After 20 minutes of struggling with the arcane language of the auditor's memo, Patricia was finally beginning to understand what she needed to know. She asked Geoff, "And how many projects have people who've been on site over 180 days?"
"Hard to say," he replied. "I'd guess that most do, but only the project managers know for sure."
"OK, can you have a summary by tomorrow at Two? We have to know our exposure."
"I doubt it," said Geoff. "We'd have to find out who the project managers are first. The regional offices keep that sort of information — there's no central repository."
"Well, OK, do what you can for tomorrow," said Patricia. "But meanwhile, I can't believe that we don't know who the project managers are. Can't the regions just send us the basics on every project?"
Geoff and Patricia are about to enter a world that seems strange to non-specialists — the world of electronic Database Management. In that world, our paper-based intuition misleads us. Although it's counter to our intuition, it would be a mistake for Patricia to take a "snapshot" — to collect the project manager data and keep it around until she needs it. By then, it will be out of date.
Organizations are in
They don't pause
for snapshots.Although photographic snapshots do capture all the elements of a scene simultaneously (or nearly so), we can't collect management data that way. If the organization is large enough or scattered enough, no team of practical size can gather simultaneous data from across the organization. The phone tag alone prevents it. But even if it were possible, the data is volatile. People are reassigned, projects begin or end, and phone numbers change. As soon as the data is collected, it's out of date in unknown ways. Snapshots don't work because the subject can't sit still.
Centralized databases work, but since data owners typically don't have write access, the data must still be collected. The price of central databases is agility and flexibility.
Often, a better solution is to leave the data in the hands of its "owners," and compile summaries on demand using automation. Most large organizations are networked, so it's possible to give the owners of the data the responsibility for maintaining up-to-date local versions in standard form on their own file servers. Then, using the organizational Intranet, anyone can use automated network software to poll the local data stores, compiling an organizational summary whenever they need one.
We don't think of doing things this way because our mental models of how we work haven't caught up to our networked reality. We imagine looking up what we need in a continuously updated central data store, analogous to a Rolodex or paper ledger. But in the networked organization, where data is constantly changing, we gain an advantage if we automatically compile data just in time — on demand. Top Next Issue
The article you've been reading is an archived issue of Point Lookout, my weekly newsletter. I've been publishing it since January, 2001, free to all subscribers, over the Web, and via RSS. You can help keep it free by donating either as an individual or as an organization. You'll receive in return my sincere thanks — and the comfort of knowing that you've helped to propagate insights and perspectives that can help make our workplaces a little more human-friendly. More
Your comments are welcomeWould you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenAefdjeIqYruCKhHYner@ChacDmjtcfDubbUfElHgoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.
About Point Lookout
Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.
Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.
Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.
More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:
- Abraham, Mark, and Henny
- Our plans, products, and processes are often awkward, bulky, and complex. They lack a certain spiritual
quality that some might call elegance. Yet we all recognize elegance when we see it. Why do we make
things so complicated?
- When we steer the discussion away from issues to attack the credibility, motives, or character of our
debate partners, we often resort to a technique known as the ad hominem attack. It's unfair, it's unethical,
and it leads to bad, expensive decisions that we'll probably regret.
- Decisions, Decisions: I
- Most of us have participated in group decision-making. The process can be frustrating and painful, but
it can also be thrilling. What processes do groups use to make decisions? How do we choose the right
process for the job?
- The Perils of Piecemeal Analysis: Content
- A team member proposes a solution to the latest show-stopping near-disaster. After extended discussion,
the team decides whether or not to pursue the idea. It's a costly approach, because too often it leads
us to reject unnecessarily some perfectly sound proposals, and to accept others we shouldn't have.
- Down in the Weeds: I
- When someone says, "I think we're down in the weeds," a common meaning is that we're focusing
on inappropriate — and possibly irrelevant — details. How does this happen and what can
we do about it?
See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness for more related articles.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming April 24: Big, Complicated Problems
- Big, complicated problems can be difficult to solve. Even contemplating them can be daunting. But we can survive them if we get advice we can trust, know our resources, recall solutions to past problems, find workarounds, or as a last resort, escape. Available here and by RSS on April 24.
- And on May 1: Full Disclosure
- The term "full disclosure" is now a fairly common phrase, especially in news interviews and in film and fiction thrillers involving government employees or attorneys. It also has relevance in the knowledge workplace, and nuances associated with it can affect your credibility. Available here and by RSS on May 1.
I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenZBnuQthmVYgVugOJner@ChacXzewKxsVXVaoymutoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.
Get the ebook!
Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:
- Get 2001-2 in Geese Don't Land on Twigs (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2003-4 in Why Dogs Wag (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2005-6 in Loopy Things We Do (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2007-8 in Things We Believe That Maybe Aren't So True (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2009-10 in The Questions Not Asked (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get all of the first twelve years (2001-2012) in The Collected Issues of Point Lookout (PDF, USD 28.99)
Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info
- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
- Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.
- Your stuff is brilliant! Thank you!
- You and Scott Adams both secretly work here, right?
- I really enjoy my weekly newsletters. I appreciate the quick read.
- A sort of Dr. Phil for Management!
- …extremely accurate, inspiring and applicable to day-to-day … invaluable.