Email is a time waster

Reading the paper on the train home from work I came across this article. Banning corporate email seems to be an extreme approach, but I do agree emails are sometimes a waste of time as its a poor form of communication.  I think we have become lazy with technology and send too many emails when a face-to-face conversation or a phone call would be more effective.

According to Radicati, 294 billion (in 2010) email messages were sent per day.  This means more than 2.8 million emails are sent every second and some 90 trillion emails are sent per year.  Around 90% of these millions and trillions of message are spam and viruses.

So by the company, Atos removing emails from their corporate environment they avoid having people waste time or putting systems in place to manage the spam and viruses.  By using  instant messaging Atos employees can increase their communication effectiveness through two-way real-time interaction.  Email is a broadcast mechanism and has little scope for real-time interaction.  However, I can’t help to think instant messaging alone is still a poor form of communication when compared to other alternatives.  It’s somewhere between email and phone conversation.  I have added a few additional communication options, including instant messaging to the below chart first created by Alistair Cockburn.

Many instant messaging tools now support video (including audio) and desktop sharing – so combining instant messaging with video and desktop sharing would provide a better and more effective communication channel than instant messaging alone.

Email still has its place, especially in today’s reality when you have a global economy where teams are distributed across different countries with different languages and culture.  And with this comes the reduced available timezone bandwidth that don’t allow the use of real-time communication channels.

According to the article in Digital Trends, the CEO of Atos Thierry Breton says

“It is not normal that some of our fellow employees spend hours in the evening dealing with their emails.  The email is no longer the appropriate communication tool.”

“Companies must prepare for the new wave of usage and behavior.  If people want to talk to me, they can come and visit me, call or send me a text message.  Emails cannot replace the spoken word.”

For me, I agree with Breton and always prefer face-to-face conversation which explains why I find myself walking between office buildings in the city a lot.

Getting people together face-to-face provides richness in our communication through, tone of voice, eye contact, visual gestures and the ability to convey tacit knowledge.
— from my previous post

Maybe some level of pragmatism is required to educate people on when and when not to use email rather than having a zero email policy.

Chat with Alistair Cockburn about 10 years of Agile and more

Chris and Alistair CockburnThe photo here is a picture of Alistair Cockburn and me earlier this week (it was taken on my iPhone and its bit blurred due to poor lighting).   A few colleagues and I had the opportunity to have a hour chat with Alistair.

We started with one of my colleagues asked Alistair about what were the main points of contention amongst the signatories of the Agile Manifesto, that couldn’t be mutually agreed?  (e.g. promoting specific practices or techniques in one discipline over another).  This was an interesting question and the response was equally interesting.  Alistair said the creation of the 4 values was easy and all parties agreed quickly as they all had a common belief.  However, there were a lot of disagreements when forming the 12 principles as each method (Scrum, XP, Crystal, ASD, DSDM etc) had differences.  In the end, the original signatories agreed to disagree and finally settled on the 12 principles as you see them today after much debate.  Each wanted to go their own way to build their brand and increase market share.  You can see how some Agile certifications are part of building that brand (as well as making money).  As a result of the diversity of each method they couldn’t find enough common ground to go to a third level of detail of the Agile Manifesto.

Hearing Alistair talk about the creation of the Agile Manifesto was a good segue into a question I had – I asked Alistair to provide a brief summary of Snowbird 10 and his thoughts of the event.  He started off by saying holding it anywhere else but Snowbird Ski Resort, Utah where it all began, would not be the same.  Besides the original signatories, he also invited CTOs from Rally and VersionOne and Lean proponents  (e.g. Alan Shalloway, David Anderson).  The Vice President of PMI was also invited, but unfortunately couldn’t make it.

It seemed many good discussions were had at the gathering.  There was a lot of discussion around the concept of leadership in the Agile community and that the Agile Alliance needed to do more in this regard.   Another discussion was around Agile needing to exit the world of software and become more enterprise wide and across the entire organization.  It was also interesting to hear that there was a small contingent of people at the event who wanted to go and create a new Manifesto of some sort.

Other topics we talked about included how important it is to increase collaboration between people and across the enterprise and that is imperative that we have a continuous flow of value.  One point Alistair did make towards the end of our chat was that Agile was becoming too prescriptive.  I couldn’t agree more – teams and organizations I have assessed or come across have very prescriptive Agile approaches which is ironically not very Agile in my opinion.  I am finding that I have to coach teams to think for themselves and stop ‘doing’ Agile.  I might blog about this more in the future.

I would like to close and thank Alistair.  He was great to talk with, very insightful and he was very generous with his time to have a chat with us.

Here’s a few related links on Snowbird 10 that you might be interested in –

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