To anybody under, say, eighteen, the concept of not having an ‘Internet’ is pretty much meaningless. To anyone under twelve, it must be difficult to imagine not having an ‘always on’ world. To the older ones amongst us, remember encyclopaedias, Encarta, libraries?

The world has moved on very quickly and we are swimming in (drowning in…?) ever growing amounts of data.

Apparently we create 2.5 quintillion bytes of data every day – somebody tell me, what is a quintillion…? Apparently there are a billion new internet users in the past five years, and half the web traffic comes from mobile phones  (see the infographic to the right from domo).

My under-powered, over-caffeinated, tiny little senior management brain can only cope with so much data. Generally, I don’t need detail. If I want detail, I can probably have more detail than I could possibly absorb, but you know, I don’t think it’s going to help.

To a great extent, I don’t need to know that things are going right.*

The dashboard of modern cars don’t light up with lots of green indicators when the car is running well, but they’re very quick to go amber/red, when there’s something amiss. Unless it warns me that there’s a problem with the tyre pressures, I’ll assume that the tyre pressures are OK. Same with project management.

Data never sleeps

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I really need to know the following things.

  • What is, or may be, preventing things from going right, so I can help change those, so things do go right?

  • What decisions do I have to make? When do I have to make them?

  • What’s dependent on what, what alternatives do I have and what’s the impact of those choices?

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These things are what I’m paid for. I don’t need to know seven levels of work breakdown structure of the project. I do not need to know exactly which feature will be delivered in which sprint by which team. I may love getting involved with these things because they’re interesting and fun, and they make me feel like part of the team, but, really…?

So, as an organisation, we need to provide the right level of detail to the right set of people. For managers running a programme or portfolio of projects, what’s the appropriate level of detail that’s required, to provide useful visibility and proper control over the things for which we’re responsible?

I’m not going to go into the definition of dashboards, balanced scorecards, heatmaps or whatever. There’s more than enough well-formed comment on exactly what parameters we should measure and how – Google/Bing it. However, I’d suggest that the following would be universal, whatever your level of management responsibility – the same rules apply:

  • What work do we have going on right now (BAU, projects, maintenance etc.)?

  • What work are we being asked to do in the future and when?
  • What resources (people, money, equipment) do we have available to do it?

  • Can we fit it all in and if not, what options do we have?

If you’re not able to answer these questions confidently, at the level for which you’re responsible, then something is wrong in your organisation. It might be the processes, the tools, the culture – I don’t know which, but it’s highly unlikely to be because you don’t have enough detail available.

We will be looking to explore these four questions in our upcoming webinar.

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Leave the detail to the people that are responsible for managing the detail (you are allowed to ask them questions, remember). Reporting by exception – I’m going to assume that everything is going well and on track, unless you tell me different. At that point, my job is to help you solve the issue, not to beat you up about it.

So look for the right level of detail to help you do your job, learn to interpret the information that is provided to you (your staff are only human!) and ask for more only when it’s really necessary. Otherwise you’ll drown.

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* This raises its own management issues, but we’ll cover those another time.

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