Professionals working in project management roles are often victims of excessive emailing. No matter how much time you put into it, getting that overflowing inbox under control is an exhausting challenge. Moreover, battling through emails is rarely an efficient way to proceed in the field.

Indeed, a professional in a project management position plays a key role in maintaining a global perspective of different steps, timelines, and processes and must avoid operating on a narrow, email-by-email basis. If you can relate, this article aims to offer some experience-based viewpoints on how to manage this reality. Therefore, beating overflowing is the key to improving your job as a project manager.

Mindset matters

Regardless of your decision-making power within an organization, you are capable of changing your habits. If you and your colleagues are drowning in emails, it is time to take a step back and brainstorm ways to address the issue. This seems like an obvious point, but flaws in an implanted system are often overlooked when workload invades, and it is a team effort to shed light on them.

Breaking it down

You’ve established that there’s an issue; now it’s time to tackle it. The first step is to be selective: what must absolutely be treated via email? Perhaps email is the best way for those external to your organization, such as clients or providers, to reach you. Maybe there are sensitive topics that require email traceability. What is almost certain is that not all subjects need an email and taking the time to establish this distinction allows you to apply adequate solutions to different topics.

For topics that absolutely need to be managed by email:

  • Consider adopting some inbox management techniques to keep your overflowing messages to a minimum.
  • You may benefit from restructuring the way email-related tasks are dealt with. The creation of a generic mailbox may make it easier to centralize communication with external stakeholders while allowing for internal task distribution.

Alternatives to emailing

For the topics for which emailing is not imperative, such as internal communication and follow-ups, a variety of tools can make your life easier. These can be sorted into two categories:

a) Communication tools

There is a large offer of business IM (Instant Messaging) software and a significant amount of web content to help compare these tools and their features. These communication tools are particularly interesting as emails are not made for collaboration or real-time conversations, and ongoing emails between more than two people can quickly become confusing and difficult to overlook. As a daily user of Microsoft Teams, some of its most useful functionalities include:

  • IM (Instant Messaging) either privately or in group chats
  • Individual or group video calls that can be recorded and allow screen-sharing
  • File and picture-sharing and traceability

b) Task management tools

In this regard, there is also a great variety of tools that visually and structurally help organize workflows. An example is JIRA, widely known among agile teams in software development. Some of its main features include:

  • Creation of roadmaps 
  • Agile work planning
  • Customizable agile boards: Scrum and Kanban

The advantages of using task management tools such as JIRA are clear: it reduces the likelihood of missing important information, which is a risk in workflows heavily dependent on email, and it allows for more structured task management and deadlines.

No doubt these alternatives are familiar to most professionals in project management roles, but then perhaps the question we should be asking is: why is the overflowing inbox still a reality?

On this note, I encourage you to think about and discuss with your peers which section in this article: 1, 2, or 3, your team would most benefit from focusing on as a first step, and once again beating overflowing is the key to improving your job as a project manager.

Let’s imagine you are a technical communicator at a software company and you have just changed your output format to a locally installed browser-based help in HTML5. The question is almost inevitable: Why not make it accessible online? Intelligent information will come into play. First of all, you will have to answer the question of where to put it online since there are so many options available: different homepages or servers for marketing,support, knowledge base, training, customer exchange portal,… Now, if you have already lost track of all those separate access points or rather information silos – how will your customers feel?

Content Delivery Portals for Intelligent Information

The reasons to opt for a new way of delivering content can be diverse: be it a centralized, modern way of user communication or requirements of a complex scenario in the machinery industry. These days, Content Delivery Portals (CDP) seem to fit the individual information needs of the users perfectly. Sometimes referred to as “Information 4.0“ or described as “shopping“ for information like you would do on a site such as Amazon, CDPs deliver the right content to the right person at the right time regardless of the device. To get familiar with the basic concepts and functionalities of CDPs, visit the Intelligent Information Blog

Challenges for Technical Communicators

Even though the relatively new technology of CDPs has now established itself on the market, this will not come as an out-of-the-box, ready-to-use solution. On the contrary, your documentation department will most likely face many challenges to first implement and then run the system on a daily basis, including cooperation with other departments. Let’s put the puzzle pieces together and see what this means for technical communicators.

Modularization

Say goodbye to the document as an information unit — they are the silo within the silo. For many, modularization for single source publishing purposes is nothing new. Still, you might need to review all of the existing material with a new focus on targeted publishing. Others will need to introduce modularization from the beginning.

Classification

Without the document as a framework for your information, the new context giver is metadata: data about data. This tells you to which product, variant, version a product belongs, for example.Collecting and managing metadata to classify your information units can be quite a challenging task which has already called for new solutions on the market. If you’d like to know more, you can read about the new iiRDS standard  that has been published recently.

Access Provision

The term “access points“ now focuses on services and functionalities concerning the media consumption habits of the user, e.g. seamlessly via smartphone, tablet and computer. Many questions concerning the user experience also arise: technical communicators now need to consider things like search engines, supported browsers, server configuration, download functionality, versioning, custom settings by the user and many more. 

Parameterization 

Using parameters, content can be tailored in such a way that it is personalized to the needs of the user. This reduces search hits (based on metadata) only to the products, skills, language, context, etc. that are relevant for the user. Parameters need to be created either manually by the user or automatically using sales information. One solution can be to implement user profiles with authentication.

Process Integration

Since the content still comes from an authoring tool, you need to care about all the interfaces, tools, file formats and processes your CDP is going to interact with.

Optimization

Last but not least, don’t forget to add analysis and feedback functions. Generations Y and Z are used to sharing their comments, so you should get used to collecting and processing them and using analysis features to optimize your content.

Keep Your Knowledge Updated for Intelligent Information

In some companies, technical documentation might seem like one of the last areas where digitalization finally starts to kick in. This latency may bring the advantage of a broader view and thus the possibility to aggregate information in a heterogeneous information landscape. However, the efforts it requires from technical communicators should be underestimated. Also, digitalization is subject to constant change and the market and technologies are still evolving. Finally, a commitment to up-to-date communication channels should also mean keeping up with the latest developments yourself. 
If you’d like to know more, you can learn directly from the experts! Enroll with the TCLoc Master’s program to meet and learn from industry leaders, like Ray Gallon in the field of new technologies or Chris Raulf in SEO Marketing.

With the entire Internet at our fingertips and the ability to receive thousands of bytes of information on-demand in our daily lives, it’s no wonder a beginner at anything can feel overwhelmed. The good news is that these days, no matter what type of learner you are, the Internet can help you conceptualize, diagram, construct, and release your ideas.

There is, however, an existing methodology that can also help you with that, in a much more efficient way: the Agile production methodology.

You might have heard of terms such as Agile, SAFe, and Scrum, perhaps in passing, or perhaps you’ve mistaken them for rugby tactics. Maybe you’re not shipping your products on time and you’re looking for ways to better manage your production cycle. You’re looking to get your feet wet with some beginner guides to Agile production methodology and take your first steps.

Here are 3 books recommendations to understand how Agile production methodology works and how to put it in place.

30 Days to Better Agile

“30 Days to Better Agile” written by Angela Druckman in 2012, is exactly what it sounds like. Druckman organized her work in 5 chapters called “weeks” to reflect the length of a Scrum sprint and retrospective. Her aim is to target the busy professional who needs quick answers to questions and who wishes to transform a project in 30 days.

Druckman uses her background as a Certified ScrumMaster®, Certified Scrum Trainer®, Certified Scrum Product Owner®, as well as decades of experience to craft an easily digestible walkthrough of common problems and to explain why these problems exist and what their solutions may be.

A beginner at Agile production methodology will appreciate Druckman’s ability to use her wit and empathetic resourcefulness to connect with her readers interpersonally and professionally through the text.

“30 Days to Better Agile” is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and in bulk from The Druckman Company. It currently boasts a 4.3 out of 5 stars rating on Goodreads.

The Mythical Man-Month 

“The Mythical Man-Month,” initially published by Fred Brooks in 1975, with subsequent editions in 1985 and 1995, has been a staple on the desks of software engineers and project managers for decades. In a collection of essays, Brooks describes software development in the budding era of the technology.

Brooks centers his ideas around a unit of measurement, the ‘man-month’, and acknowledges its pitfalls when scheduling a production cycle. He addresses common issues regarding staffing and barriers to communication and introduces new ways to think about bottlenecks in production.

“The Mythical Man-Month” is not technically Agile in that the book predates the conception of Agile production methodology. It makes this list because of its bountiful wisdom that is still relevant more than four decades later. Its influence on software development and the subsequent creation of Agile is indisputable. When studying the fruits of a tree, it’s important to look at its roots. 

“The Mythical Man-Month” is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Google Play, among others. It currently boasts 94% positive reviews on Google and 4 out of 5 stars on Goodreads.

The Agile Samurai

“The Agile Samurai”, written by Jonathan Rasmusson in 2017, is the newest edition on this list. Rasmusson takes on the voice of an enthusiastic coach, ready to teach you Agile efficiently and cheer you on to become better. 

Designed with fun in mind and engaging with his audience through humor and light-hearted joviality, Rasmusson and his ‘Agile Sensei’ character walk the reader step by step through the foundations of Agile while making pointed jokes and showing relevant memes. It’s a journey between author and reader that will have you laughing and learning at the same time.

Beginners who have tactile and/or visual learning styles will appreciate this book’s approach to teaching Agile production methodology through hands-on exercises, eye-catching, purposeful artwork, and vivid ‘war-room’ recollections. 

“The Agile Samurai” is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Google Play, among others. It currently boasts a 4 out of 5 star average on Goodreads.

Extra Credit 

Ready to start your Agile project management journey? Learn more with this Good Practices Guide by TCLoc alumnus Anne-Sophie Leroy.

Want to read what started it all? Print a copy of the Agile Manifesto and keep it by your bedside table.

Kerry Saltvick is a TCLoc student, Amazon employee, certified ScrumMaster®, and budding game localization professional. Follow her on LinkedIn.