The True Cost of Email Coordination (that Your Business Can't Afford)

Luke Walker
May 6, 2023

What if I told you that one single email thread costs your company hundreds of dollars each time it’s sent?

That’s right – one single email thread, sent within your organization, on a very normal basis. Nothing automated or highly-customized. Nothing outbound sent to a purchased list.

Just a regular email – drafted and sent internally – costs you hundreds of dollars each and every time it goes out.

Let’s unpack that a bit.

Quantifying email coordination – a real-world operations story

Imagine for a moment that you are the COO of a retail goods manufacturing company with your own online store – “Real Great Products, Inc.”, we’ll call it.

Now, for every new product you want to launch in store, Real Great Products needs to design and build a sample product prototype. Each prototype is then tested following a rigorous, multi-step process, before it is approved for production, and eventually, sales.

More often than not, certain adjustments are required for new Real Great Products prototypes. Since your Product, Design, Manufacturing, Supply Chain and Quality Assurance teams are all stakeholders in the testing process, it’s usually the case that at least one team discovers a necessary alteration to be made, in order for the prototype to be approved

Still with me? **Here’s where the hundred-dollars email comes into play:**

Your team tracks the list of Real Great Product prototypes and their respective testing outcomes in a spreadsheet. However, the testing process itself – in particular, the reporting and management of adjustments to the prototypes – is fully coordinated by email.

Here’s a rundown of how a recent prototype test was executed at Real Great Products:

  • The new prototype was first received by Quality Assurance. QA performed an initial assessment, then drafted a bulleted email with the test results, attached photos, and outlined the rework required by Design
    Coordination time required: 30 minutes
  • A designer picked up the email and read it. To compare amendments, she needed to retrieve the previous design from the shared drive. She then forwarded the email, along with her revised design and drafted amendment notes to the Manufacturing team.
    Coordination time required:
    40 minutes
  • The Manufacturing team received the email and reviewed the thread of what transpired, in order to understand the amendments and begin work on adjusting the prototype.
    Coordination time required:
    20 minutes
  • In the meantime, Product called Quality Assurance for an update on the process – the tracking spreadsheet was no longer up to date, and the Product Manager is usually only copied into QA emails when her input is requested.
  • Product and QA spent some time together on the phone, both digging through their last email and chat communications, only to find that neither were fully cognizant of the prototype’s status.
    Coordination time required: 20 minutes
  • Of course, Quality Assurance could only recall what was initially communicated to Design, so the chain of inquiry continued with follow-up emails to both Design and Manufacturing requesting an update.
    Coordination time required: 20 minutes
  • Upon finalization of the revised product prototype, a printout of the email thread, along with the new sample, was sent back to QA for new testing.
    Coordination time required: 5 minutes

Thankfully, the second QA test goes well, and the new product was approved for production and release. Up to this point, however, the process itself required 2 hours and 15 minutes of coordination time, mostly consisting of email.

And unfortunately for the team at Real Great Products, the story of this product wasn’t over yet.

Within the first 6 months of sales, there are dozens of products returned and quality claims submitted. The product manager acts quickly to review the master prototype spreadsheet, in the hopes of finding a clue as to what quality issues might have been overlooked. But the spreadsheet was never updated to include the full discourse that had transpired 6 months earlier between Design, Manufacturing, and Quality Assurance.

At which point, the product manager is forced to dig up – you guessed itthe original email thread.

She tries in vain to understand the product quality issues with a post-mortem analysis of the entire communication history, which includes messages sent over their internal chat application, as well as items in her calendar which might have included missing details.

By the time the missing quality issue was finally resolved, the product manager had wasted the better part of an afternoon on it.

Extra coordination time required: 90 minutes

The total coordination time required for this process was bad enough before, but now it’s a full-on administrative nightmare.

In the end, the new product email was the source of 3 hours and 45 minutes of manual coordination time. With fully-loaded labor cost at Real Great Products averaging $40 an hour, you end up with an estimated cost of $150.

And that’s how one email costs your business hundreds of dollars.

The excessive costs of status quo operations

The excessive costs of status quo operations

Now your first impression might be that the Real Great Products story sounds relatively normal. These administrative foul-ups and sloppily coordinated processes are just another part of doing business, and are – to a large extent – unavoidable, right?

That’s because Real Great Products embodies the status quo of business operations. The story is so common because up to now, operations teams have by-in-large lacked a better solution to manage cross-functional processes more effectively.

And that is really costing your business a lot of money.

Returning to the $150 email, let’s keep in mind that this was just one new product on an ever-growing list of prototypes to be designed, manufactured, tested, adjusted, and eventually released. In other words, the new product cycle itself actually constitutes a core process at Real Great Products, and they repeat on a continuous basis.

Translated into cost, this means that the email coordination cost is easily running them into the multiple thousands of dollars on a monthly basis. That doesn’t even take into account the added noise and lag generated by chat notifications, full email inboxes to sort through, and the constant context switching between tools.

How to stop the bleed? Create a “home” for business operations

Ok, I got it – rolling up the sleeves and creating a spreadsheet isn’t going to cut it anymore. So now what?

In truth, business operations has never had a true “home” of its own for coordination everyday business. Operations processes intersect and overlap with other teams and systems, but have never truly been managed or executed within a system of their own.

Thankfully, in 2023, to create hyper-efficient business operations, you don’t need to have an advanced degree in process engineering or programming. There are modern process management tools (not to be confused with project management tools) that enable you to capture, systematize, and execute your operations processes, replacing the email coordination burden with fully-centralized and transparent communication.

Here’s a brief buyer’s guide for Process Management tools, to help you get started.

The hundred-dollar email hurts, no doubt about it.

But what hurts even worse?: when operations teams keep on plugging away in the status quo. This isn’t just how you lose money on email coordination – this is how your competition puts you out of business.

The truth is that your operational efficiency isn’t just about how efficient (or inefficient) your internal processes are. It’s about how fast you get new products to market, how much quality and original innovation you’ve invested in those products, and whether or not your customers love you.

The more efficient machine will eventually win the race, one way or another. Don’t be the business that got lapped while stuck in the status quo. Free up your teams today, to do better things with their time than running around chasing emails.


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About the author
Luke Walker is the Product Marketing Manager at Next Matter. He is a longtime process hacker, and writes about marketing, business digitization, leadership, and work-life balance. When he's not at work, you can find him listening to records or climbing rocks.

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