Email kills yet another "Email Killer"

It’s official: email is the Terminator of enterprise technology… it absolutely will not stop!

Last week Slack quietly announced they will be integrating with email. While this is not particularly important news unto itself, the subtext is something CIOs around the globe should take note of… nothing can stop email.

Slack, the company that has raised hundreds of millions of dollars in venture funding and must surely have the best PR team in the industry, is yielding to email instead of killing it.

If you have read any of the hype around Slack over the past 12-month you would know it was supposed to be the system to finally kill email; Slack’s David to email’s Goliath.

But despite all the money and exposure, Slack has become yet enterprise collaboration system to realize that you can’t beat email so you may as well join it. Jira, Asana, yammer, Jive and others have at one time or another been touted as the death knell of email yet all of them have ended up integrating with email instead of eradicating it.

These integrations not only don’t kill email but they actually create more email in people’s inbox, which is the exact problem these systems were meant to address. The irony is palpable.

So why haven’t these collaboration systems killed email? It’s not from lack of funding or brand awareness. So why hasn’t another system put a tangible dent in the dominance of email, especially when everyone knows email is so flawed?

While there are a myriad of excuses for this I believe there are two primary reasons why enterprise collaboration systems have not been able to make a lasting impact on people’s email usage…

The first is that these collaboration systems are all team focused, not enterprise focused. All these systems are designed to penetrate an individual team, get traction within that team and then grow into other teams: the much heralded “land and expand” SaaS sales model. The flaw in this model is that they are competing against the one system, email, which is truly ubiquitous across any organization. Everyone, from the CEO to the receptionist, not only uses email but knows how it works.

The architecture and design of enterprise collaboration systems is team-oriented. Therefore it is not surprising that a lot of them do not scale well. The behavior of a team of 15-20 people all working on the same project is very different from 20,000 users scattered across three continents. Email’s original was design was based on the postal service, which does function across 20,000 users, and therefore email scales pretty well.

The second reason why none of the enterprise collaboration systems have made inroads into email is that email works internally and externally. While it varies slightly by role, a large portion of people’s email is external: customers, suppliers and partners. Not only does email connect seamlessly with these external parties – because they are using email too – but it gives an identical user experience regardless of where the email came from. Users love this.

Most enterprise collaboration systems either do not work externally at all or give a very poor experience when they do. Given the volume of email relating to external parties there is always going to be a gravitational pull back to email, and you will always need it. Even if your entire company exclusively uses an enterprise collaboration system for internal communications – something I have never witnessed on a large scale – you will still need email for external matters. And pretty soon people start wondering why we need two communications systems when one seems to be enough.

Until enterprise collaboration systems can definitively address these two issues they are never going to kill email.

It looks like the Goliath won this battle. Sorry David.

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Where your email problems begin

Employee induction should include email etiquette

I think it is fair to say almost all of us have a love / hate relationship with email. On one hand it connects everyone, from the receptionist to the CEO plus your customers and suppliers. On the other hand it feels like we are drowning in email most of the time. The sheer volume of email we get on a daily basis is overwhelming.

There are numerous studies showing that the average office employee spends 40% to 50% of their time in email, getting around 200 emails everyday. While some emails will take more time and some less, if you average 60 seconds to address an email those 200 hundred emails take up almost three and half hours of your day.

Most of us will go home tonight, put the kids to bed, have dinner and then breakout the laptop to try and clear the remaining 60-70 emails still in your inbox. Sadly this behavior is becoming the norm rather than the exception.


A couple of months ago I wrote a post outlining six simple steps you can take to reduce your email volume. To summarize these steps:

  1. Reduce the number of people copied on the email. The less email you put out the less you will get back.
  2. Avoid “Reply All” unless absolutely necessary. Stop and think about which colleagues actually need to see your response. Just hitting Reply All is lazy.
  3. Make your purpose known up-front. If you do not need a response back be very clear about that.
  4. Avoid using pre-built email group such as “Sales Team” or “Marketing Team”. Unless everyone in the group really needs to receive the email then do not use the group.
  5. Don’t be afraid to end the first email chain and continue the discussion in a new email chain with just the people who need to be involved. Otherwise you are filling your colleagues’ inboxes unnecessarily.
  6. Delete old emails to make search easier in the future.

(If you are interested the complete post is here:

These rules – or “email etiquette” as I refer to them – can dramatically reduce the volume of email you receive each day. However, like so many company policies, they are only effective if your colleagues use them too.

Interesting the majority of the email you receive will be from your colleagues through internal email rather than external emails. It is the “Reply All” email chains and being copied with 11 other people that clogs up your inbox far more than marketing emails or spam. This is why you still receive so many emails even if you have spam filters or tools that automatically re-route emails to different folders: these tools rarely work for internal email from your colleagues (and you probably don’t want some random algorithm junking email from your colleagues anyway).

So in order to tangibly reduce email volume you need to reduce the amount of low value emails that get sent around within your company and by your own team. This requires good email etiquette to become part of the company cultural. To achieve this good email etiquette needs to be encouraged and bad email etiquette needs to be addressed.

Like all corporate culture issues this is an on-going concern, and something that needs to be worked on constantly. A really good place to start is during employee induction. Induction is the first step in assimilating new employees into your desired culture and typically covers everything from the company’s equal opportunity policy to acceptable internet usage. Induction is where you specify the type of behavior you want to encourage, and email etiquette should be part of this.

Currently most organizations do not even mention email usage in their induction which is ridiculous given that email consumes 40% to 50% of employee time. It is assumed that because people know how to use email they know how to manage email behavior. And this is a very flawed assumption because not only does bad email etiquette waste your time, but worse, it wastes your colleagues’. For example, employees should know not to copy their manager on every email just to cover their butt (an exercise that doesn’t work anyway) or to reply with “Thanks”.

As part of the standard induction process employees should be taught good email etiquette and, in particular, given clear guidelines on the type of email that should not be sent unnecessarily, clogging colleagues’ inboxes and wasting their time. Given how much time we spend in our inbox each day, email etiquette is mandatory requirement for any induction process.


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6 Tips for Reducing Your Email


There has been a lot of “email hate” recently. I’ve seen heaps of articles and commentary about how email makes companies unproductive and wastes employee time, and how distracting email can be. I’ll sheepishly admit that in the past I too jumped on the email-is-evil bandwagon.

However I’m starting to have a change of heart on this, and now I don’t think email gets the positive accolades it deserves.

Ashton Kutcher recently asked his army of Twitter follows “If you could only use one app for the next 2 weeks what would it be?” He got lots of various responses but not one single person said email. Really? You could live with only Uber, or Instagram or pinterest for two weeks but not email. Sorry I don’t believe you.

In the internet world people can’t live without their email. Period.

The fact that no one mentioned email actually highlights the success of email. Email is now so ubiquitous that we don’t even think of it being in an app anymore. It’s become a fundamental part of our lives. You don’t think about using it, you just do, which is why people didn’t consider it when asked the question above.

Email is the most successful IT system ever built. It’s everywhere, everyday. People applaud Facebook for being the first platform to have a billion users. Yet no one mentions that every one of those users has an email address, maybe even two or three addresses. A recent report by The Radicati Group estimates there will be 4.9 billion active email accounts by the end of 2017. Given the Earth’s population is expected to be 7.4 billion, that is pretty staggering penetration.

Yet despite this remarkable market penetration every few years a new batch of tools comes along claiming to be the death of email. First it was wikis, then yammer and Jive had a turn and recently it’s Slack and Asana. Yet none of these have made a dent in email usage. If anything email usage has increased despite all of these competing systems.

And our obsession with email doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. In the past 12-months alone billions of dollars has been invested into email management and marketing tools including common names like MailChimp, RelateIQ, ExactTarget and Salesforce Marketing Cloud (a.k.a Marketo). So despite the Silicon Valley hype about the death of email it would appear that Silicon Valley doesn’t actually believe email is dying any time soon.

Not only is email used by everyone, it seems to be used for everything. It’s a communication and collaboration tool for both one-on-one and groups, it’s a to-do list, a file repository and transmission service, it’s a marketing tool and notice board. And in email’s defense it was never intended for half of these uses.

Which brings us to why there is so much email hate; we’re not using email the right way. It’s our fault, not email’s fault.

Email is like a Labrador puppy: if you train it properly it will be your best, loyalest friend but if you don’t train it properly it will dig up your garden and eat your slippers. If you train yourself and your team to use email appropriately it’s an amazingly efficient tool. We talk about email being unproductive yet I’d hate to see how unproductive things would be without it… want to revert back to faxing your clients and paging your employees?

The fact is email works. The problem for email is that it works too well. It’s slotted into our modern lives so seamlessly that now we take it for granted. It’s like that great Louis CK bit about how everything is amazing but we’re so ungrateful about it [link below].

However email clearly isn’t perfect. While the problems with email might be created by our own behavior this doesn’t mean the problems aren’t real. The biggest problem most people have with email is the sheer volume of email they receive. In a commercial setting most employees receive dozens of emails a day. Interestingly this number seems to increase in proportion to the size of your company. It is not uncommon for senior executives working in multi-national firms to receive literally hundreds of emails a day.

Wading through this mass of email is not only time consuming but worse, time wasting because so many of the emails you receive you really shouldn’t have received.

So how do we deal with this problem? How do we reduce the volume of email in order to make email more productive? The answer is incredibly simple: less is SO much more. Email would be considered less of a burden if there was less of it. Less noise, less distraction, less time consumption.

And all that is required is a little email etiquette between you and your colleagues.

Here are the top six best practices for reducing your email volume;

1. Reduce the number of people copied on the email.

Email makes it so easy to copy lots of people but that doesn’t mean you should. Before sending the email challenge yourself to think “do I really need to copy this person?”

Use this simple thought as a guiding principle: if you wouldn’t get out of your chair and walk across the office to tell someone about it then you probably shouldn’t email them about it.

Not only does copying someone on an email take up their time, but worse, it takes up yours because that person may feel compelled to response to your email. Even if their response is “Thanks” or “OK” that email still hits your inbox and you still need to clear it.

The less email you put out, the less you’ll get back.

2. Avoid “Reply All” unless absolutely necessary.

In spy movies they always have to flip a protective cover off before they can hit the nuclear launch button. Reply All should have the same safety mechanism… “Do you really need to copy everyone on your reply?”

Unless your response genuinely needs to be read by everyone don’t fill their inbox. This is bad email etiquette.

3. Make your purpose known up-front

Make the intention of the email very clear from the start. It’s good practice to indicate the purpose or objective of the email in the subject line. Such as “For information only” or “No reply necessary”.

Again, you get back what you put out so make your intentions for the email clear. Many emails don’t need a reply, or only need a reply from certain individuals. State whether you need response or not.

4. Avoid using pre-built group email.

Pre-built group or team emails (such as “Sales Team” or “Marketing Team”) are an easy way to notify a defined group of colleagues. However it’s too easy to over use these groups. Unless everyone in the group really needs to receive the email then don’t use the group. This is bad email etiquette and just laziness on the sender’s part.

Also, in the majority of cases these group emails will be for one-way notification or information only. Rarely will you really need input from the entire sales team on an issue.

5. Don’t be afraid to start a second email thread.

Often an email thread will get to the point where most of the input is coming from two or three people yet everyone else is still copied on it. Don’t be afraid to end the first email chain and continue the discussion in a new email chain with just the people who need to be involved. Otherwise you are filling your colleague's inbox unnecessarily.

You can always send an email to the group when the issue is resolved informing them of the outcome. I guarantee your colleagues would rather get one email with the final result than being copied on 20 they didn’t need to read.

6. Delete old emails

Let’s face facts, the search and retrieval mechanism on all email systems sucks. Trying to find an email from 6-months ago is incredibly painful and time consuming. Trawling through old email wastes valuable time so you should do whatever you can to make this more efficient. Permanently deleting low-value emails reduces the volume of email you need to search through later. Any email that you don’t need to keep, like marketing promotions or when someone replies “Ok” should be deleted to save you time later.

The beauty of these practices is their simplicity. There is nothing complex here, just a bit of effort.One thing I would thoroughly recommend is for companies to make email etiquette part of their induction process that way it breeds within the culture. If you train yourself and your colleagues to obey these simple guidelines the volume of your inbox will drop substantially. But it does take training. Think of the Labrador puppy. It needs consistent reinforcement but the end result is worth the effort.


Louis CK clip (



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The exact moment when a project fails

Sadly, projects fail all the time.

Do a quick Google search on failed projects and you’ll find a mountain of statistics about how often projects either run over time and budget, or fail to deliver the value that was expected, or both. It doesn't seem to matter what the industry is or where the project is being delivered, failure rates are staggeringly high. Regardless of whether the project is an IT implementation, the integration of an acquired company or the development of a new product, they fail on an all too regular basis.

Which begs the obviously question: if this problem is so ubiquitous why does it keep happening? Billions of dollars are spent every year on project management techniques, change control processes, training and cultural change. There are a plethora of project management tools to track and monitor progress, and armies of consultants charging top dollar to lead and deliver these projects. And yet they still fail on a consistent basis.

Well I'm about to give you the secret to successfully delivering projects, and it’s got nothing to do with high paid consultants or complex project management methodologies.

The secret to delivering projects successfully is knowing, in advance, the exact point when the project will start to go off the rails. Because if you know exactly when this occurs you can to address the issue before it becomes a problem. And the best part about this that it is the same point every single time… well actually it’s two points, but we’ll cover that in a minute.

Here it is: the exact point where the project begins to fail is before the project has even started. It is that tiny little gap between the project being given the green light and the project actually starting. It's the time between the approval and the project manager being appointed.

Why is this the point of failure? Because it's the exact moment when the project goes from being theoretical to actual. From expectation to reality. And critically, from the sales team to the delivery team. And it’s this last point that is the most pertinent.

One thing I want make clear is the definition of the sales team. This does not have to be an external sales team selling your company something. It can be that, but it can also be an internal team who are championing the project or initiative. The "sales team" is whoever is responsible for driving the initiative from idea, through planning and budget approval to sign-off. Whoever "sold" the company on the vision of the project is part of the sales team.

The crux of this problem is that in the vast majority of cases, whether it is handled externally or internally, the sales team and the delivery team are two separate teams. Very rarely does the sales team stick around to manage the delivery, or has the delivery team been involved in the sales process from the beginning. Standard procedure for most companies is that the sales team wins the work (or gets it approved) and then “throws it over the fence” to the delivery team who are expected to slam dunk the project despite knowing nothing about it until it lands in their lap.

This is the exact moment when the project begins to fail; during the dreaded handover.

The handover is usually the most poorly performed operation in any organization, regardless of the task or the teams involved. The reason for this is that there is a fundamental conflict of priorities between the two teams: the sales team has done their job - they got the project approved - and now they are ready to move onto something else. To them this project is now yesterday’s news. Meanwhile the delivery team are probably still wrapping up their previous project and want to get all the loose ends tied up before they can give this new project their full attention.

As such the handover is one of the most rushed, poorly executed tasks that most companies perform. I have literally witnessed multi-million dollars projects handed-over from one team to another in a single one hour meeting. These projects are destined to fail.

A successful handover takes time, real time. It took months to sell the company on the initiative and it will take months to implement it, so how can anyone expect the handover to be performed in a matter of hours? In order to successfully deliver the project the delivery team needs to understand all of the decisions that were made during the sales process. Not just the high-level stuff like why are we doing this project and what are we trying to achieve? But the nitty gritty: where did these estimates come from? Who did them? To what level of quality have we budgeted for the delivery? How many resources have been allocated to each section of the project, what is the logic behind these numbers? And on and on.

In order to get maximize the chances of successfully delivery, the project it must be set on the right path from the very beginning. This means a structured, in-depth handover is required and ideally someone from the sales team would be assigned to the project for at least the first third of the delivery in order to provide detailed context to the decisions made. While this might seem impractical, compared to pulling someone from the sales team back into the project 3-months later it’s a small sacrifice to make. And compared to the cost of the project failing this is a really small sacrifice to make.

A huge factor in the successful delivery of any project is the handover process. The more thoroughly this is done the more the delivery team understands the boundaries of the project, and the more they will understand how success can be achieved. The transition from sales to delivery is the exact point at which projects start to fail.

However I mentioned earlier that there was a second point at which projects fail, and interestingly this second point actually occurs after the project. It’s the post-implementation review (or PIR). How many of you have ever seen a PIR executed properly? I never have, not once.

The delivery team is under pressure to close out their current project and more onto the next one… which just got thrown over the fence from the sales team. Yet the PIR is essential for the successful delivery of the next project. If we don’t learn from this project we will almost certainly repeat the same mistakes on the next project. Just like the handover from sales to delivery, if the PIR is not performed thoroughly and the lessons learned disseminated across the organization then you’re setting up your next project for failure before it has even begun.

Handovers are one of the primary areas of failure. This is where miscommunication, misunderstanding and misalignment of expectations creep in. Instead of being seen as a chore, these transitional points should be embraced and given as much attention and structure as the project itself. Companies are always under pressure to deliver things faster, this is natural, however by taking just a little bit of time to focus on these handover points companies can save themselves a huge amount of pain in the long run.


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Copying me on an email is not a get out of jail free card

"But I copied you on that email".

Email is evil. A necessary evil perhaps, but still evil.

Email is like fossil fuels: we know it causes so many problems, we know it’s bad for us and we know there must be a better way, but we can’t give it up because it’s ubiquitous and convenient. And just like fossil fuels we are starting to see tangible evidence of its negative impacts.

Studies show the average employee spends a quarter of their day in email and checks their email 36 times per hour. Less than every two minutes!

While email can be a useful tool it clearly erodes as much productivity as it creates. A large part of this productivity erosion can be attributed to the sheer volume of email we receive. We spend so much time wading through email because, quite simply, we get so much of it. Regrettably most of these emails are a complete waste of time because you should never have been copied on them in the first place.

A symptom of this increase in email volume is an unfortunate trend where employees use email to cover their butts.

How many times have you heard this? "But I copied you on that email".

While other people's view may differ on this I’d like to make my position very clear: copying someone on an email is not a get out of jail free card. Just because you copied me, and seven other people, on the email does not mean you have absolved yourself of responsibility or that I know what you need from me.

There is nothing more unproductive than group email, especially when a mountain of people have been copied. By the time you hit the third "Reply All" no one has any idea what is going on or who said what first. There is nothing I hate more than opening my Inbox to find a chain of 21 emails because I know one of two things is going to happen: I’m either not going to read them all in which case I risk missing something important, or I am going to read them all and probably waste a huge amount of time when the email chain has, unsurprisingly, very little to do with me.

The greatest email hack I've ever seen was by an EVP at a company I worked at years ago. It was a large IT services firm that had thousands of employees and the EVP would receive hundreds of emails every day, the bulk of which were CC’ed emails from internal colleagues.

He got sick of wasting dozens of hours per week shifting through emails, most of which were only sent so the sender felt their butt was covered. In response he set-up a rule in his email whereby any CC’ed email he received from an internal staff member would automatically receive a reply with words to this effect. "I have NOT read the email you copied me on. It has been automatically deleted. If the issue genuinely requires my attention come talk to me about it."

So simple, so brilliant. Needless to say the volume of email he received dropped dramatically as did the amount of time he spent in his Inbox. It was remarkable how little actually needed his attention when it required people to make the effort to speak to him directly. I guess the butt covering wasn't so important after all.

This highlights a great guiding principle for email usage: if you wouldn’t get out of your chair and walk across the office to tell someone about it then you probably shouldn’t email them about it. This is especially true nowadays because there are so many better, more appropriate ways of communicating.

There are so many great productivity and collaboration tools on the market. Companies should embrace these tools and the productivity gains they generate. There are specific tools for collaboration, project management, task tracking and decision making. Why do so many companies attempt to use email and spreadsheets for this stuff? While email is great for certain things it is absolutely awful for others. Instead of trying to smash the square peg into the round hole, find the right tool for the job and leave email behind.

I've heard the argument that using new tools is distracting and changing the culture from email is too hard. However this is a very flawed argument. While any new system or process requires training and encouragement before it catches on, I bet the amount of effort required to achieve this culture change is a fraction of the total productivity lost compared to employees checking their email 36 times an hour.