Silos of data exist where project teams work independently – and sometimes people within project teams work independently as well, not sharing data that would be useful for the whole project. Senior managers who see this happening and still expect consistent project reporting are in for a shock! It’s impossible to get good quality, consistent data across all teams when data silos exist. The risk of this is that the information you need to make effective decisions isn’t available so you are shaping strategy and making project decisions without seeing the complete picture.
It takes more than a spreadsheet to manage a project successfully, and when you multiply that by dozens of projects across lots of teams then you can see that enterprise-wide data will be difficult to pull together. This presents a real problem for the Project Management Office (PMO). They are expected to produce reports at corporate level and provide a holistic view of the work the company is doing, while everyone around them manages projects and records results slightly differently.
You can avoid this with a bit of planning. Here are our top 5 tips for avoiding data silos on your projects.
1. Use Enterprise Software
Enterprise project management software can do a lot of the work for you. It’s the fastest way to introduce standardization. If everyone is working on the same platform they will all be recording data in the same way. The reports that come out of corporate-wide software help present a comprehensive view of the organization’s project portfolio.
2. Use Dashboards
Dashboards are a good way of standardizing reporting. They can be used to centralize and present data. The PMO can set up some templates so that each project manager reports in the same way. This has an added benefit for stakeholders and sponsors: they will get used to seeing dashboards presented consistently so it will be easier for them to move between projects. There’s no learning curve because they’ll have that experience of how project data is reported and what it all means.
3. Build Good Working Relationships
Silos exist where teams don’t communicate. Individuals don’t realize that other people would benefit from the data that they have, so they don’t see the advantages of talking to others about it. The better the working relationships between the teams, the more this data will come out naturally.
It’s not just individuals within the same team. Where good working relationships exist with other project and business teams you’ll also find that data sharing follows.
4. Share Knowledge
Foster a formal culture of knowledge sharing and you will be able to break down some of the data silos that exist in your business. Knowledge sharing can take several formats and you can choose whatever works best for you. Try a lessons learned workshop after a project has completed, or gather feedback from project stakeholders as the project progresses. Hold informal ‘lunch and learn’ sessions where one person talks about a challenge or success they have had on a project. Cross-team brainstorming sessions or using team wikis to record good practice can also help.
However you do it, the objective is to get as much departmental and corporate knowledge out of people’s heads and into the wider business community (preferably written down). This contributes to breaking down data silos because it encourages people to identify what sources of data there are out there which reduces the need for them to create them from scratch.
5. Create One Source Of The Truth
The single best way to reduce data silos, or even extinguish them completely, is to create a single source of the truth. Think of a data element that is being currently recorded, say, for example, timesheet data. If each project team is recording their own time spent on spreadsheets, you can’t get a company-wide view of how much time is being spent on travel, meetings or project admin without a lot of effort. A single tool to collect timesheet data will produce standardized reports and give you one source of the truth instead of multiple sources.
Your enterprise project management software can really help here as it will manage a lot of project data for you. However, the first step is to identify what data elements are stored in silos so that you can tackle them one at a time, moving them into a corporate software tool or something else. It can be a time consuming job as it involves identifying the various silos and then knitting the existing data together into one standard repository, training everyone on the new process and managing the transition to a new way of working, but it really is worthwhile. Your strategic decision-making will be far better with a single view of your enterprise data.