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Data for project professionals: five things you need to know

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With the arrival of machine learning and other powerful tools, project professionals suddenly have better-quality data at their disposal. And more of it. This has the potential to improve project delivery, but it can be challenging too.

Project professionals from the charity sector shared  how they’re approaching the complexities of the data age.

Here are five of their key tips that should assist you, no matter what your spreadsheet contains…

1. Focus on quality

As a project professional using data, you’re at the mercy of how the wider organisation treats it. For example, customer names may be recorded differently across various systems.

You may wish to use data to demonstrate the success of your project. But if the raw data is missing, incoherent or poor quality, you won’t even be able to create a baseline for judging progress.

You have to examine the integrity of that data and be honest about it. 

“This is going to be a long, hard thing to tackle,” said Phil Simm, Programme Manager at Home Group, which has launched a new data initiative. “But ultimately this will benefit our projects and how we measure their success. Once we know the data is up to a standard we can hang our hat on, how we use it in projects will follow.”

Manually improving the quality of your data can be laborious. Tools like IntaZetta can pinpoint which data is in poor condition, so your teams can fix it.

2. Know what you want the data for

If you’re not discerning, you can end up gathering tons of unnecessary data, which can hamper your ability to extract its true value.

Ian Cook, Senior Project Manager at the National Trust, is currently working on introducing a project portfolio management system. As part of this, his team are razor sharp on identifying the data they need.

“The critical thing that we’re struggling with is really being able to understand, for all the charitable funds that we invest, what benefits we’re actually getting,” he told the webinar. “That’s the holy grail for us.”

Sam Davey, Head of Transformation at the Royal Opera House, has similar priorities.

“We are a not-for-profit, but our funding is reducing and we need to be sustainable,” she said. “So we need to understand the link between expenditure and return.”

Davey added that, as any one customer may be buying tickets, becoming a patron, holding an event at the premises or simply “schmoozing their clients at the restaurant”, it can be challenging to harness their data in a way that adds value.

“For us to understand that single view of the customer is very important,” she said. “There’s a huge appetite for this.

3. Get help

A third party can help you to gather the right data for your project goals. They can provide data models that show what that data should look like – including the state of your existing data; how data in your sector is affected by external factors like regulation; how all the fragments of data you need link together; and how to group it.

This provides the foundation for a gap analysis, so you can see what data you now need to gather.

4. Secure buy-in from the top

Improving your data quality tends to be an organisation-wide task. It takes time and resources, and you’ll need to gain support and commitment from across the organisation, even though other work is likely to appear more urgent.

The key is being able to communicate the benefits clearly so you can engage your senior stakeholders. Sell them on the rationale and even the most complex initiative is more likely to succeed. The good news: data is already a hot topic for C-suites and boardrooms.

5. Share the responsibility

Appoint custodians or data stewards to be responsible for data quality, accuracy, completeness, consistency, validity, timeliness and uniqueness. When data is spread in different forms across the organisation, people can become possessive of their own “pot”. In truth, that data belongs to the organisation, not that department, and should be readily shared. Setting up regular data governance steering groups can help get that buy-in across the company.


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