The computer is one of the most remarkable innovations in the history of humankind. I would liken the impact of the computer on the human race to that which fire gave us. I wonder what might be next but I realize that I cannot even imagine what that might be much as those people living in the early 20th century could not imagine the computer.
One thing that the computer has provided us with is the ability to store and retrieve data. I remember the day when I was given 16k of memory in which to write my program and I felt like I could build Rome. Now I walk around with 100s of gigabytes in my pocket and have over a terabyte sitting on my home computer. And this is not even cutting edge!
With all this data it would seem easy to manage by data. It seems that we have unlimited tools to store, manage, manipulate and report data. But there is one fatal flaw in this thinking. While we can pour through reports which are precisely accurate there is one dimension that is often missing.
Most data reports provide highly accurate and well refined data about current status. Often these reports also show historical data. However it is difficult for most human beings to look at a large group of numbers on a sheet of paper and to predict future performance. Unlike what your financial advisor will tell you, I will tell you that, on projects, past performance is a guarantee of future results. If you have a project that is failing, and you do nothing to change what you are doing, it will continue to fail.
In order to use the available data to predict future performance the data must be presented graphically. These graphical metrics will allow you to see past trends as well as to be able to predict future trends. Many graphing tools today will allow the creation of trend lines to be added based on various mathematical models. By tracking data that is representative of your goals you will be able to see where you are succeeding and where you are falling behind. This will allow you to focus your attention on the areas that require the most attention.
With all of the data available today along with the tools that we have to capture, host and present the data, there is no reason we should not be using the data to help us manage our projects. Be sure to pick the most meaningful metrics that will present the performance success measurements that will lead to the ultimate success of your project. In that way past performance is used to modify future performance rather than continuing on the same path to failure.
And finally, remember that a picture is worth a 1,000 words.