I once worked for a client who had a ‘No Email on Thursday’ policy. The rule was, you did not send or respond to emails on a Thursday, you got on the phone or off your backside and you talked to people. It was surprisingly effective and as a test manager it made me stop and think why I was using email.
I used to think I used email as it provided a fast and effective way to communicate, but actually the developers on that particular project, spread over a number of offices and sites used IM heavily and that proved a much better and more instant form of communication than my emails.
In fact email has often slowed down my communication, where a phone call has sped it up. Today for example I emailed three versions of an integration test diagram and reviewed the response before I finally called the architect and talked through the correct design on the phone.
So why do I use email?
Some of the reasons that surprised me when I came to think about it are;
I use email to drop others in it.
Of course at the time I am sure I don’t think of it like that, I am sure I justify it along the lines of, ‘for your information’. What I find myself doing is copying in someone on the email trail so that they are aware of an issue or problem I am experiencing. In fact I was once told that the most important names on an email are often those that appear in the CC field.
I am not saying this is good or bad practice, (or rather I am saying that it is both good and bad practice) just that you need to be aware why you are copying this or that person in. Ask yourself, do I really need to copy in his or my boss, I do I really need to pick up the phone and sort this out.
I use email as an audit trail.
Again I am not saying this is bad, in fact I find this one of the most important uses of email both in terms of tracking my own actions and those of others. I can’t remember the times I have gone back to an old email and re-sent it with a comment along the lines of, “I told you ‘this’ and I told you ‘then’. (Of course, emails trails are becoming more and more used in court cases and so it is always worth considering what you are putting in an email, remember just because you deleted it, that does not mean it is deleted on your server and the recipients server or inbox.)
The problem with this is that I sometimes hide behind the fact that I sent an email four weeks ago, and so, this or that should have been done, instead of taking responsibility to check that things are progressing. This week I had to call my project manager and explain that I had taken my eyes of the ball around work that should have been going on to enable my testing. Yes I had emailed requesting this work, but no, it had not been done and yes I should have checked.
I use email as an excuse not to do real work.
I am an email junkie, so if I am not responding to email from work, I am often checking my personal email account. Why I check my personal account is always a mystery to me, as even with spam filters and rules I spend half my time deleting offers from Nigerian widows who want me to launder cash, Russian singles who want to find a loving man and the current Mrs Simms who keeps forwarding me emails about weekend theatre breaks and exotic holiday destinations. In fact I can easily spend half an hour reading emails rather than reviewing a specification or writing a test plan!
Long live email
Now before anyone things I have a big downer on email, let me say I love email, I think it is a powerful and essential business tool, it provides functionality that could not easily be achieved in any other way and is the life blood of most project teams. However…..
I wonder if you have ever really thought about how and why you send emails, and if you would ever consider a ‘No Email Thursday’.
Tony Simms is the Principal Consultant at Roque Consulting
(www.roque.co.uk) he can be contacted via email, email@example.com