For any project that you are working on, you should have a data centre. When we hear the word data centre, we might think of massive building, or even a barge, filled with servers that are holding more data than humans have produced in thousands of years. But your data centre doesn’t need to contain millions of lines of data or hundreds of different categories. But it does need to hold data.
For each project, you build, you need to be collecting and managing some data about the project. The simplest data for you to collect is a list of tasks, their due-dates, and their actual completion dates. Some other data that you might collect is a list of resources (people, money, equipment) that you will also be using on the project.
Data vs Information
Data is a collection of small facts. To verify each piece of data that you collect, you should be able to answer the question: “Is this true?” If you are collecting a task list, you know that it is true that the task exists (because you made the list.) You also know the due-date that you assigned the task. The completion date can also be verified.
Information, on the other hand, is the knowledge that you get when you organize the data. The information that you get from the data in your task list might be that you have too many tasks ending on the same day, or that none of your tasks are done on time.
Learning From Your Data
When you first start your data centre, don’t worry about what information you are trying to get. Begin by finding the small facts that you can collect that are verifiable. A lot of times, people will start with the question: “What information are we looking for?” and then collect data to support them in answering these questions. It doesn’t hurt to have some questions in your back pocket. But to begin, you want to focus on collecting the facts that you can. Once you have a list (or table) of verifiable facts, you can usually answer the questions you are asking, but you often will find that you can answer questions that you didn’t even think of. Also, starting with a focus on the information you are looking for can cause you to miss out on collecting essential data.
If you start by trying to answer the question: How many tasks are incomplete? You will collect data only on the tasks that are currently being worked on. (You might not even look at the tasks that haven’t started yet because tasks that aren’t started might not be considered incomplete.)
On the other hand, if you collect data (the facts) about all of your tasks, you can later glean information about how many tasks there were in total. The number that is completed, the number that remain, and how many are late. You can even get more interesting information like how many tasks were completed on a Monday as opposed to a Thursday?
Keep Putting Energy In
Once you have started your data centre, you won’t feel like stopping. Once you see the power of a few insights, you will begin to look for insights everywhere. There are two pitfalls that you need to watch out for:
- Your information is only useful if you consistently put energy in to have the right data in. You might start strong, but if you aren’t continually putting the effort in to make sure that your data continues to be correct and complete, then you will find the benefit will slowly degrade. You will only be able to make effective decisions if you have all of the right data.
- Don’t try to do too much. Good data can lead to useful information, which can lead you to good decisions. Good decisions lead to the right action at the right time. If you start to focus too much on collecting data, you will miss the chance to turn it into useful information, and you will never make the right decisions that lead to action. Data collection is not the end-goal. You shouldn’t spend all of your time on data collection. Make sure that you balance the end goal: the right execution and the means: the data that can lead you there.
Your Data Centre
You can start your data centre today. It can be a spreadsheet with the information that you need. Consistently keep at it, and you will soon see benefits that you couldn’t imagine.