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Seeking a balance between too much email and not providing enough information – Part 1

One of the biggest challenges we have faced during the course of our work on a recent version of the product was related to email communication, especially in terms of maintaining the balance between the need to have enough information to all the members of a particular feature team, and ensuring that the amount of email that was going out did not start dulling the work being done by the feature team. As part of the feature process, and to take care of previous project versions, we wanted to avoid the issue of teh team members not getting informed about what was happening in their own feature teams, and hence we had setup email distribution lists for each feature team that included the development team, the QE team, the design team, product managers, senior managers, and the project managers.
The problem was that there were different members of the team who had different needs in terms of getting information from these emails. For example, when you take the development and QE leads, they were the ones who needed to know almost all status and other information that was being exchanged on these email lists. To some extent, but a lower extent, this was also true of the project manager, but who actually depended on the leads to run individual feature teams and did not want to know bit by bit details of feature discussion status and progress. Then you had the design team, consisting of User Interface Designers and Visual Designers, who were different types of people from the development team, and who could not be expected to read every email, and yet who were supposed to pick up stuff as it was being discussed in the feature team email distribution list. Same was the case with the Product Managers, who did not typically want to get involved in every small level of detail, and hence did not want to read every email.
A simpler solution would be to create smaller emails lists that had more specific higher level discussion in which could be added the designers and the Product Managers. But, this would soon become unwieldy, and in the full pace of feature development, there were good chances that people would not really focus on which list was to be used for which purpose and information would not be available. So, the decision, made by each feature team and by the overall managers, was to use one email list per team, and depend on each person to filter messages in their own way. One way to ease up things was to add titles to email messages such as ‘Decision’, ‘Query’, ‘Design issue’, ‘Defect’, etc. But there were a number of queries that were miscellaneous, especially since we had a culture where people could ask whatever query they wanted at whatever point of time.
The problem with the approach of using one list was that when the frequency of email on the list got high, people started getting more mail than they were comfortable, especially for the designers and product managers, who were on more than one feature team. I will talk more about this in the next post (part 2):

How to Manage Your Email Before It Manages You 45 Key Strategies for Better Managing Your E-mail Overload Managing Your E-Mail: Thinking Outside the Inbox

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