Debate: Which will contribute the most to project success, data processing or culture?


We’ve seen national debates, where the panellists are remote and most of the audience don’t have a chance to join the discussion. We brought it local on 27 April 2021 – our four panellists (three from the North East of England) were joined by 20 contributors, again mostly from the North East, and I can say with confidence that most people knew each other at least by reputation. Which makes for a very different style of debate.

Martin and Michelle fired the opening salvos. “You need data to identify patterns, and patterns to recognise the direction your project is going in and to do something about it”; “but it’s people that do the doing, and they are either motivated or they aren’t” (actually, Michelle said “culture eats data processing for breakfast” but you know what I mean).

Dan caught these two themes with “data should tell a story; projects fall apart because the data fails to motivate the project team and recipients of outcomes”; and Oliver joined with “project management needs to be a life skill for all, it’s about people and culture, it’s much more than just the data”.

Once the panellists had laid the foundation, the audience, who had been actively commenting in text chat, took to camera and microphone.

Data Analytics
In order to collect data, we need a culture that values data, that collects it accurately, and is willing to do something about it. Culture is a vital underpinning for data to be of any use. And since people do projects, and it’s rare that any two projects are the same, people need to be motivated to do the data as part of the project. Data then need to be processed to turn them into information and ultimately into knowledge, and it’s the processing, the development and presentation of dashboards, that makes data valuable, so it can be used for decision-making.

People and Culture
From the people side, we think we know what kind of culture we want – motivated engaged people, who are committed to each other and to achieving great things together. But how will we know what culture we have, and how can we identify those small changes that magnify, that little irritation that doesn’t really surface but people become unproductive and argumentative and eventually leave? That needs data collection.

Coming together
Which has more effect on project success, data processing or culture? The conclusion was that it’s a draw. Projects need a good, motivated culture to succeed, but you need data to know what sort of culture you have and what you need to do to change it. Projects need good dashboards to warn of risks and issues, and to make the decisions that optimise benefits realization, but you need a culture that records data accurately and trusts the data over their own gut feel to make decisions. We need both, and we’re better together.

The event format
Over the last year of lock-down, we’ve probably all attended a lot of webinars. These deliver content very well, but there’s not much chance to network, to develop new ideas and explore challenges. We haven’t talked to friends and colleagues to take the profession of project management forward.

So we devised the debate format for branches. As far as possible, everyone on the debate will know or know about each other or each other’s employer. People are likely to meet again over the course of our careers.

This reinforces the sense of community. People at the peak of their career get the recognition they deserve for leading the debate; and the up-and-coming have a chance to get ourselves noticed (in a good way) as we contribute, challenge and offer our own experiences.

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