Effective email correspondence for project managers
Good communication is at the heart of successful project management. These days, most communications between colleagues are in the form of emails, particularly when team members are working remotely. Indeed, 90% of business correspondence is now in the form of emails.
Emails enable all stakeholders in a project to remain connected in a way that simply wouldn’t have been possible in the past. But the enormous number of messages that are now sent has created a whole new world of problems.
It is vital that emails are formatted and composed correctly. Otherwise these communications may hinder the management of a project rather than promote efficiency.
Email issues for project managers
Project managers coordinate and collaborate with many stakeholders. The result can be a huge volume of emails which generate numerous responses and often interminable threads. Some emails will therefore be ignored, many will generate irrelevant responses and sometimes, important communications can be overlooked. To make matters worse, emails may feature attachments which must be attributed to the correct project and filed appropriately.
Emails present project managers with six principle challenges:
- Finding time to read and write a huge volume of communications
- Ensuring that messages are read and actioned
- Assessing the relevance of responses
- Attributing responses to the correct project or subject
- Identifying attachments and filing these correctly
- Deciphering poorly written emails which are confusing
How do project managers overcome these obstacles in order to operate with greater efficiency?
The answer is to write clear and concise communications and to ensure that all stakeholders in a project adopt a uniform approach to emails.
Why uniformity is the key to success
We are all bombarded with numerous messages and an enormous volume of information every day. Little wonder that we tend to scan articles and communications rather than read them properly, at least initially. It’s the only way to quickly ascertain whether we are interested in the content or if it is something that we can ignore.
The way that information is presented to us has changed as a result. We have become accustomed to focussing on headlines and sub-headings as these quickly identify the subject and relevance of the article or message.
Unfortunately, this situation has led to business communications, including emails, being scanned in the same way. If it isn’t immediately obvious that the message is relevant, important or requires action, there is a danger that it will be saved for later, ignored or simply overlooked.
The secret to effective communication is clarity. It is vital that recipients can readily identify what an email is about, whether it is relevant to them and if any action is required. If all messages from stakeholders are written concisely and adhere to the same format, recipients are better able to scan the messages and identify those they need to read immediately.
Emails with impact
Here’s our top tips for writing effective project management emails:
1. Pay attention to your title
It’s vital to include the right information in the subject field of your email and in the right order.
Don’t write: Re. recent meeting
Do write: Re. meeting with Vodafone 10 June – summary. (minutes attached)
Don’t write: Re. new project
Do Write: Important – Re. new SKY TV project – instructions for phase 1
The subject of the email is the first thing that the recipient will see, and it must tell them exactly what the message is about. It should also ensure that it is easy for recipients to archive the message correctly and to find it again should they need to review it. When recipients reply to the message, if the subject is clear, you will also know immediately what their response is about.
2. Address the Email Correctly
In the To: field, enter only the addresses of those who are required to read the message and take action. If you would like to forward the message to anyone else for information purposes only, enter their addresses in the CC: field. But be sparing here. Think carefully about who really needs to see the information, otherwise you will be overloading your colleagues’ inboxes unnecessarily.
If you need to forward the message to someone but don’t want the other recipients to know, enter that person’s address in the BCC: field. For data protection purposes, it is also important to use this field if you shouldn’t be revealing a recipient’s email address.
3. Get to the point – quickly
The first sentence of the email should state clearly what you want. It is important to engage the reader immediately and to be clear about what you require of them.
Don’t write: Gosh the weather is terrible here today. I am sorry this message is late but, the traffic was terrible because of the heavy rain. Anyway, could you please complete the first draft of the instruction manual for the new Miele washing machine by tomorrow.
Do write: Important – please complete the translation of the instruction manual for the Miele VW658 washing machine by 5pm tomorrow (12 June).
4. End every message with a call to action
The final lines of your message should reiterate your instructions and clarify exactly what action you are expecting. This will reduce the possibility of misunderstandings and the necessity for the recipient of your message to email you asking questions.
Don’t write: Sorry to press you for the work. Let me know if you have any questions.
Do write: Let me know immediately if you have any questions. Please complete the requested work by 5pm tomorrow (12 June). Once completed, please forward the file as a Word document directly to me, and only to me.
5. Restrict your calls to action
Don’t overcomplicate your instructions in your communications. Try to feature only one or two calls to action. Simple instructions will result in fewer queries and swifter responses. If you need to communicate complicated instructions, create a document and send it as an attachment.
6. Save the details for the middle
The recipient of your email will judge whether it requires their immediate attention by reading the subject and the first line. You should feature any further details in the middle of your email. This will enable the recipient to scan your message quickly and to assess whether they need to read it all or save it for a more convenient moment. Always write concisely so that your messages are as short as possible.
7. Draw attention to attachments
Everyone will occasionally forget to include their intended attachments or send a file that the recipient cannot open. If you don’t emphasise that you are including attachments, the recipient won’t know that these are missing, should you forget to attach them. In addition, attachments are easily overlooked and so you must refer to them in the body of the email.
8. Include an informative signature
An informative signature will ensure that recipients can respond quickly and appropriately to your communications. Here’s an example of an informative signature:
9. Keep formatting to a minimum
Be mindful of confusing your recipient and consider compatibility between different devices or systems. Fancy formatting might dilute rather than clarify your message. You should simplify matters by using only bold text for emphasis.
10. Proofread your messages
Don’t click send before you have carefully checked your email. Errors and poorly written communications lead to mistakes, misunderstandings and confusion. Your proofreading should include checking that you have added all intended recipients.
11. Highlight any changes to email content
In a lengthy thread, you may find that you need to amend instructions or requests that you have issued in previous messages. Always draw attention to such changes by crossing out the previous text and then highlighting the new text.
12. Clarify the subject of your replies
When replying to an email with a subject line that does not match the content of your response, change the subject line to match the new content.
13. Create a directory for your emails
Utilise a directory to file your emails and any responses according to the project they refer to. This will make it much easier to find any messages that you wish to review. It will also be easier to monitor responses and asses the progression of a project.
14. Delete superseded messages
Delete any emails that are superseded by a new reply in the string.
More or less?
Well-written and properly formatted emails considerably reduce errors and misunderstandings. Projects are much more likely to be completed correctly and on time. Sometimes less is more and by emphasising the most important aspects of your communications, you will ensure that your core messages are never overlooked.
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