Monday, May 31, 2010

An ineffective email conversation

We cover the importance of precise, conversational writing on the Internet.

The following is the start of the transcript of an email conversation about ordering laptop computers that lasted more than nine months. The conversation eventually involved nine people. It was frustrating and ineffective because the people did not heed the basic guidelines we have suggested for Internet conversations -- they did not carefully read messages, did not respond to specific requests, did not meet commitments, and failed to quote previous messages to maintain context.

Many people wasted time in this exchange, and the funds were poorly spent. By the time the laptops arrived, the vendor had introduced a newer model.

The transcript begins as a conversation between me (LP) and the School administration (SA), School purchasing department (SP), and the University purchasing department (UP). It began in mid August 2009, when I informed the SA that my laptop warranty was about to expire, and I needed to replace it. The first reply was positive, but the commitment made in it was subsequently forgotten and ignored.

From: SA
To: LP
Date: Mon, 17 Aug 2009 23:26:44 -0700

I talked to the dean about getting a laptop for you using the grant money. The answers are as follows:
...You should get a new one no later than Oct. 1
...Your laptop should be no more than $2,200 as budgeted

Based on this, I sent a note to UP:
From: LP
To: UP, SA, SP
Date: Tuesday, August 18, 2009 2:21 PM

I would like to purchase a laptop combining funds from my foundation account and the $2,200 allocation from the Dean.
I would like to move ASAP because the warranty on my current laptop expires in a couple of days. Sorry for the rush.

And received this reply:
From: UP
To: LP, SA, SP
Date: Tue, 18 Aug 2009 14:29:52 -0700

1. Send the configuration from the Dell web site. [SP], can you forward a Req with the % that you are paying from the Stateside.
2. Also forward a PO from the Foundation

Then SP took responsibility from UP -- they said they would handle it.
From: SP
To: LP, UP, SA
Date: Wed, 19 Aug 2009 15:24:20 -0700

Thanks for the information. Also the grant is not processed via the Procurement Office (you are off the hook), this is a Foundation purchase. We have a Dell rep we work with on these types of purchases.

Also I have not gotten the information on the account being established. Once that is done, I will notify you and send you information on how to contract the rep so you can request an equote. I'd have you do that now but the equote has an expiration date.
I was worried about the warranty expiring, so asked if I could speed the process up by configuring the laptop sooner:
From: LP
To: SP, SA
Date: Wednesday, August 19, 2009 3:34 PM

> Once that is done, I will notify you and send you information
> on how to contract the rep so you can request an equote. I'd
> have you do that now but the equote has an expiration date.

Could I contact him or her now and start the process? I am in a rush because the warranty on my current laptop is going to expire in a few days, and I am *highly* dependent upon it.

I did not get a reply from SP, but did get a reply from SA:
From: SA
To: LP, SP
Date: Wed, 19 Aug 2009 19:13:07 -0700

Larry - let me look into the situation and I will handle

SA followed up with:
From: SA
To: LP, SP, UP
Date: Thu, 20 Aug 2009 17:57:08 -0700

On Tuesday I will check and see if there is some money in a grant I have that I could use to purchase a laptop for Larry.

A week later, I followed up with SA, quoting his earlier message:
From: LP
To: SA
Date: Thu, 27 Aug 2009 12:39:19 -0700

>On Tuesday I will check and see if there is some money in a
>grant I have that I could use to purchase a laptop for Larry.

I have a configuration ready to go -- are the funds available now? My current service contract has expired, and that is worrisome.

And received this reply:
From: SA
To: LP
Date: Thu, 27 Aug 2009 14:03:02 -0700

No the funds are not available - we have not yet received the grant approval - I expect to receive any day.

But, nothing happened, and my warranty had expired, so two weeks later, I followed up with SA, again quoting his earlier message:
From: LP
To: SA
Date: Thursday, September 10, 2009 4:16 PM

> No the funds are not available - we have not yet received the grant
> approval - I expect to receive any day.

Has there been further news on this?

And SA replied:
From: SA
To: LP, SP
Date: Fri, 11 Sep 2009 17:38:09 -0700

News on what?

This was just the beginning, eventually nine people were involved in the conversation, which stretched out over nine months. I got the laptop in June, 2010.