How To Get Ahead On Your Data Collection Projects
Updated: Mar 20
This article was co-written with Katapult's Chief Operating Officer, Andrew Bryden.
A few months ago, Andrew and I were discussing the nuance involved with getting new projects off the ground and balancing new relationships, new employees, new workflows, new technologies, and new objectives. It's a lot to manage, and it's no surprise that great project managers are remarkably talented individuals.
I asked Andrew to give me a brain dump of his thoughts and strategies for coaching our project managers working on new projects, and he sent me the following tips:
Improve the quality of data flowing through the pipeline. When you first get started on a new data collection project, there is a temptation to push higher volumes. Fundamentally, passing along a small amount of good data is much less expensive for you and your clients in the long run, as it eliminates second-guessing and mountains of re-work later on. We have seen it so many times—you think you're getting ahead only to find out you have double the re-work on your delivered data.
Invest in your team. Good training and documentation will help your field technicians and back office staff excel and deliver superior quality data to your client. Listen closely to feedback and techniques from your top performers—figure out their tips and tricks and disseminate that knowledge quickly to the rest of the team. Give immediate and frequent feedback to team members to avoid a backlog of mistakes or the creation of bad habits.
Look for "poka yoke" solutions. This term, coined by Shigeo Shingō, refers to mistake-proofing a process or workflow. This is particularly important (but extremely difficult) in software UX design. Ensuring that the only way to accomplish the task is the right way is an essential part of minimizing mistakes and re-work later on. Whenever possible, make it impossible to collect the data wrong. There are obviously limits to this, which is why investing in your team is so important!
Coordinate project alignment. One of the first questions you should ask your client is "why?" Understanding the objective and motivating factors for the project is so important. Objective-based thinking will ensure that your workflow and deliverables match what your client is expecting and are aligned with the final objective. Another way to cultivate project alignment is by creating compensation incentives that are in line with the project goals. If data quality and minimal re-work is a priority, paying employees per unit might not be the best approach. Consider a quality bonus or using client feedback to determine a team bonus once the project is complete.
Pull the thread now, not later. One of the best traits a project manager can have is sniffing out when something is wrong. It could be a task that keeps being performed incorrectly, a column that doesn't make sense in a spreadsheet, or a nagging question that keeps coming up during QA/QC steps. There's a fine line between pulling an important thread and going down a rabbit trail, but a project manager who can spot the difference will bring important questions to the client early on, preventing costly re-work.
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