Running a project and checking email often feel like two sides of the same coin. How can project teams possibly function without the miracle of instant electronic communication? Better than you might think they can, argues project guru Chris Higgins. He has led countless teams, many of them charged with developing intricate computer applications - yet he doesn't even have a PC in his office, and he rarely uses email. Here's why:
"Most email messages are confusing; people don't spend enough time organizing their thoughts. People also say things electronically that they wouldn't - and shouldn't - say face-to-face. And even the most organized people have no system for following up on emails.
"I prefer voice mail to email. People are more thoughtful with voice mail. They know the other person is listening to the message, not just reading it. Voice mail also gives me a better sense of how someone is doing: Is this person tired, confused, anxious?
"I have email. But I'm not a slave to it. If I get an important email, I call back the person who sent it. And I seldom initiate email. I prefer handwritten notes. If I have a question about a project, I'll write a note, make a copy for myself, file it, and send the note to the appropriate person. I have paper files for the 30 or so people I deal with most frequently. When I meet with one of these people, I pull out that person's file and make sure that we've followed up on all the notes in it. Today programmers send me handwritten notes rather than email. They know that they'll get a phone call or a note in response - and get it within a day."
A version of this article appeared in the June/July 1998 issue of Fast Company magazine.