Monday, June 2, 2008

Email doesn't work

There is one thing that annoys me more than anything when on a team based project:


Not volume. Having a Blackberry and some smart filters helps cut down on volume immensely. It also doesn't hurt that most of my team is familiar with the correct way to write an email, either by design or by personality. No, my problem with email is that it's not designed for team communication.

1. It's always hidden.

Email, by default, is only available in two places: the sender's outbox and the recipient's inbox. Barring bored sysadmin, only two people know of any email's existence: the sender and the recipient. If a concurrence went through, or estimates on hours, or the secret panic word that means that monkeys are loose on the fourth floor, the rest of the team is reliant on those two to spread the word. Spreading the word, if it's done, can lead to a layer of misinterpretation and obfuscation of a trail of logic. At the end of the day, you're late, over budget, and monkeys are jamming the printer and making a mess of the coffee supplies.

2. It's not reliable.

We have a problem where I am with mailboxes always running out of space. People love to email back and forth documents (oh, more on that later!) leaving me with .pst's that hover around a gig. Keeping them cleaned out helps, but there are days when you're tooling around with customers, and someone has decided that the weather is perfect for a pdf storm. By the time you're back to the office, you realize that your blackberry has been quiet the past hour, not because everyone has decided to take you off their cc's, but because your email box looks like the "Gluttony" guy from Seven.

3. It's a good excuse.

Does anyone else grit their teeth when they hear someone say that the email they sent out three weeks ago was 'caught by the spam filter'? I'd love to see a study where how often that was true was tested. Or that another filter 'went rogue' and started sorting emails in random folders. I hate that I have to follow up emails with a desk side. This defeats the purpose of an electronic format.

4. It's not a collaboration system... but people think it is.

Documentation fairies are quite familiar with having to work on documents collaboratively... sometimes not on purpose. There are times a supposedly locked document goes out for review, and comes back completely altered.

"I made some edits for you! :D :D :D"

That's not so bad, if you only have one document out in the ether. If you've sent it out for ten concurrences, though...

That's a lot of smilies. :(

5. It's not a backup... but people think it's that, too.

I know people that email themselves a document as a back-up. Or they send it to someone else, assuming that person will hold on to it for them.

These people have access to network drives. And SVN. And file drop systems. All of which are backed up.

This blows my freaking mind.

So what to do?

That's actually my next project. Here are my goals.

1. Get communication out of the inbox and somewhere public.

A website is the preferred venue, since the main goal of the web is to share, and there are about 10,476 products out there to help groups of people share. Also, once an item is up, it's up. We can see it's up. We know that other people can see that it's up. No more lost, eaten, or ignored emails.

2. Utilize workflows.

I hate workflows in power points. To me, a workflow should never rely on people remembering a scrap of unUML. If you're going to go to the effort of making the flow, go ahead and feed it to a machine that will tell me what to do when my section of cogwork is done.

3. Teach the tech-scared versioning tools.

I have taught graphics people to use SVN. There is no reason on ghu's green earth that I cannot teach anyone, up to and including my seven year old, Subversion. Plus, I really like the name. I'm hoping they come out with a sister product one day, called Perversion.

I'm hoping we can return email to what suits it best, at least in my small section of the industry: a great little communication tool, rather than a project manager and archive system.


Keddren said...

Email is also not a filing system HAUUGLUALUGAUGLAUGAUGLAA!!!!

However, it sounds like your sysadmins need to take another look at your email system's limits...

Ket said...

g/l with that :) hopefully the people who are stupid and don't understand how email works aren't also too stubborn for change.