Posts Tagged ‘time zones’

Data Isn’t Information

by Wayne Turmel on August 10, 2009

Readers of this site are very tech savvy – in fact (without sounding too flattering) I’d suggest that we are among the most technically proficient workers in the world. I would also submit that many of us don’t use technology properly. I don’t mean our fingers don’t fly and we can’t multi-task-web-cam-Google-group like a rock star. What I mean is we send more data than information.

Here are a few examples to clarify further: You check your email inbox or your project collaboration site. There’s the spreadsheet you wanted with the numbers you need to complete your task. That’s data. The problem is that the person who sent you those numbers didn’t tell you that they were put together at the last minute because they’d be in trouble if they were late, that they are only based on someone’s best guess or that the minute they hit “send” someone called with a last-minute correction. That’s context and it’s what turns data into information you can actually use.

There is an old model that talks about the learning and communication hierarchy:

dikw

Data (the raw numbers or facts) turns into… Information (what it means) which, when we apply to our real life problems effectively, we turn into… Knowledge (how do we apply this contextual information to move the project/company/species forward and finally… Wisdom (how do we use this knowledge in the most far-reaching, strategic and positive way)

In the lightning fast-paced work world, data is constantly flowing. We have all kinds of tools that allow us to get the numbers/project status/debugs anywhere in the world in seconds. The problem is not with the delivery of data, it’s how it’s processed and turned into action once it arrives.

We need context in order to understand all the subtleties of what the data means and what to do with it. Context is established when we seek answers to questions like:

  • Why is this data important?
  • Where did it come from?
  • What are you supposed to do with it?
  • Who sent it and how much do you trust them?
  • Who will use it and why should they trust you?
  • In other words, the data and the tools that send it are useless without the human dynamic, which brings us back to technology. We have all the technology we need to send the data and create context, we just don’t use it as well as we might.
    Take for example. You are an Agile team that wants to hold your scrum and get back to “the important stuff”. You don’t waste time on social niceties and “fluff”. Effective web meetings are held to under 10 minutes, the way they should be. IMs are held to ten words or less and anything more social than a “Hi are you busy” is considered unimportant. But if you don’t have social conversation, or allow for time to get to know each other, do you really know what’s going on with your teammates? Do you know who’s having trouble, who’s really doing more than their share and who can really give you insight into the data you’ve just received?

    I hear so many times that web cams are a waste of good bandwidth; time zones mean it’s easier to just hit “send” and go to bed, knowing that the folks in Bucharest or Bangalore or Boston are professionals and will know what to do with it when it arrives; Group collaboration sites don’t need pictures of the teammates on whom your job depends and “Why does it matter what Mary or Karim look like as long as the work gets done?”

    It matters. The human component matters, and we ignore the tools – and more importantly the techniques – that let us build those human connections at our peril.

    I’d like to end with a thought provoking question: What are you doing for your team (and what help is your company giving you) to learn to send data as well as turn it into information?

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