Data Collection #FAIL

Over the years and in various roles: technical, training, leadership. I’ve served on a number of implementation teams and used a number of data-collection applications: time-tracking, project-management, Web analytics, surveys, other statistics packages. What I have learned from these experiences is that there are three common ways to fail:

Garbage In, Garbage Out

If your team waits to time-track until the end of the recording period and then back-dates all their time-tracking with bogus data, what do you expect to get out of time-tracking? If your time-tracking system allows for templates and you use them so much that you never need to actually track time anymore, what do you expect to get out of time tracking? If the data these systems collect are duplicated or exist across many places or are just plain fudged, what good is it?

Enforcing the use of a particular system helps.  Getting and promoting a system where people feel that they get more value out of it than the effort it takes to put into it is even better.

It’s Not the Hammer; It’s the Carpenter.

If you need a major home improvement done, you hire a contractor. And if it’s not done the way you want it, you don’t blame the tools, your blame the people. Tools help you do the job, but they don’t do it for you. They require expertise. Do you even know what information you want to get from the application in the first place? Do you know enough about the data you are collecting to know how to get what you want from the tools? Do you know how to use the tools?

You may be asked to play mind reader, to pull Web analytics reports without knowing what kind of reports people want.  People may ask you for training on the statistics tools when what they really need is an understanding of how your organization is structured, its business processes, and those relate to the data entered into the tools.  When people don’t know what they want or don’t have the expertise, they may jump to conclusions and blame the tools.

Do or Do Not. There is No Try.

Information is valuable because it guides our actions.  You may have good data, you may know how to use the tools to get the information you need, but if the information ends up a weekly report that gets ignored in a supervisor’s email sandwiched between Nigerian scams and watch replications, then the whole process has been a colossal waste of time and effort.

Photo Credit: Arm and Hammer by Aaron Escobar

6 Responses to “Data Collection #FAIL”

  1. Says:

    Great post, Nikki. So true, so true! The garbage in/garbage out part made me chuckle a little bit because it reminded me of a place I used to work. A sales person entered the following into our CRM tool:
    First Name: Samantha
    Last Name: The Cable !@# (rhymes with witch)
    Seriously. That is a true story. We ran a marketing campaign and just happened to notice it before the customized postcards went out the door.
    The next day we gathered all the sales people (about 50 at the time) and showed them exactly how the system works (giving them specific examples of GIGO). It’s still amazing to me that people don’t get this.

    Obviously the same thing goes for web analytics or anything. If the tool isn’t implemented correctly or if there isn’t enough training, that isn’t the tools fault (or “web analytics” or “surveys” or anything of the sort). It’s *our* fault.

    Great post. :)

  2. Says:

    How absoulutely true! if only all data inputting could be correct, I think that computers would work about 90% better!

  3. Says:

    Hey Nikki,

    Nice summary post. The last section really reasonated with me. I still struggle with getting hear through the noise in the channel.


  4. Says:

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