Argh, there’s just too much data! Project management offices and project managers alike can find the amount of information generated as part of their job quite overwhelming at times. We’ve got timesheet data, status updates, email alerts, pings from instant messaging… not to mention the vast amount of data that is produced from an enterprise project management system. And don’t get me started on social media and collaboration tools – there’s always someone updating their status or posting a discussion question.
Fear of not knowing is one of the reasons we subscribe to email alerts and ask to be copied in on messages. Project managers like control and we like to know what is going on! But there comes a point when it’s just too much to deal with.
How can we manage all of this, and should we even bother to try? Well, while it might seem like you’ll never be able to get a handle on it all, you can tame the deluge and you should make an effort to, if only for your own sanity! Here are our top 4 tips for managing information overload.
#1. Create Structured Reports
Use your enterprise project management software to work for you. Earned Value Management systems in particular create a lot of data, so build structured reports that clearly set out the key performance metrics. Use colors and subheadings as appropriate and avoid long, dense blocks of data. The easier the reports are to read, the easier you will find it to manage and control your projects, assuming that you can interpret what you are reading!
Some of the areas that people find complex, such as EVMS variance analysis might need some training, or at least a short workshop to help project team members understand what they are looking at in the report.
#2. Manage Your Time
One of the problems that people report when it comes to information overload is that it takes up so much time to sift through the information sources. Managing your time effectively is critical if you want to get the most out of the data that is coming your way. That means not spending hours on Facebook when you should be reviewing project status updates.
Everyone will find different time management techniques that work for them, and whole books have been written on the subject. Some things to think about are:
- Managing your to do list – electronically or in a notebook.
- Blocking out time to review and respond to emails.
- Using a ‘one touch’ approach: once you’ve handled a piece of data, act on it, file it for information or delete it.
Once you can confidently say that you are managing your time effectively you can put aside chunks of the day to review and respond to information coming at you from different channels. For example, you might catch up with industry news on your commute, and sift through alerts from your project team’s collaboration tool first thing in the morning with a coffee.
#3. Define Roles And Responsibilities
Remember that you don’t have to be copied in to everything. Make sure that your project team members have clearly defined roles and responsibilities. Then delegate, delegate, delegate. You can set up automatic forwarders to pass on emails directly to the individuals who will be dealing with them, or better still, get them added to the circulation list.
Think about your own role and what you need to know in order to be able to complete it effectively. That’s the information that you should focus on processing. Everything else can take a back seat. You can come back to it at the end of the week: block some time out on a Friday afternoon to review the ‘nice to know but not essential’ stuff.
#4. Turn It Off!
The best way to deal with information overload is to minimize it! Do you really need that Google Alert? Is it essential that you get an email every time someone submits a timesheet? If you have confidence in your team members you can let them deal with some of the day-to-day things that relate to their roles, and either ignore messages to do with that or get yourself taken off the distribution list completely. Try to bundle things up wherever you can by opting for an automated weekly summary from your project management software instead of a daily alert.
If it sounds too scary to switch some channels off, why not try it? You can always opt back in later. Chances are, you won’t even notice that you aren’t being alerted to certain events and your projects will progress perfectly well.
The more you trust your team, the easier it is to manage information overload on projects. Give it a go for a couple of weeks and see what happens!