Make the Most of Your Project Data
Projects create a large amount of data. From proposals and early-stage budgets through to performance data and earned value management reports, your project management tools are stuffed with numbers and facts that should make it easier for you to see what’s going on.
But is it the right data?
If you have a huge amount of metrics, key performance indicators and numbers but you still can’t figure out how the project is doing, then you have a problem.
Your project management reporting should be able to answer two simple questions:
- Are we on time?
- Are we on budget?
Together, that information should help you uncover performance issues and point you in the right direction to correct those issues. If you can’t do that from the swathes of stuff inputted into the project management tools by you and team, then something is wrong.
Review the data you have
The first consideration for resolving the data problem and making the most of the information you are collecting is to check what is going into the system. Do you really need to capture everything that you are capturing? If you do, why? Who is using it and where does it end up?
It’s fine to decide that you want to keep everything. A quick audit of what’s going into the system will surface some areas where you could build better reports or streamline data input from project control analysts – even if you ultimately decide that capturing it all does have value for the team.
If you do find data that is not being used, ask yourself why? Do people know that it is even there and could be used? Is it because it isn’t linked to a report? Is it not being captured across enough projects to make it worth using that data point for comparative analysis? Is the data so poor that it is meaningless and users know to discount it from their performance assessments?
Poor data quality is the next thing to review when looking at how to make the most of the contents of your project management system.
Review the data quality
Consider the quality of the data going into the system. If you are reliant on earned value management system reports to give you status updates and show clients how you are performing against agreed milestones, then you better be sure that the data is accurate.
What we want is to turn the data into usable information so that it can be given to people who can use it for decision-support and make the most of it.
Data audits can be time-consuming, which is why many people outsource a review of their earned value management tools to people (like us) who do this kind of analysis on a regular basis. When you know what you are looking for and have a reliable tried-and-tested method of uncovering data errors, a data quality review is much faster!
It goes beyond looking for simple data errors like date formatting or the use of standard variables. You’re looking for data integrity across the whole system, all the connected software pieces and all the reports. It’s not enough for each data item to be correct itself, the whole system has to hang together and work seamlessly as a single source of the truth.
In other words, if a client looks at a report and asks for more information, the ‘more information’ you pull up should be internally consistent with what they see on the report. That sounds simple, but how many ‘date’ fields do you have across all your different tools? Are you sure they are all linked appropriately to the right reports and automations?
That’s a simple example of how it can be tricky to make sure that the data quality is as good as it needs to be. You can imagine that with large-scale programs and many vendors, reporting can get messy quickly if the inputs aren’t understood – even if they are 100% accurate.
Train the users
One of the simplest ways to improve data quality and make the most of the information you have is to train your system users. Make sure they understand the components of earned value management and most importantly, the ‘why’ behind the data they are entering. Even if they don’t use the reports themselves, if they understand how they are created and what goes into making a report, they are more likely to focus on entering the information accurately. In our experience, if people don’t know why they are entering data or capturing information, then they don’t put so much effort into doing it. If they know which report is using the information they enter, they can see the implications of it being wrong.
Beyond that straightforward ‘why’, you’ll also want to make sure that the team has the technical skills to use the tools. Check that they can navigate around the system to access the right information and run the appropriate reports. Earned value management training will help them learn both how the system works as a whole and also how to use their software quickly and efficiently.
Training boosts confidence both in your team and in your client. When clients ask questions, a confident team member will be able to answer in a reassuring way, and can evidence that the data is useful, accurate and appropriate for supporting the decision-making process.
Project controls and governance relies on being able to trust your data. Is it time that you audited what is in your systems to make sure you are making the most of the information in your tools?