I don’t know how many times it occurred to you, to hear somebody complaining about the huge number of email he is getting every day. I cannot even count the number of times I have heard this complain, as it happens too much.
Lately we have also been challenged in reading about Companies that started to rule the use of e-mail, limiting them in number or in time slots, with a number of followers who believe in this solution.
Should the people better know the problem solving techniques then a quickly assessment would tell us that this approach can not constitute a solution itself.
Let me get into this.
Does make sense to limit the use of an asinchronous communication media as the e-mails are, which by their nature don’t ensure an immediate answer?
The problem solving approach teaches us that under the ground of problems there are processes that are not working as expected, otherwise known as root causes.
Are e-mail processes or, much simpler, they are just a tool?
The difference between the two is fundamental.
Should we exclude that email may constitute a process, we understand immediately that is completely useless implementing rules on them to fix the problem.
Wikipedia states that “a tool is a way to do a certain activity” while “a process is a way to connect different activities to create value”.
Looks to me that e-mail fits very well in the “tool” definition, they are a communication media, free and flexible, that can be used as part of a series of activities but do not constitute a process themselves.
With that said, let me now propose a different vision: let’s think about the mailbox as the place in which the edges of problematic situations become very visible. Whenever there are processes which are not clear enough and have to be improved, then a lot of email are exchanged with the aim of completing or complaining about something that is not working properly. The weaker are the processes, the more email are exchanged. Should those processes work clearly and affordabily, then there will be no need to exchange a lot of e-mails to clarify what has to be done.
I get to the point. Are we sure that limiting the use of email is not a mistake in itself? it is like avoding in checking our weight on a scale so we don’t see we are getting fatter.
It is like avoiding to whatch the car’s tachimeter as a solution for not running fast with the car.
If the e-mails are not the process but are just a tool, is a solution to act at the measurement level and not at the process level? Is it like sabotating the scale so it measure 20 punds less than real, isn’t it?
Moreover, limiting email will easily end up in other communication channels like phone calls, personal emails, sms, mms, whatsapp, skype, viber, facebook, etc. just to mention few alternative channels.
No, I do not believe this can be the solution.
Let’s think to e-mails as an evident edge of the need to exchange information which, for unknown reasons, are not available to those individuals that aim to do the job, because the existing workflow does not ensure all the information are available.
Should be the processes complete and reliable, how many e-mail will not be written?
The answer is in our mailbox.
Let’s try to check periodically which communications are getting out of control making our mailbox crowded, we will understand which processes are failing and need to be improved.
The real chance we have to reduce the number of email messages has to be deployed by analyzing which topics are out of control, which is the process behind it and looking for the root cause.
Then we fix the process and the number of email will dramatically reduce.
By eating less and/or duing more sport the scale will tell us our weight has been reduced, without having to alter it. Otherwise, should we eliminate only the evidences of the problem, it is guaranteed that wont be fixed.