Why email continues to be a poor project management tool

There’s no doubt that anyone who devotes a minute’s thought to it will conclude that email is a nearly useless tool for project management. Why then does email continue to be the default tool for most project management activity?

My first thought is that few people, in fact, devote any thought to the systemic role of communications in project management settings. If they consider communications at all, they assume that sending messages implies that they will be effectively received. That is not a symmetry that can be safely assumed.

For those experienced and wise enough to get past that barrier, they still need to become aware of the spectrum of potential choices for technologies to support relevant project communications and to invest design effort to use those technologies to create an effective communications environment. Ploughmann’s 10-to-1 rule is a good starting point to keep in mind as you start that design effort.

Lars Plougmann’s 10-to-1 rule of Email

My pal, Lars Plougmann provides us the fundmental law of the universe that demonstrates the stupidity of email-based collaboration:

#9 people read the email
# 8 people file the email (in their private folders, thereby duplicating effort)
# 7 people are interrupted in their work or thoughts when the email arrives
# 6 people will never be able to find the email again
# 5 people didn’t actually need to know about the change
# 4 people joining the project in the next phase wouldn’t have received the email
# 3 people will be able to find the email again, should they need to
# 2 people will check back to the email at a later date when they need the information
# 1 of them will understand the email in context, be able to find it at a later date and act on it

It’s like a vampire, sucking our plasma.

14 thoughts on “Why email continues to be a poor project management tool”

  1. i agree with all of the above. on the other hand email is popular for project collaboration because people like to use messaging. almost every single collab tool i’ve seen forces people into a document-centric or process-centric approach instead of letting them use a messaging-centric approach.

  2. Chad,

    You make an excellent point about message-centric vs other approaches to collaboration tools. I think that is, in fact, one of the primary barriers to the success of other collaboration approaches. That may be why good listservs frequently work in cultures that grasp this point.

  3. I have a feeling that project wikis are close to the ideal collaboration tool. They provide context, common storage, scalability, and easy maintenance.

    That said, why do I have so much trouble getting my project team to contribute to one?

    E-mail, with all of its flaws is, immediate and available. We need to bring that to other collaboration tools.


  4. We tried to overcome the flaws of e-mail in our coming collaborative planning software – Wrike (http://www.wrike.com)
    By simply putting special e-mail in CC you can make sharing, updating and keeping track much easier.
    Let me know you thoughts about the idea. And you are welcome to join our beta program.

  5. We have a up and coming product that will turn email as we know it into the most effective project and business tool.

    It has a virus like ability at present in our geography. It is only being target marketed in our geography and will be promoted via the Web when the time is right.

    Apologies for being so cryptic but we do have worldwide patents pending.

    It is a world first and we expect it to be the next generation of email.

    Stay tuned.

  6. Pingback: Michael's Thoughts
  7. I’ve been experimenting with various project management tools and have discovered an excellent site. It is a very user friendly, web-based application that is well worth taking the time to explore. Take a few minutes and look at Projjex.com. The tutorials are excellent & you don’t need to be a Rocket Scientist to figure out how to use it. It even offers a free version so you can try it on for size.

  8. People live in their email- that’s the reason our company dived into groupware over a decade ago and developed two of the first (and most successful) groupware based systems for project management, Tracker Suite (for Lotus Notes) and TrackerOffice (for Microsoft Outlook). Today, our Web based product, TrackerSuite.Net, still offers email integration features. Users can surface it in their email client, and Microsoft Outlook users can drag-and-drop emails to a TrackerSuite.Net folder to automatically create project tasks, documents and support tickets.

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