Why Email Isn't Enough to Manage Projects and Teams

Last Updated May 28, 2011 9:36 AM EDT

Despite all our whining and complaining, email is a terrific tool. Stop laughing, it is. The problem with many teams and the way we manage them is that it's the tool that gets used (and abused) the most. People leave long email threads that make it a bear to search. We file the same email under different names. We're working with different versions of the same document, resulting in wasted time, rework and frustration.

Whether managing projects or your functional team, information just doesn't flow the way email works. So what can you use to help people store information, access it as needed and help everyone find what they need when they need it? A collaboration tool that stores, accesses, organizes and creates a logical picture of the whole project is what we really need.

Karl Goldfield is the VP of Sales and Marketing for Teambox, a tool that integrates email, file storage and social networking. He thinks that email is fine for what it does. "Most people are still using email for their communication and data storage. It's isolated, siloed and hard to search. When they add file storing tools they still struggle to associate files (does that go under the company or the person's name?) and content with the larger purpose behind them". They store information, but aren't great for creating a shared context for how that information applies to the project. Plus they don't always work together with other team technology.

Tools like Sharepoint and Google Docs are mostly file sharing. What's needed is a more natural and intuitive way to communicate,share ideas, delegate and manage tasks, develop content and do version control.That's where collaboration tools like Teambox, Hyperoffice, Intralinks and a host of others come in.

Patti Blackstaffe is the president of Strategic Sense, a business strategy consultancy in Calgary. She and her team use Teambox because it manages information the way project teams work. "The nice thing about it is priorities can be moved to the top, and you can get an instant view from the project page.You see everything in a snapshot. You can see who's worked on what and when".

One important thing with any of these tools is the social media aspect. People have to not only post their own work and changes, but those updates, deadlines and questions need to go out simply and automatically as part of the workflow. Logging into multiple tools, having many passwords and other nagging problems with using separate tools will limit people's use of technology.

Through RSS feeds, instant messaging (that can be tagged and stored for reference) and automatic updates and announcements a lot of the work that is done manually (if at all) with email can become automatic. The less people have to think about and do, the more likely they'll use something. It's also easy to include customers and other stakeholders who might not share your email or other secure systems. That's where the social networking piece comes in.

Blackstaffe finds that in her work, sharing information through social networking is the piece that gets the best return on her investment. "This is the real power. Getting feedback and answers from the community. It's often a surpirse who has the knowledge neede to achieve our goals. By delivering the transparency that a tool like Teambox delivers, you find the solutions faster."

We can't manage the volume and complexity of project data and communication through email alone. The trick is to find a tool (or set of tools) that helps us focus on why we're communicating and turn that data into usable information, not just saving it where no one will ever find it.

Read more:

photo by flickr user lumaxart CC 2.0