Show Me The Data!

Ring.  Ring.

Inexperienced IT person: This is IT.  How can I help you?

Caller: None of us can print and we have customers coming in 5 minutes.

Inexperienced IT person: OK!  We’ll get right down there.

Ring.  Ring.

Experienced IT person: This is IT.  How can I help you?

Caller: None of us can print and we have customers coming in 5 minutes.

Experienced IT person: What are you trying to print?  How many people have tried printing?  Is this the first time this has happened?  Has anything like this happen before?

This is a relatively common scenario for IT support desks.  And the caller may very well be correct in that nothing is printing.  But in the first scenario, IT has very little information to act on.  In the second scenario the support person has asked some questions, although waiting for answers between questions.  She is going to have a much better idea of where to look first to figure out the problem.  This is a very simple example of data collection.

Gathering data in this scenario is obviously helpful.  It will help the IT department solve the problem more quickly.  It is critical to any kind of project.  You can have all of the opinions that you want.  In fact everyone will be more than happy to share at least one with you.  But you cannot take decisive action until you have data.

This means you need to collect data about the current state of the project, analyze that data and the impact that proposed changes will have, and the present good estimations of what the future will be like.  There are two big reasons for this.  First, everyone’s perception of a problem will be will be different, as I have touched upon in a previous post.  Secondly when you are ready to present your recommendations, your sponsor and the people affected are going to want to see the data to back up your decisions.  That goes a long way if data shows them that their new goals are realistic.

It could feel like a gathering all this data is not doing very much.  It might feel like you’re stuck, doing a lot of work and making little progress.  That’s a trap!  Don’t fall into it.  If you tried to make big changes without the relevent information to let to know where you are supposed to be going, you’ll have a hard time hitting your goals and sustaining improvements after the implementation phase of the project.

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