The email 10-to-1 rule

In A 10-to-1 rule of email based project management, Lars Plougmann neatly demonstrates one of the major problems with email in a project environment. Starting with a ten-strong team, he suggests an important change notified by email could end up with the following result:

  • 9 people read the email
  • 8 people file the email (in their private folders, thereby duplicating effort)
  • 7 people are interrupted in their work or thoughts when the email arrives
  • 6 people will never be able to find the email again
  • 5 people didn’t actually need to know about the change
  • 4 people joining the project in the next phase wouldn’t have received the email
  • 3 people will be able to find the email again, should they need to
  • 2 people will check back to the email at a later date when they need the information
  • 1 of them will understand the email in context, be able to find it at a later date and action it

All is not lost, of course. You can send the email again at a later date, project participants can forward the email on to new members of the project team and the message can be re-iterated and explained in meetings and conference calls.

His article also has a useful link to a Business Week article, E-Mail Is So Five Minutes Ago, talking about greater adoption of alternatives to email, including private workplace wikis, blogs, Instant Messenger, RSS and “more elaborate forms of groupware such as Microsoft SharePoint, which allows workers to create Web sites for teams’ use on projects.”

The latter could, of course, also include construction collaboration technologies (aka “project extranets”) of the kind employed on a growing number of UK construction schemes (see, for example, my 4 March post Email used to issue 65% of CAD information). Many of these have deliberately avoided use of email (partly for just the reasons Lars outlines – but mainly to ensure that a complete audit trail of all project communications is retained in one central location), perhaps only using email to notify an individual when there is something that demands action rather than copying everybody in ‘for information’. (See my previous posts on The email argument, and here).

tags: email, extranet, project management

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