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Information Pollution
By Susan Peterson

As project managers we are expected to be able to process a great deal of information from a variety of sources. Some might say that the explosion of email as a communication medium has increased the volume of information exponentially but has drastically decreased the quality. Project managers can find themselves drowning in a sea of useless information while not being able to obtain the few “jewels” of information necessary to ensure project success. Some “information management” tools to assist in “keeping afloat” include templates, filters and categories.

Templates

Sometimes the information overload issue centers on unnecessary data. Progress and problems need to be monitored, but “status” does not. Status reports waste time and energy that can be better channeled into proactive project activities. It can be effective to provide a template of what information is really needed. For example, progress reports can include the following: 1) progress against deliverables; 2) issues with recommended resolution strategies; 3) actions on outstanding items. These items not only provide the necessary information, but they also emphasize adherence to the project plan, team responsibility and accountability, as well as reduction of project manager information overload.

Filters

I recently attended a client meeting in which a fair amount of extraneous data was discussed. One of the participants asked me how I kept it all sorted. I replied that I archived such items on my “mental hard drive”. That response meant that while I did not completely discard the data, I relegated it to a lesser level of importance and accessibility. There are often software filters built into email programs that can automatically perform the same function. The user sets the parameters, and the filters, also known as “intelligent agents”, take care of the review and storage or deletion.

Categories

One technique that can be of value in sorting through the deluge of communications is to develop categories that allow management of information. For example, every project manager knows that information regarding budget, schedule, and performance is of utmost importance. However, every item that mentions one or more of those three components is not necessarily critical. Identify what you really need to know and what source(s) can provide that information. Focus on the most effective formats, such as exception rather than full detailed reports. Re-think the parameters that are being used to determine the critical activities and variances that need to be monitored.

Reducing information overload also includes being an effective communicator. People are much more apt to read short emails, memos, and reports than lengthy ones. It takes discipline to refine communications so that only the critical points are included. However, the outcome — that people actually read what you write — far outweighs the effort to frame your communications in concise formats.

© 2011 Susan Peterson, All Rights Reserved

Susan Peterson, M.B.A., PMP, is a consultant who manages diverse programs and projects in both the private and public sectors for individual organizations and consortia. She also conducts enterprise assessments of project portfolio management practices. Prior to establishing her consulting practice Susan led major efforts for Fortune 100 organizations throughout the United States. She teaches the Project Management Simulation capstone course as well as the Project Portfolio Management course in the University of California, San Diego, Project Management certificate program and is a member of the curriculum committee. She can be contacted at susanada@aol.com.

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