How long is "too long" when email is involved? Ask this question to a hundred people and you'll get a hundred answers. However, one of the general rules that I've tried to stick to over the last few years is "anything longer than 3 paragraphs should be handled with a phone call". This generally works quite well when calling people in the same country and can be a challenge when working with people on the opposite side of the planet.
Since joining "The Big Project" at the day job, email has gone from being a simple communications medium to a document distribution mechanism. People ask a few questions using incomplete sentences replete with typos and I respond with what can only be described as a wall of text with the occasional attachment thrown in to supplement the 1000-word monologue. Some colleagues have joked that when it comes time to write the technical documentation for the new systems, they'll just print these electronic missives.
There's no denying that I enjoy putting ideas into a readable format. Depending on the subject and audience, an incredible amount of context will also be shared in an effort to reduce confusion or answer questions that should naturally arise by reading about decisions made and directions taken. Context is generally the bulk of any textual message I share unless communicating with someone I know really, really well. Unfortunately this often creates more problems than its intended to solve as people can get confused or begin to ignore my messages due to the sheer length they can reach.
What are the alternatives, though? This large project involves almost 80 people spread across four continents and 13 time zones. While we all technically work for the same organisation, a lot of regions have been operating almost autonomously for a quarter century or more. As we try to consolidate the best processes and procedures from each region into one global system context plays a huge role in helping people understand why certain decisions were made.
Or so I thought.
This week there have been more than a few people who have asked me to write much shorter emails because they either will not invest the time to read a few hundred words or because they get confused while trying to parse the information. Having a TL;DR at the start of an email is nothing new, but it does make me question if decisions are being made without a complete understanding of the problems.
A silly question, perhaps, as decisions within organisations are often made without a complete understanding. How else can one explain the universality of corporate inefficiencies and office politics?