Monday, 10 November 2014

The curse of the notification e-mail...

I still remember one of the selling points from the Mercury sales pitch for TestDirector back in the days: ”The system is so clever! It will send you a notification Email with all the information you need every time that you get something assigned to you!” Since then I have received thousands of notification Emails from all kinds of ALM systems – Not all of them were especially clever or informative.

The notification Email is very a very popular feature, and widely implemented in various ALM and defect/issue management solutions. For those not very involved in the project they are a joy, as you do not need to visit the ALM tool unless you get a mail. For those in key positions in the workflow they are a pain, as you are already in the tool daily, and can find this information based on your dashboard or queries in the Tool. For those not understanding what they are used for, the mails become the curse that threatens the use of the ALM solution.

It is the administrator of the tool that carries the key to unleashing the curse, as (s)he can by default set the notification rules in a way that is not supporting the users. If (s)he at the same time adopts a  strategy where notification rules are global and not fixed to the user roles, then BAD things will happen.

The Emails are often not understood, containing lots of irrelevant data, or out of context, making them the equivalence of SPAM. It is wasting the recipient’s time, and makes him angry, fuelling the curse even further. Angry users are not very constructive, and those familiar with change management theory knows that it can provoke powerful negative reactions from stakeholders

This is why it is important to consider the usage of notification emails carefully before firing the mail-cannon at your organization. My advice would be to:

·         Identify and understand your stakeholders – Who will receive the mails?

·         Define who needs to be involved, who needs to be informed and what are the volumes of notifications.

·         Make sure all stakeholders are appropriately informed about the ALM notifications and ensure that your offer them a way to modify the mail subscriptions to fit their needs.

·         Consider doing daily, weekly or monthly notification roundup mails (if feature is available in tool).

·         Ensure that the template used for the mails has only the required information needed, and not everything.

Alternatively you are likely to experience some of the following:

·         Users applies mail autofiltering, sending the notification mail directly in the archive (or deleted items)

·         Users complains that ALM system is a pain, and stops using the tool.

·         Users gets stressed by all the mails they get.

·         Users starts to forward notification emails, disabling the ALM workflow in the tool.

·         Users looses track of other items in their crowded inbox.

All of the above is waste, which is injected and maintained directly in your development cost – Not as clever as the sales pitch originally stated…

Happy testing!


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