Death by Detail: Dealing with Information Overload
Projects can produce a dizzying amount of information—much of which is needed to get an accurate view of the project’s health. The problem is that there’s also a lot of information that winds up being so much junk. The deluge can distract us from information that really matters, and can cause us to waste valuable time processing useless details. Suddenly, project monitoring becomes needlessly difficult.
It isn’t just project managers who have to deal with this. Team members and even clients also have to sift through the pile to find the bits that really matter to them. So how can we stem the flow of information so that we’re sure we’re only getting what we really need?
One helpful method is to categorize information. Whether you’re using colored post-its or a full-blown project management system, segregating can be a great way of streamlining the flow of information. That way the team can zoom in to the information they want to see, and not have to spend valuable minutes paging through a cluttered database.
When I managed design projects, I would filter email notifications based on senders—clients, production, and QA respectively. I would only dive into the production folder after QA notified me of any issues. It was a lot more efficient than following a two dozen-long email thread as QA and production batted a website back and forth.
In addition to controlling the flow of data, you can control its structure. Putting status reports in a template format encourages standardization and helps make it easier to read than just randomly writing it down in an email or Word doc.
Project transparency is all well and good, but too much can be harmful. Don’t send blanket emails to everybody in the team unless everyone truly needs to read it. Instead, use targeted distribution lists to minimize e-clutter. Also, be very careful with meeting invitations. If you only invite people who have something valuable to contribute, it will make your meeting run smoothly.
If we can structure and filter our information for relevance, then we won’t have to worry about being paralyzed by information overload. Neither will we have to worry about valuable information getting drowned out by useless data. We make ourselves and our teams more effective. It’s not simple, nor is it easy, but it’s definitely worth the expense.
Image credit, Flickr, net_efekt