The Project Notebook

“I Sent a High Priority Email …”

Does anyone see the oxymoron here? When I started my Project Management career, electronic communication was a luxury and normally used to correspond with overseas or remote offices – internal use only. We learned to carefully pick and choose the communication medium to ensure the message was successfully sent and received. Customers were contacted by phone or letter.

While working at GE Information Services, I occasionally did some consulting for our GTE account. If you lived in Florida and picked up your phone, dial tone was always there because the supporting GE systems (contacted before dial tone was provided) had 99.999% availability and sub-second response time.

The US Postal Service (“snail” mail) claims 98% accuracy. One evening watching the news I observed the results of a reporter who “tested” the system within the state of California and observed a rate of a little over 90% accuracy. Not perfect, but not a bad way to get a message through.

For a few years, I maintained an email server for my local PMI component. When I started, there were around 600 members (we have over 1,000 today). Each month I downloaded our member email addresses from the PMI Global Operations Center and sent meeting and other key announcements to members. On the average, only 75% of these messages got through. Some of the reasons messages didn’t get through included:

  • Spam filters that didn’t like a message from a mass email sender.
  • Spam filters that didn’t like some of the words in the message (one member works for a company that rejects all external emails mentioning words like “price” or “cost”).
  • Errors in typing the email address.
  • The member’s email server (and yes, this included some major corporations) was down at the time the message was sent.
  • The member’s email box exceeded its message or storage limit.
  • The sending mail system had technical compatibility issues with the receiving email system.

Note the latter four apply to internal corporate email systems as well as external systems. So you can imagine how I cringe when I hear a critical message was sent by “high priority” email. Doubly so when the sender and receiver sit just yards or miles from each other.

Can you hear me now? Even with dropped calls and “dead zones”, you are more likely to get your point across by cell phone as opposed to email. So my lesson learned for this week: if you have an urgent message, choose the method that has the best chance of receipt to ensure a timely and accurate resolution. Sending high priority email just leaves things too much to chance.

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© 2010-2012 Ray W. Frohnhoefer, MBA, PMP, CCP