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Is e-mail ruining our agility? Should more effort be taken to restrict it or dare to even ban it within the workplace?

Lets take a look at e-mail and how agile or lean it is vs not.

  1. ANTI – For team members who are located in the same building, using e-mails is not encouraging face to face communication and we all know that face to face communication is king.
  2. ANTI – For team members that are distributed using e-mails is not encouraging video or even telephone communication which is certainly better than the written form.
  3. ANTI – Safety concerns. I recently got told by someone not to send them an email (or that they wouldn’t want to send one to me) that had the slightest declaration of a cultural issue in their department for fear that it would be found and used against them. Similarly I have heard of people keeping mountains of emails to create of documented trail of promises/conversations in case their boss points the blame finger towards them.
  4. ANTI – E-mails create invisible wait zones. Reply’s are rarely immediate, they get forgotten scrolled past the visible area of the screen; there is limited visibility of where your request is response is in the recipients backlog.
  5. ANTI – Context switching. ‘You have mail’ pop up boxes creates immediate context switching in our brains. We see that box pop up and think ‘Hmm that could be interesting!’ tab out of what you were doing to seek the new. We have just re-focused our brains and consequently incurred productivity loss.
  6. MID – Transparency. This one could go either way. In some cases being left out of the right email group or not being thought of in the first place means potentially important information doesn’t cross your path. Alternatively mass group e-mail are way more efficient than old school pamphlet newsletters or internal mail for information. There are better ways to mass communicate – do a webcast or a blog that allows for a feedback loop or better yet get around and talk to your people.
  7. MID – Factual data. Need to send actual detailed data? An email is okay, but again there are better mechanisms such as sharing it for the whole team on a collaborative intranet site. On a collaborative intranet site it is accessible by all and version controllable.
  8. MID – PRO – Meeting invites. It is an effective way to organise a meeting with someone. Of course you could just walk up to that person, but for groups it is good. Then again, is that group your project team and are not your project team meeting every morning for a standup and at the start and end of the iterations – so what are these superfluous meetings for exactly?
It all comes back to the manifesto – individuals and interactions and customer collaboration. Email doesn’t help us, it is stopping us from effectively communicating with each other. Don’t try ‘no emails for a day’, it doesn’t work – people will just store their emails for the following day. Try ‘no emails for a month’ and see how you go. I think you would be amazed by the change in communication as a result of this.

3 thoughts on “You’ve got mail!

  1. robertdw says:

    My preferred way of using email for communication goes like this:

    Send a question, or an outline of the topic under discussion. Say you’ll be over in a few minutes to talk about it.

    In a few minutes, go over, have the face to face discussion. Note that it really doesn’t matter if they read the email or not – the immediate point of writing the email was to help _you_ focus on what you want to talk about.

    When done, if there were any decisions made, summarise that (honestly!) in an email replying to the first email.

    This turns the email into a ‘paper trail’ of the discussion – you see what triggered it, and you see the results.

    Works great with features like email boxes being read by wikis as well.

  2. I could see email helping you form the question, but then again so would writing it down on paper or in a wiki. Why bother with the email if the Q&A can be directly handled by a wiki? Why do a wiki if you can videotape the conversation and record it on a wiki? This way your discussion can now be watched from a distributed location with all of the subtle body language nuiances.

    Still, I know there are many elements I haven’t thought of.

  3. robertdw says:

    Oh, you do the wiki as well – for example, there’s this feature of Confluence:

    As for why do a wiki instead of audio recording or video taping – video and audio are very high bandwidth, but they’re time heavy. As a receiver of the information, it takes a lot longer to process a video than an email or a wiki page. I would also normally be more interested in the outcome of the discussion than the discussion itself (though _having_ the discussion available is definitely a plus)

    I do find that there are often obstacles to making a recording – for example, the need to find a relatively quiet area to have the discussion so that the sound quality is bearable. This doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have value, but it does mean you can’t always use it.

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