Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Death by Email

Today, email and electronic communication has become part of our lives. The messages pile up in our Inbox and many of us have difficulty keeping track of it all. Without good systems to manage the information we might all become buried under the sheer volume.

I recently worked with a talented architect-builder that was very busy as a result of his award-winning designs. His construction manager had become overwhelmed by the information associated with the increased workload. I discovered that he had 2000 emails in his Inbox with over 600 of them were unread.

Contrarily, another builder I know refuses to accept emails from his customers. Knowing him, I just thought this was his arrogance. That certainly would reduce the number of emails but personally I wouldn’t be comfortable with such a drastic approach. However, I do recognize that protocols (rules) can be applied to messages without eliminating the use of email altogether.

The risk to our business relationships is the implied responsibility we assume through the exchange of emails and the almost certain failure that will occur as the messages become too numerous. Perhaps the use of email within project management needs a look. One of the goals is to reduce the volume but still maintain some of the convenience.

Back in the day (before email) we had just completed drywall on a project when the customer contacted us because she thought windows in her closet were missing. At some point during the design process, windows had showed in the Master closet but the final drawings did not include them. She brought up conversations and discussions that we had months prior.

We immediately adopted a protocol and added it to our pre-contract customer orientation. Upon authorization of the contract set of plans and specifications, all previous conversations and information are archived and removed from the project scope. We encourage the customer to review their plans and specs thoroughly. Once the contract is signed, we are obligated to build only what is represented within the documents. Essentially this creates a fresh start on the project and allows the construction documents to be passed from sales to the construction department. This works just as well with a paper-based process.

Electronic communication like email, texting and “the cloud”, provides easy access to our information, but can actually make our lives more difficult if the managing processes aren’t in place. I admit to my love for technology but I try to keep my processes as simple as possible. I want technology to enhance my life and certainly not increase the burden.

I remind myself that even the highest quality cooking appliances won’t make anyone a better cook if they don’t know how to read the recipe. In the next post about this subject I’ll start to list some ideas for streamlining electronic communication and managing the information.

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