To Master Information Management on Your Project, Do These 4 Things

October 26, 2017 by Christian Knutson, P.E., PMPChristian Knutson, P.E., PMP

Knowledge is power. However, for many project managers, maneuvering into this position of control can be a serious challenge that doesn’t go away just by being effective in managing email or being able to read a pivot table.

The sheer quantity of data and information that is processed in a day on even a moderate sized project can be intimidating. Scale this up to a major program and the data flow can be simply overwhelming.

[Further Reading: What is Little Data? And Why Do PMs Need It?]

There are plenty of strategies to optimize the use of your valuable time for focusing on the most important issues. Time management is a highly important skill every project manager must master, deciding for themselves which philosophy, skills, and tools they’ll use to maximize productivity. While really important for effective project management, time management doesn’t solve the problem of too much data and information.

Too much data and information is as challenging for project managers as too many meetings. The sheer volume becomes counterproductive and in some situations, dangerous.

An equally important skill project managers must cultivate is information management. Without solid information management skills, a project manager can be buried under input and lose sight of the forest for the trees, a situation referred to as information blindness.

Information blindness happens when we’re presented with too much information in a format that isn’t easy to comprehend. For example, let’s say that you are used to seeing construction status reports in a quad-chart format with schedule in a Gantt-chart format and a stop-light chart depicting that relative status of key tasks from the WBS. However, on a new project the construction managers are submitting the status reports in written, bullet list format.

You’re used to seeing the information in graphical format. Now you’re receiving the same type of information in written form, and it doesn’t make sense. It’s not that you can’t understand the data. It’s that the information is coming to you in a format that you can’t easily comprehend. To solve this problem, you’ll have to either force yourself to digest the long-form version or have the data re-packaged into the graphical/tabular format you’re used to.

A similar situation of information blindness arises when the data is presented in a way that might be understood, but doesn’t generate the correct decision-making knowledge in the individual viewing the data. Imagine a change management panel viewing a project update that uses stoplight charts to depict the number and cost of changes on a portfolio of projects under implementation.

The stoplight charts concisely convey the project information and look great, but they do not convey data that members on the change management panel really need to better understand specific cost and scope variances for individual projects. They may discern general cost and scope trends, but can’t ask the right questions about individual projects. The lack of information quality reduces decision quality.

Information blindness can also afflict us on even the most mundane issues. Ever feel overwhelmed by too many choices when out shopping? I know this from a funny, personal story. My wife and I had just moved back to the U.S. after living overseas for seven years and were visiting a grocery store for the first time. We hit the cereal aisle and were faced with cereals we didn’t know existed or that anyone would even need! In fact, there were so many, we went with Cheerios, a default.

The issue in each of these scenarios has to do with absorbing data and making sense of it. Both engineers and project managers share this problem. We’re blessed with an analytical mind and amazing technology that gives us more information than any one of us can consume.

[Further Reading: How Big Data Gives PMs an Edge in Manufacturing]

Unfortunately, all that information combined with our natural bent to want to make sense of it can lead to shut downs with the data or information isn’t readily consumable in the right format needed for decision-quality knowledge.

Give any of us too much information, too many choices, or package data in way we’re not able to comprehend, and our minds will work to simplify the complex. In some cases, this will be defaulting to a decision choice we are comfortable with, although it may be wrong, or simply not choose at all.

How do you solve the problem of too much information or incorrectly packaged information? You do that be minding the gap. That is, by...

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