you had the conversation where you tell someone that you emailed them on such and such a date and they swear blind that you haven’t until they find your email…… Not such a good communication tool.
To others it is perhaps of more immediate interest or even importance, but as you copied the whole email which might itself be formed of a chain of replies they miss the actual important bit of information that was in a reply maybe 5 emails down. But surely everyone reads email, spots the item of importance and carries out the necessary action? They might if your email was not one of many all clamouring for attention. We suffer from email overload and to cope with email many read it quickly or leave it to read it later….later…..later. So in fact your important information has not even been read or perhaps only skimmed, yet design may be going on to which it has relevance resulting in rework when it catches up.
Email has become a monster. It eats time that could be better spent. Staff spend a significant amount of time each day trying to keep on top of email and in some cases failing. More time is spent looking for emails later when the “did you get…” conversation happens followed by other work being put aside to then deal with it. A succession of contradictory emails can send teams in one direction and then another. A surge of activity at the expense of something else occurs then it is back to the first plan.
How do we solve the problem? You can apply 5S:
Sift – Only send onward what is important and not the whole email chain so it is clear what the content is and what action is required. Avoid “Reply All”
Sort – Decide who really needs the information and send only to them
Set in Order – Structure the filing of emails to avoid creating a morass of email, particularly in the inbox. Use a priority system for action.
Standardise – Get everyone to use the same rules
Sustain – Keep doing it
Fundementally, recognise that in Lean terms email is a push media and that it can create a wave of tasks or work in progress that is counter to flow, especially if it is unstructured, unprioritised and untargeted. Use of systems like Sharepoint or Business Collaborator to create information “pools” from which teams can pull information when needed may be preferable to email.
At the personal level use 5D to manage your inbox. Do (the action), Defer (add to a to do list), Delete, Delegate, or Drawer (file).