Data doesn’t lie

I was talking recently to a Business Analyst about their job and what they liked about it and the response was: “I like working as a Business Analyst because Data doesnt lie” and it really stood out to me as a response that I wanted to spend time to elaborate on.

As Project Managers, we use data to make decisions. We use data to form an opinion and to “tell a story” to stakeholders but are we honest with how we use the data? or honest about the importance that data has within our projects?

Where do you get your data from?

During your project, your data can come from an assortment of sources and it’s your job as Project Manager to make sure that you are looking out for the correct and most accurate data available. Data can come from team reports, information received during one-on-ones and team metrics. When I come into an organisation, the first thing that I learn is: where do I get my information from? I then ask myself: “Is this data reliable?”

Is your data telling the ‘real’ story?

Sometimes it can be difficult to know if the information that you are looking at is real, so what can you do to verify if your data is telling you the real story?

  • Look for secondary sources and look for data that will back up or contradict the information that you have received.
  • Have the data validated by experts. There are certain bits of information that I am unable to quantify so I look to my experts to tell me if it’s accurate or not.
  • Review the data with your team. When I’m preparing an update and using data from the team, I’ll ask them to verify and confirm what the data is showing so that there are no misunderstandings.

What’s your data telling you about your project?

An upward trend may not always be a good sign! Especially if it’s the number of issues created in the past week! When you become a more experienced Project Manager you can look towards your gut instinct if a piece of data does not ‘feel’ correct. One of the weekly /bi-weekly checks that I do on my project is a health check vs. the data. I try to make sure that I have all of the data / information available to validate my own assumptions on the health of my project.

What do you do if you can’t trust your data?

This is a serious problem and I would recommend that you rectify this as quickly as possible. A few years ago, I was brought into to lead a “troubled” project and I was struggling to not only get data on the project but the information I could get was not trustworthy or reliable. I did the following:

  • Work with the team to explain the “Why” behind why we need to have accurate data. It’s not about a blame game but rather understanding where we are/ what we need to get back on track and what we need to make the project a success
  • Look at what information we need right now and then follow up with what data we need in 2 weeks, one month etc.
  • Investigate who can give me this information and agree on timelines/responsibilities
  • Collate reports and try to minimise the effort for everyone to deliver the data
  • Iterate every report and develop and adapt for what the project needs.

Data does not lie but you need to understand what the data is telling you. As a Project Manager, your role is to interpret the information and tell the ‘story‘ of the project to your stakeholders and as a Professional, it is your responsibility to share the accurate and correct data. If you’re struggling with understanding the data that you are given, don’t make assumptions!

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