Monday, September 14, 2009

Follow-up email

keyboard Communication mishaps can throw kinks into any endeavor.  Luckily, one of the most effective tools for heading off communication mishaps before they have the opportunity to wreak havoc on your project is simple and easy to implement: follow-up email.

If you haven’t yet incorporated this into your daily practice and you’re already running a bit ragged, this may seem like annoying extra work.  In my experience, the benefits have almost always far outweighed the burden.  Here’s why I recommend it:
  • Self check
    There are times, when I’m putting together a follow-up email, that I notice something  is off.  For example, I may suddenly remember that the Fred who volunteered to take over and finish a mission critical task by next week is the same Fred whose wife is due any moment. 

    The exercise of summarizing your expectations or understanding often helps shift your perspective enough to highlight details of a conversation or meeting that may otherwise go unnoticed.

  • Commitment check 
    Some people make commitments lightly, some make them without first consulting their calendar, and others may make them without considering the ramifications.  Whatever the reason, sometimes people need the opportunity to review the commitments they have made, in writing.

    The follow-up also helps make it clear that you are taking the commitments made seriously and expect follow through.

  • Communication check  
    There are all sorts of ways for miscommunication to rear its ugly head.   A follow-up provides a baseline through which your colleagues can verify that their understanding of the conversation is in line with yours.

    I end each follow-up with a statement requesting feedback and a going once, going twice clause.  For example:

      Please let me know if I have misunderstood or misstated anything.  If I don’t hear from you, I will assume we are on the same page.

  • Shared record
    Sadly, it’s a rare project manager who has never heard “I never agreed to that” or “No one ever told me” in response to a progress check.  A shared record is an invaluable tool for avoiding this circumstance altogether or addressing it in the cases that it does occur.

    It also serves as a tool for easily recreating conversations or additional context if the need ever arises.

Let me know if this helps.

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