How to improve client communication while reducing emails by 95%?

Redmine_emails_1Some time ago we decided to change our issue tracking system. We were using Trac which helped us a lot but at a certain moment it was no longer sufficient. The reason was simple. We wanted to create one work environment for our clients together with our developers and project managers. Among others we aimed to limit the amount of emails in between client and project manager. Was it a good decision to invite our clients to use our Project Management environment?

Real life example – 20 emails per day per client

Before the change our mailboxes were overloaded by project related emails on a daily basis. Some clients were sending 20 emails or more a day. Usually these emails related to newly developed functionality. Sometimes clients were asking about the status, or requesting for additional functionality. The biggest problem was the risk to lose relevant information. We had to store the communication somewhere. In our opinion it would be best to store the information within the context of the project. That’s why we decided to invite one of our clients to use our Project Management Environment.

Redmine Project Management System

Redmine Project Management System

Client environment must be simple

We chose Redmine as our Project Management Environment to achieve our goal. It has a nice, clean, user friendly and adjustable interface. For us the main advantage occurred to be the easily adjustable work flow and project roles. To enable our clients to use it we improved our work flow.
  1. We enabled our clients to accept tasks that were finished by our developers through our Project Management Environment. Thanks to that we have a dramatically reduced amount of emails related to acceptance of the sprints.
  2. Secondly we enabled our clients to create new issues in Redmine. Clients can post Question, Task, Request or Bug. Surprisingly, most of our clients started to use it immediately and we again reduced the amount of emails. The best is that our clients started to clearly divide what they want to achieve by defining which type of issue they have created in Redmine.
  3. For our clients it was also very important to specify who has to handle their issue. Thanks to Redmine, they are now able assign it to their Project Manager, a Director or to Developers. Everything depends on their own preferences.

Results – one email per week

Before we had around 20 emails per day per client. Now we receive in many cases just one email per week or even less. Usually they are related to financial agreements which of course cannot be made without official papers signed. One additional advantage, like I wrote in my previous post, is the fact that by inviting your clients to Project Management Environment, you make them Agile.

Example: our clients communicate with developers through Redmine

Example: our clients communicate with developers through Redmine

Important – clients have to change their approach

There is one important remark. This approach can give tremendous improvements but you have to help your clients to change their habits. If you give them access to Redmine, but you forget to explain how to use it, in most cases you will still have big pile of emails. Some clients are not willing to change due to several reasons. Sometimes they just don’t trust these kind of systems. In our company we have learned one big lesson: manage the main stream of the communication through the Project Management System, or sooner or later you will regret it. If you would like to know more about our Redmine adjustments or you would like to discuss our process improvements feel free to contact us. We invite you to leave your comment or personal experiences below. You can also discuss with us through Twitter: @GOYELLO.

IT guy with head full of ideas, strongly oriented on achieving great goals in life. Currently working for Aspire Systems Poland, place where I grow.