Effectively Communicating in your Projects: Writing audience focussed emails
The biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has been accomplished - George
It was a Friday afternoon and I had just returned to my desk after lunch . I logged on to my inbox to see a congratulatory email from Suresh , one of our project managers who wrote :
"Great job, team! Thanks for your dedicated efforts into completing this project in 9 weeks. Elizabeth, please pass this on to whoever worked on this project ; Sara, Varsha, Pristine, and others."
As project leaders, I and Elizabeth were asked to manage a reverse engineering project for one of our clients. The client was one of our biggest, and there was a huge number of applications that we were developing and maintaining for this client. Although the projected timeline for this project was about 12 weeks, we were able to finish it in a span of 9 - 10 weeks.
Suresh had asked me to manage a few modules in this project along with Elizabeth, besides a lot of other responsibilities which I was already managing in my competency. This being a vital project for our client, Suresh wanted me to utilize my experience and skill set in project delivery and help the team with successful delivery. I was quite happy to see the congratulatory message from Suresh.
Email and Project Management
The convenience and universality of the email makes it a great tool for communication with the stakeholders in your project. If there are misunderstandings in your project, emails could serve as a good historical record to be referred to by one or more stakeholders.
You may find some project managers in your office following the best practice of summarizing the important points in an email and sending them to the intended audience, even after having a long telephone call with them on a particular topic. These are project managers who recognize the importance of writing effective emails in their projects.
Although I was happy after receiving a congratulatory message from Suresh, there were a few things about this email which made me feel that this was not an effective email and could have been better. Let us take a look at some of the reasons why I felt that this email was ineffective and how it could have been better.
Purpose of Your Email
The most important thing to remember while communicating with your stakeholders, is the purpose of your email. In the case of this email which I received from Suresh, the purpose was to congratulate the team for implementing the project successfully, acknowledge their contributions and encourage them to perform better. However, Suresh did not mark a copy of this email to some of the team members, including Sara, Varsha and Pristine. He had instead asked Elizabeth to send them a congratulatory message.
So, did this email serve its purpose? Well, to be honest, it didn't. It had failed to acknowledge the contributions of all the team members in the project and had acknowledged the contribution of only a select few. If Suresh had taken care to address the other team members as well, he would have been able to encourage and motivate everyone on the team. You never know who on your team could be a potential performer in the long run.
Once you know the purpose of your email, you must then think about how the recipient will perceive your message. How will they feel when they receive your message? What are their ideas and attitudes to life and work?
By understanding your recipients' points of view, you will be able to meet the needs of the person and will be able to achieve the purpose of your email. If the recipient of your email is a busy person and is unable to read and respond to all of his emails, you could be direct and to the point while still being polite. Avoid asking too many questions in a single email if you need action/answers to all those questions. Your recipient might get distracted and may even answer only the first or the last query, rather than reading the entire email and double-checking to see whether all the issues have been addressed.
Suresh had sent the email to some of his team members including me and had asked Elizabeth to pass the congratulatory message to other members of his team. Although I was happy to see a congratulatory message from Suresh, I was not really motivated. I, along with other team members who received the email felt that Suresh could have done better by marking a copy of this email to other team members who had put a lot of efforts into this project. Somehow, this email implied that Suresh was not aware of who were involved in the project and was also not aware of the contributions of all the team members in the project. Imagine how the other team members might have felt when they received a congratulatory email from Elizabeth, but not from Suresh, who was their project manager.
Drafting , Revising, Editing, Proof reading and Sending
It is always safe to follow the process of drafting, revising, editing, proof reading, and then sending your email. Although email is a quick and easy form of communication, it is no less important than other modes. Before sending your email to the intended audience, you must always check whether it is well written and achieves its purpose. You should carefully review even a short email and check whether it has achieved its purpose and how it will be interpreted by the recipient.
You should also proof read your email multiple times to catch and fix any spelling, grammar and punctuation errors. These errors might leave a negative impression on the recipients of your email and may have a bigger impact on the project than what you could imagine. Imagine sending an email to your boss with his name misspelt, especially when your project is running behind schedule!
Could Suresh have sent a more effective email by revising, editing and proof reading his email before sending it to his team members? Well , there are chances he may have at least considered sending a copy of this congratulatory email to all his team members who were involved in the project.
What makes an email ineffective ?
So - what made Suresh's email ineffective?
One of the most important aspects to communicate to your team is the impact of the project and the end-results of their work. While Suresh congratulated some of us for completing the project within the schedule, he could have done better by adding a few more lines about the impact that this project had had in the competency or the business. This would have conveyed the message that Suresh really cared for his team and had taken some time to draft this congratulatory message for us.
Interestingly, a couple of weeks later, I was surprised to see another congratulatory email from Suresh in my inbox. .
This email was sent by Suresh to all his team members where he had again congratulated his team members for the successful implementation of the project .
"Great job team! Congratulations on the go live of LSAT application in the Share management area. With your commitment and technical proficiency, we will be able to make many more success stories in the forthcoming months! This is yet another application we re-engineered and integrated with Share advance application. They will have higher business values to the PT department in the Share management area.
The existing application has been re-engineered with the latest .NET framework which improves performance and eliminates existing maintenance issues."
"Suresh's email couldn't have been more effective ", I thought to myself after reading.
Continuous Improvement is Key
It was a Saturday morning. I woke a little late that day since the week before had been hectic. I had a cup of tea and logged into my email account as usual. One of the first emails in my inbox was an email from Nathan, my mentor, and I instinctively skipped all other mails to read what he had to say. At the end of a short email, Nathan wrote-
"Sabyasachi, you may choose to keep your emails short and concise. Some of your emails are daunting to read and respond to. Shorter is better. "
There was something to the tone of his email which made me feel that Nathan genuinely wanted me to improve my communication through emails . Although I had taken steps to write effective emails, Nathan's email clearly indicated that I needed to improve my communication through emails and make my emails shorter.
When managing your projects, you should also carefully review whether you have really learned the art of sending effective emails to your stakeholders, or you need to improve your communications.
Email is a great tool for communicating with the stakeholders in your project. You can make your emails effective by drafting purposeful and audience-focused emails. You should also follow a systematic approach of Drafting, Revising, Editing and Proof reading before sending out these emails to your stakeholders to have a positive impression on them. You should also make the effort to continuously improve your communications while managing your project.
These are just a few reasons why effective communication over emails is an important skill for project managers. Can you think of more? Let us know in the comments below!
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