During my visit to Seattle a few months ago, I decided to stop by a colleague of mine from “back in the day” who works as a project manager at a fairly sized tech company. As we leave the elevator on the 6th floor, pacing towards her office space — she warns me about a somewhat tense atmosphere on the other side of the door.
Sure enough, as the door opens, a colleague calls her over. Though the colorful and whiteboard filled open office space stood out to me, I couldn’t help but overhear the frustration in her colleague’s voice as he explained how they’re not going to be able to re-boot a project due to missing information he knew existed somewhere.
As they continued exchanging frustrated facial expressions, I said: “Yet another classic example of Black Market Data…”, to which they both turned to me, confused, and asked: “What are you talking about?”
What started as a friendly visit turned into an important lecture about Black Market Data to help them prepare for the upcoming re-boot presentation for the C-suit.
For as long as there has been project management, data generation, and collection, there has been some level of Black Market Data (BMD). BMD refers to the phenomenon of data being hidden, withheld, not transparent, not being properly collected, or communicated.
In many ways, BMD is both a result of and similar to what we otherwise know as information silos — and is to a large extent a result of how an organization’s data architecture is structured, what the reigning organizational culture type is, and how project managers work.
“If BMD has been present in organizations for such a long time, why don’twe have a clear way of measuring its impact on our companies?”
Black Market Data impacts organizations differently depending on the scale and where in the organization it’s present. If your company is multifunctional and heavily reliant on marketing, you’ll find BMD in that department very damaging as opposed to smaller units.
Generally, measuring BMD’s effect on various parts of your organization is hard because BMD impacts our success metrics (which of course differ from company to company) both directly and indirectly.
However, there is a way to diagnose yourself. Ask your project managers what’s currently going on around them and how their resources are working. They might respond that they have x amount of projects running and that they’re still performing well within budget and projected scope. However, when asked to elaborate further, you’ll know you’re suffering from BMD if their response is a confused look and stuttering.
If your leadership or project managers can’t pinpoint what their resources are working on, for example, how Taylor is spending 70% on the new mobile application and 30% on the marketing campaign — your business is BMD Positive.
“Okay I get that BMD exists and that it’s hard to measure… but I still don’t understand what causes it.”
In every organization you’ll find one of two things to be true: you either have project management as a responsibility of a job or you have project management as a professional service area inside the organization (professionalization).
Project management as a job means that you’re the Marketing coordinator, HR coordinator, or a dedicated Project Manager. It is your job to have information and data about your team’s performance, and since their delivery is your responsibility, you’ll automatically seek this information/data. How well you and your team seek, collect, and use data on an aggregate level depends on what kind of project manager you are.
As a project manager, it’s not hard to impose discipline, but it is hard for the people who have been imposed upon to get the job done the way you want. Lead by example and you’ll see your team internalizing your discipline. Only imposing new disciplines will yield different results, but you and I won’t experience that because we’re good project managers, right?
“So what about project management as a professionalization?”
Once you move to the professionalization it may be a harder to impose new disciplines on individuals, while it’s easier “to get the job done” if the project management unit has successfully made certain behaviors into habits. In other words, you reap what you sow.
“Okay, now I understand the two project manager roles, but can you tell me more about a few challenges even the best project manager faces?”
Allow me to introduce the problems of inadequate tooling and lack of participation.
Inadequate tooling means that the project manager isn’t equipped with the necessary tools to aggregate data and readily transform it into something readable outside of his/her core team. Excel, for one, is great for your own use but doesn’t translate well to externals.
Lack of participation refers to the fact that your project managers haven’t developed a belief and understanding that collecting their data is to their own benefit. One result of this is that they’ll be resistive, largely because they see data collection as extra work for them without much benefit.
“So with all the above being said, shouldn’t we simply accept that sometimes it’s too hard to aggregate data on a reasonable level? If we can’t decide on a tool and the activity of collecting is cumbersome… why bother?”
We should bother because there are no longer valid excuses for caged information.In our age of cloud-based tools, tools for collection, and databases there are bound to be a solution for most major organizations. However, I still see too many organizations not collecting data at an aggregate level from their project managers, and by doing that hurting themselves.
“So where does this leave us?”
Well, it leaves us with the fact that Black Market is, on the one hand, the result of tools that don’t make it easy to collect, and on the other hand, because the tools that do make it easy are not necessarily connected at an aggregate level.
We want to move from a black market which is opaque to a White Market which is transparent and where data is readily accessible.
“It’s clear that we want to move towards a ‘White Market Data’ where data is more transparent and readily accessible. How do we go about creating this?”
Build outwards. While the effects of BMD is challenging to measure, there are some fairly straight forwards steps you can follow if you happen to test positive of it. The cure starts by going back to the very beginning of when the organization was established — the time in which its very architecture was designed. Not the physical one, but the one regarding data.
1. Data Architecture
I mentioned data architecture earlier, and in short, this architecture governs how we collect, store, use, integrate, and combine data. When this architecture is carefully planned, you proceed to determine what tools to use in support of your data architecture.
The tools that make data collection/extraction easy aren’t necessarily connected to the point that allows for data aggregation. Your job, in this case, is to make sure the tools you supply your project managers and staff with are aligned with the data architecture and corporate strategy.
With an elaborate data architecture and supporting tools, your next step is to engage participation and enforce the discipline of making data readable and accessible. Once you’ve managed to scale this discipline, you’ll eventually find yourself in an organization that seems “to have things run smoothly.”
Because you’ll have people with an intrinsic motivation to be transparent about their activities, share data with one another, and with the ability to quickly resolve challenges because of accessing troubleshooting/diagnosing information is fast and effortless.
With transparency comes trust, and with trust comes efficiency.
If everyone is transparent and honest about what they do, why would you believe they’d manufacture data? Also, trust has been proven to increase efficiency many times over. Charles Green introduced “The Trust Equation” in his book “The Trusted Advisor” in 2000 — which explains exactly how trust is built between co-workers and why it’s important in achieving goals.
“Is there a chance of backsliding into the BMD situation again?”
You’ll generally find the longevity of your proposed data architecture, tools, and following participation dependent on the experience of using them or internalizing new disciplines.
Your proposal should check the following boxes:
- It makes the user’s life easier,
- It adds value to whatever the user is trying to accomplish; and
- It is intuitive.
Let’s take email as an example. Since its introduction, it has, in essence, become the leading method of communication inside and outside organizations. Even in our private spheres, communication with individuals and other entities are heavily reliant on email — whether that being following up on a networking event or communicating with your government.
“So transitioning to White Market Data is fully dependent on these three criteria?”
Our world is not black and white, but facts still remain the same: You’re sure to experience backsliding if you suddenly introduce a paradigm shift in how data is collected, and in the midst of that paradigm shift made the user experience horrifying. The backslide is simply a result of you introducing a massive overhead burden to the contributors to your data collection.
As you progress through your “innovators,” “early adopters,” “late adopters, and so on, you’ll eventually find that the discipline, tools, and what have you becomes habitual for your teams — and once reached, there’s no backsliding. We don’t really send faxes anymore, do we?
“Now I have the recipe to make White Market Data happen. One last thing; what can I expect once we’ve reached it?
Once you’ve successfully re-built your company’s data architecture, made sure to offer the best tools and integration for data aggregation, and effectively hindered backsliding by enabling high participation among your workers (or at the very least your managers), this is what you have:
A better understanding of what your resources are doing and how your spending correlates with performance and outcomes. With this information, you’ll be better equipped to make good decisions regarding resource and capability allocation throughout your organization.
Or put in simpler terms:
You’re aware of and in control of what’s happening inside your organization, and because of that, you make good decisions.
“This sure is an important matter to address. We’ll start working on this as soon as possible. Perhaps you could join us for lunch and tell us more?”
About 30 minutes later we started making strategies — and if you believe you are suffering from Black Market Data as well, make sure to reach out to me so we can talk about it!
Written by Dennis Kristoffer Høier Hoel