Use email to announce decisions, not to solicit potential solutions

I didn’t go to a very famous college so in all the years I attended, we only ever had one industry guest speaker visit us. He was a higher-up at IBM Germany. One of the points he made was that software developers always send him excruciatingly detailed emails justifying decisions he doesn’t really care about, like ordering themselves a new laptop when their old one broke.

Instead he gave this advice: if you’re deciding between options, explore the options and arrive at a decision. Then set a deadline and send an email to stakeholders that you’re moving on with the decision unless they object before the deadline expires. This keeps projects moving on by default, rather than stalling because of missing decisions.

If you write emails this way, you don’t force stakeholders into the spotlight like you would asking for their opinions. Rather you allow them the easy out of staying silent, accepting your proposal, and archiving your email. They trust you enough to make this decision and are happy enough with it. If you solicit opinions instead, you have to keep pinging stakeholders to find out whether they don’t care enough to reply or they will reply later. That’s always awkward and takes a lot of time.

Avoid all of this by sending a brief email with the options you considered, the conclusion you arrived at, and a deadline for review. Stakeholders will be happy that you did most of the work yourself already, not taking time away from their own projects. If you’re about to make a bad decision, someone will speak up before the deadline. Guaranteed.

Use email to announce decisions, not to solicit potential solutions

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