More efficient communication with BLUF - Bottom Line Up Front

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Always write the most important thing, what you actually want to say, at the beginning of a text or email. This idea is called "BLUF" and that stands for Bottom Line Up Front, so the conclusion (bottom line) belongs at the beginning (up front).
The method increases productivity because everyone involved saves time reading and processing emails. Executives in particular benefit when the method is used, because they often only skim through emails and can grasp the content much faster with BLUF.
Studies agree that we spend an average of 30% of our working time reading and responding to emails. Consequently, an improvement in the area of emails has a great leverage effect.

Origin of BLUF

Many inventions and developments have their origins in the military. The U.S. military conducted an extensive study to analyze reasons why productivity is lost when reading and mentally processing emails. It was also found that executives, who also consistently suffer from a lack of time there, usually skim through emails. Those who skim either need too much time or run the risk of misunderstanding the content and drawing the wrong conclusions. The conclusion was that, in the end, everyone benefits if the content of an email can be grasped more quickly.
The study tried and tested alternative methods. The most effective approach overall was to write the conclusion of an email at the beginning. The idea sounds unspectacular at first, but many good ideas are simple.
The fact that the method was named BLUF, of all things, shows a certain humor in the armed forces that not everyone may understand.

Emails are not novels

There is no reason to build up suspense in the text of an email and save the most important thing until the end. After all, an email is not a novel. Write the conclusion at the beginning and save yourself the time to create a dramaturgical structure. In fact, if you write the core of your message first, there's no pressure to give the rest any literary qualities, and it's written much faster.

Quick grasp of the content by executives and fellow readers

For an example, let's say the conclusion of an email is that the topic needs further discussion and coordination. If this conclusion is at the beginning, in most cases executives and co-readers don't even need to read on, because as long as there is still discussion, the topic doesn't need attention. And if it does, you can simply read on.
The conclusion of the email could also be: We have discussed the topic, have come to the following conclusion and ask for approval. This is a clear indication to the manager that a milestone has been reached where action in the role as manager - and this essentially includes making decisions - is required right now. So this email needs more attention and that is already clear in the first sentence.

Example of an email without and with BLUF

You don't have to understand the content, the example is intentionally IT-heavy and technical, because it makes the sense of BLUF even more obvious. This is the conventional variant of the email:


Hello Peter,
As you have learned from recent emails, we are in the process of moving our database server to the cloud. We have encountered some issues in the process. Whenever we try to connect to the database server, we get an error message back. Locally it works fine, but in the cloud we just can't connect. We have already searched online for a solution, nothing to be found. The others in the team don't have an explanation either. Do you have any experience in moving database servers to the cloud? Or do you know someone we could contact?
I have attached a screenshot of the error message. You can see there that the connection drops right at the beginning and I just don't have a reasonable explanation for the error codes that come back. Jennifer and Max are in CC of this email, they both have no idea what could be the cause either.
The same email written with the BLUF method:


Hello Peter,
do you know someone who can help us move the database server to the cloud? We are facing some challenges.
Here is the problem and what we have already tried:
  • [...]

Octaved Flow Wiki

The goal of Octaved Flow is to have less emails sent in general, because emails are widely used as a communication tool, but not really efficient. Especially internal emails with long email histories and many CC often paralyze productivity instead of boosting it.
The key in Octaved Flow to avoid redundant emails is team boards. Team boards are a central source of information with a predefined structure and clear organizational concept. Everything that is discussed and voted on individually is a separate block, a so-called board post. To reflect the current state of discussion, the board posts have versions. You always see the latest version and only access an older version if needed (by the way, this doesn't work very well with emails). Because the whole board post is always displayed, you don't have to gather the information from different places, everything is always complete and gapless in one place.
By having different types of board posts, communication becomes more transparent and clear. Use the Release type when you need a release, Question when you need support, and FYI to let specific people know. Or use @firstname lastname to mention someone in a meeting report, for example. Whether a question has already been answered can be seen immediately with traffic light colors.
Octaved Flow's Team Board makes only a few specifications for communication in teams and companies. But these are strong enough to provide structure and make workflows more efficient.