Thursday, November 19, 2015

Project Data and Stakeholders Perception

A couple of days ago, a friend of mine told me he had bought a DVD, as a present for his son’s fourth birthday.

The movie plotted the story of a father, whose wife and children had been slaughtered, years before, by a mean serial killer. Years later, the only son that survived the massacre, who had in the meantime developed a severe motorial disability, was kidnapped during a school trip.
The father started a long journey to save his son, risking his life many times, helped just by a female character, affected by serious psychological disorders.

Obviously, I asked my friend if he had gone nut completely, since last time we met, a couple of weeks before.

He answered me “Why, The DVD’s title is ‘Finding Nemo’, a classic for kids”.

I started to laugh as hell. After some days, I discovered that this was a joke circulating on the internet, even if I am not able to report the source. Still, for some days, this simple joke had made me thought a lot about data and perception.

Data do not lie, or do they?

I am a project manager, but my background is engineering.
I strongly believe that analytical data cannot lie, still, I cannot find a single flaw in the opening joke. 
The presented data are genuine but, of course, something is terribly wrong. I have myself told the same joke to other people, and the result was almost always the same. Who did not already know the joke, did fall into the trap.

Data do not lie; presentations do it

Do you know the old saying “A good liar always mixes up lies with truth?” Well, I think that the best (even if the adjective “worst” would probably fit better) liars always say the truth, just they present it in such a disguise, that you are lead to misconception.

There are two faces of this problem

  • Data analysis is hard and complex I have been a professional data analyst for a good part of my career, and I have personally touched the difficulty to understand, without any bias, what data are trying to tell us. It requires hard work, time, dedication, and the will to question your findings continually. Moreover, a strong mathematical background is sometimes necessary.
  • Perception is always actively at work The temptation to take shortcuts, even unconsciously, is always present and strong. Why spend a lot of time crunching numbers, when it is crystal clear what we will find at the end? Why can’t we jump directly from A to D, without spend time in B and C? If I had had 1 Euro each time I have seen people failing at reaching right conclusions, out of this approach, I would be rich by now.

Take care of your message

Obviously, there will always be someone, who would try to leverage the two faces of this coin, to fraudulently achieve personal advantages. 
The problem is that, sometimes, even if you are armed with your best intentions, your messages could be, the same, misunderstood.   
When you are presenting data, in order to move people to action, as it is common in project management, you have the big responsibility to craft your message with care.

Because data, they do not lie. What deceives people are incomplete data representations, wrong analysis paths, exaggerated importance to peanuts and minimization of important concepts.
Do not let your audience connect the dots, take them by the hand, and honestly lead them through your analysis path.

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