Using E-Mail for Project Management

E-Mail and project management

Recent studies indicate that there are some 294 Billion email messages sent each day throughout the world. This means some 2.8 million emails are sent each second and 90 Trillion emails are sent every year. On average, corporate email users send and receive 112 emails per day!

Now, who knows if these numbers are exactly right? It’s hard to imagine how these calculations and estimates are made. But, here’s the point…there’s a TON of email that people get in their Inbox on a regular basis. The majority of these emails are swept right out the door and into the recycling bin without ever being opened. People have become numb to the volume of email they receive and have become extremely proficient at filtering only the email they want to open.

You may wonder then with all of this noise if email is still an effective method of communication when it comes to managing your projects. The reality is that email is not going anywhere anytime soon so it’s important to learn how to manage projects effectively using email.

The following are some Pros and Cons of using email as well as some ideas on how to manage projects effectively using email.

The Bright Side of Using Email

It’s hard to imagine a workplace without email. But, it really wasn’t all that long ago (just a little more than 25 years) when email was just beginning to make its entrance into the workplace. People were wondering what they would be able to do with this tool, if they could learn how to manage projects using this new technology, and if it was going to stay around. Well, we have our answer. Email has allowed us to:

  • Be Flexible with our Time – In order to transmit a message about your project through email, you and the receiver of this message don’t have to be present at the time of communication. You can collaborate with team members any time of the day, and there are many project managers who get their best work done late at night or early in the morning. If this is you, why not take advantage of the fact you can fire off the results of this work to your team who will eventually get around to reading the message on the time schedule that works for them.
  • Be Expansive in our Locations – Using email has allows us to move outside of the four walls that we were used to being confined to in the workplace. It has become the norm for teams to be distributed in different offices, cities, states, and even countries. It’s up to each project manager to figure out how to manage projects effectively in this new environment, and email has certainly allowed this to happen.
  • Be Lightning Fast – “Did you get it yet? The bright side of using emailOK. How about now? What! Not yet? What’s taking so long?” ask the anxious project manager on the other end of the line as he waits mere seconds for his document to be delivered. There used to be a time when it would take days to get a document from one place to another. Now it’s hard to imagine how to manage a project without the instantaneous nature of email

The Dark Side of Using Email

Using email to manage a project is not all good all the time. There are definitely some downsides to using email to manage your projects. For example:

  • E-mail May Not Get Read – Since the average corporate user sends and receives 112 emails a day, that means there are those that receive 25 emails and then there are those that receive hundreds! This becomes unmanageable over time and there are people that will just delete all the email in their inbox and start over. They reason that if it’s important enough for someone to get a response from them they will resend an email or come see them in person.
  • E-mail May Be Misinterpreted – Sarcasm, humor, and other forms of communication that work well face-to-face never seem to translate well in email. You have probably received an email like that before where you couldn’t quite make out the tone, or determine if the person was being serious, or if it was a poor attempt at a joke.
  • E-mail is Not Spontaneous – The real-time collaboration that is necessary to successfully manage a project is remiss if you rely exclusively on email. It’s hard to replace the spontaneity and bouncing of ideas off of each other that comes from face-to-face or even over the phone conversations.

How to Effectively Manage Projects Using Email

Now that we know the pros and cons of this type of medium, there are a number of things you can do if you want to know how to effectively manage projects using email. The following are a few key points:

  • Get to the Point – There’s no need to write an encyclopedia when it comes to putting your emails together. If you have to scroll down to read your email you have gone WAY TOO FAR – by about 10 times! Keep your emails short, transactional, to the point, and fact based. This will eliminate the confusion and misunderstandings that occur from wordy emails.
  • Proofread Your Email – Once you’ve assembled your brief email, the next thing you want to do is put yourself in the recipient’s shoes and make sure it makes sense to them. Read through your email not only for grammatical errors and typos (which is still important to catch, by the way) but also to make sure your message is clearly understood and can be acted upon.
  • Follow–Up – There’s nothing wrong with going to someone after you’ve sent your email and asking if they had a chance to read what you sent. Remember the example used above about the people that will do a wholesale delete of all their emails just to keep their Inbox uncluttered.follow-upA good approach could be to stop by and see if they have any questions about the email you just sent. This gives them the benefit of the doubt that they’ve had a chance to read your email and you are giving them the opportunity to ask any questions that they may have. More often than not, they won’t have read it yet but will take a quick look at it while you are standing there with them.
  • Keep a Copy – There’s two motives for keeping copies of important emails. The first is to serve as a reference to keep the project moving forward. The second is to be able to pull the email out when something goes wrong and say “see…I told you so!” That is not how to manage a project and we are not talking about the second behavior.What we are talking about is keeping a copy of critical and important emails for the purpose of making sure a project stays on track and important decisions have been documented.

E-mail will be around for a long time to come and it’s important to know how to manage a project using this medium. What is interesting, however, is that this digital form of communication is taking even a bit of a different direction via Instant Messages and even text messages. We’ll see how this unfolds in the future and the impact that will have on effective project management.

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