Project Management via Email
Hearing the news that Basecamp now supports the ability to reply to messages and comments via email reminded me of an idea for a project I had once.
This was a few years ago now but, at the place I used to work, I tried to think of how most of the office worked with clients and with each other. A project would be set in the web-based project management app, people would get assigned to the project and then some initial emails would go out letting us know that we could track our time against this project.
But then what happens after that? The client sends an email to the project manager who then emails the designer so they have the files to put the design together. Then the designer is done and emails the developer. The developer looks for content in the project folder on the server but stuff is missing or outdated. "Oh, yeah, I received this email from the client; here's the latest files."
Inevitably, the emails bouncing around from client to PM to employees would cause confusion and mayhem. That's never fun.
Looking over this process, I realized that email was the primary way that information was being shared. How could we take advantage of that instead of trying to force people to a workflow that was obviously broken.
This is what I came up with: an email address for the project. All correspondence went through this email address. Not to individual members or to a project manager but to the project email address. This meant that every correspondence regarding a project was stored and archived in a central location.
Having a central repository for everything is especially handy when somebody jumps on a project mid-way. They can read up on everything that has happened so far. Things would be less likely to get missed when a project goes long.
What happens when a project email is received? First of all, anybody assigned to the project would receive a copy of that email. But the part I thought was key was that file attachments would be stripped from the email and placed in a project folder on the server. No longer would you have to track down where those missing files are, you'd know exactly where to find them. Within the email, a link would be provided to the files that were stripped.
I envisioned this as more than just a project email address. There would be a web-based tool as well to set up new projects, manage existing ones, look at all the content received, review all email (threaded by subject line), plus search capabilities.
Other potential features
I can think of some other really nice things to have:
- The application could send out reminders and calendar requests.
- A search engine allowing the project repository to be search based on keywords, dates, or other relevant information.
- Reports. People are visual and it'd be great to see a project based on how many emails were received when, including which had attachments. If you had an idea of when an email was received, you could find it quicker if presented visually.
- Trigger actions based on specific email types. Off the top of my head, I'm not sure exactly
No solution is perfect
Ultimately, no solution is perfect and I can predict a couple ways a system like this might fail.
The biggest reason would be that project participants simply failed to use the project email address, choosing to email individual people directly.
Similarly, there's no way to specifically direct email to subgroups such as internal emails. Stuff like this is still important to capture but it's easy to break out of the routine, especially when you have multiple groups coming together on a project. I could see getting around this using email aliases like "firstname.lastname@example.org". That way, these emails could still get captured and even viewed separately within the web admin.
So, why am I telling you all this? Somebody asked me what I do with all my ideas and while I'd like to eventually build the ideas myself, I just don't have time to build everything I think of. Therefore, I put this out into the world in hopes that it'll inspire somebody — directly or indirectly. As it stands, this is probably not a very original idea and I've been told that JumpNote is basically what I've described, although I haven't tried it myself. Does such a thing already exist? If so, let me know, I'd be interested in trying it out.