Using Data to Plan and Initiate a Project, Part 1

dilbert-user-requirements

According to the Open Knowledge Foundation and others, open data has the power to improve products and services, improve efficiency and improve effectiveness. In past blogs I’ve talked about how open data creates value in the European Union, the United States and the rest of the world. We’ve dived deep into case studies of how important open data is in so many aspects of our lives. These examples have given us a macro level view of the relationship between data and projects. Today I want to begin a three-week series on the value of data in project management.

Wikipedia defines project management as “the discipline of initiating, planning, executing, controlling and closing the work of a team to achieve specific goals and meet specific success criteria.” There are definitely broader definitions by the Association for Project Management but I like how the Wikipedia definition lists the project steps within the definition.

How do we use information to plan and begin a project? My organization provides data products and gets lots of requests from external customers with high expectations. Like most organizations we get more requests for products than what we have in our budget. Data is a key component of project management. We use customer request data to prioritize and make decisions about which data products we will release. If 100 people are requesting product A and 1000 people are requesting product B, then we use that data to make the business case to work on product B. Using data in this way helps improve our products and effectiveness in meeting the customer’s needs.

In addition to determining which products to provide, we also use data during the next phase of the project – when we begin. Part of my job is to translate customer requests into user requirements and user stories. If the majority of customers want a certain feature, we use that data to incorporate the feature into user requirements following industry best practices. Since our team includes developers and others that choose and implement the solution, writing great user requirements is key at the beginning of the project. Data drives the conversation around which features to include and which to include later.

In our efforts to be as data-driven as possible, our organization also uses data to determine our project’s initial budget. Setting up a realistic budget and then sticking to it is challenging but data helps enormously. We use data on how many hours and how many people it will take to fulfill the user requirements and accomplish the project goals. Data is used to create a cost model following our organization’s processes and rules. By now I hope you understand how important it is to effectively use data to develop user requirements and establish a project budget. Data plays an integral role in planning and beginning a project. Next week I’ll discuss how data can be used in executing and controlling a project.

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