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Email Best Practices: Critical View on Emails in Projects

Email Best Practices: Critical View on Emails in Projects. The use of emails is quite normal in any business in the new millennium. In principle, there is nothing wrong with emails, however, my critical view and insights may invite for some changes in your project. Further to that, we have developed an email policy to address the topics discussed in this article.

To receive 50 to 200 emails a day in my project works is quite common. The nature of emails is from information to action. However the quality of emails spans from pointless emails to real important and crucial emails. My observation about the emails over several projects of different nature is the following:

  1. Emails are used for short notices on topics, which have been forgotten. The excuse: “I sent you an email”. Yes, you may have, but I never confirmed your email….
  2. Emails are used to compensate for no or bad planning. They are fixing the loopholes in the planning on short notice. However, it does not fix long-term dependencies, which should be analysed and planned in a proper planning tool.
  3. Emails are used to compensate for bad communication. It is easy to take a short cut via email to communicate to project stakeholders, either because the conversation would be inconvenient or because it would require effort to call for a discussion.
  4. Emails are used to delegate works, but in most cases the receiver is not clear what exactly needs to be done until what date and time.
  5. Emails are used to distribute documents and correspondence. However, version control and duplication is often a problem.
  6. Too many emails in your inbox prevents you from real work. And if you are the project manager, you become the bottleneck of information flow if you do not clear your inbox every few hours.
  7. After thousands of emails, it will become difficult to keep proper email records and find the right email again. It’s about knowledge management.

If the above is the case, you may want to change certain things in your project. The first point is to implement a more comprehensive planning and ensure by-weekly planning meetings with the team to ensure that the planning is understood and clear for all stakeholders. If the weekly working plan based on the overall schedule is agreed, it can be distributed via email after the meeting. The important part is, that the individual actions are understood and confirmed by the work package owner.

Delegating works via email is possible if you make it clear WHAT needs to be done, by WHEN it needs to be completed and by WHOM. The biggest mistake I have experienced in delegating works is the simple fact that the receiver does not understand WHAT to do. I make the same mistake that I expect people to know what I know but this is just a false belief. Therefore, it is critical to write exactly and explain comprehensively WHAT to do even if it seems like basic common sense.

If you have emails in your inbox from people expecting your response within just a few hours, you have to implement a more direct communication culture. Either you call for a daily huddle to discuss hot topics every day or you include in the email policy that emails are only answered within 24 hours and anything shorter has to be solved via phone call or face-to-face discussion.

To use emails to send a document or a letter is ok and it is usually for information only. However, if email is “misused” for document administration, then it’s getting tough. It is very time consuming to ensure the version control and the latest update is in the email. Multiple channels for inputs or changes can make it even tougher. Therefore, the email policy should be clear how to use email for distributing documents and letters.

And of course, too many emails are distracting and hold you back from real work. As a project manager, communication is your main job and email is part of it. But just sitting in front of the computer and managing emails is not the way to manage a project and it does not compensate for face-to-face communication with the project team, the employer or consultants.

As a conclusion, I suggest to look into your email strategy in your project. Proper planning, regular coordination meetings and a clear email policy could reduce many low value emails. The emails you finally receive need to be tagged and archived in a proper structure to find emails again when you need it. An alternative could be a cloud solution where specific topics are discussed and kept in one place. With that, knowledge is not lost in the email jungle of a computer. Use a email policy to regulate your emails. It’s worthwhile the time to think about.


Peter Wyss