We've said it before: the days when email was the primary tool for completing collaborative projects is over. Email's rise to primacy as a project management tool was due to its convenience and speed at the start. The barrier to entry was low since everyone had an email address, an email program built into their desktops or browsers, and no learning curve. So we used it not just for short, immediate messages, which were its raison d'être, but for its ability to bring people together virtually and collaborate.
But it's been eclipsed by better tools. Once you need to collaborate with a team and oversee a dozen simultaneously moving parts, email suffers from a load which it wasn't meant to bear, and makes it increasingly difficult to find information or consolidate feedback. Let's examine exactly how email reached the end of its usefulness in project collaboration:
1. Email is a Push System
In Wrike's 2015 Work Management survey, 60% of the 1,400 survey respondents pointed out that "Missing Information" was the number one cause of stress in the workplace. And email is a big part of that problem, because it is essentially a "push" system: I have to wait for you to push the information to me. What happens when I email a coworker for the updated sales deck (or its location) so I can accomplish my tasks for the day? I wait for the response to get pushed into my inbox, and I can't proceed until it arrives. No wonder U.S. productivity is so low.
Now compare that experience with the "pull" system that collaboration software gives you. If I need the updated sales deck, I can navigate to the public folder of the Marketing department, which lists among other things, folders for Content Assets and maybe even Decks. Or I could initiate a search for the sales deck using relevant key words. I don't have to wait for a coworker to push it to me, I can go get it myself.
2. Email is a Disorganized Info Repository
When an email thread is 10 messages deep and somewhere in that deep dark pit is the deadline for my assignment, I have two options: search my inbox for the word "deadline" or skim through those 10 messages one by one till I find that "missing information." In the process, I've wasted precious minutes that could have been used more productively.
In contrast, a collaboration tool gives me the due date up front, along with a complete brief of all the pertinent data I need to start work: the objective, the audience, format of the deliverable, whether it's of high or low importance, perhaps even past versions of the file I need to update. And then, I can easily group tasks into folders so that all related information or to-do items are organized by context. Sure, I can use tags or labels in my email inbox. But those are my individual settings, and the rest of my team will never see those tags.
3. Email Doesn't Have A Built-In Workflow
Related to the tags/labels issue I mentioned above is email's total lack of workflow. Sure, I could install a Gmail add-on or a Chrome extension (and there are many) to give my inbox some semblance of a process, but again, it's unique to me. Having my entire team mimic my individual set up takes time and unnecessary effort. And all so that I can label emails as "backlog, doing, done." Don't get me wrong: you're totally free to turn your inbox into a to-do list. But that's not what email was designed for.
Collaboration tools, on the other hand, were designed to take your projects, no matter how large, and break them down into smaller tasks, imposing order, prioritization, and process onto them. Even better, some (not all) cloud collaboration tool give you the ability to customize your workflows to fit how your team works — instead of the other way around. And because your team shares the same view, everyone can see the larger context of each task, and are informed when a task they're working on has progressed to the next stage of the team's workflow.
Managing Projects by Email Won't Advance Your Company
Email is not going away: it's still great for short communication and general information sharing. But email is dead as a project management tool. If you refuse to acknowledge that, then good luck keeping up with the pace of your competitors. If you continue managing projects via email, you're choosing to slow down the velocity at which your organization gets things done.
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