Too much data, too little focus

In his article Eyes Bigger Than Stomachs: Data Glut , Jim Meskauskas observes that there is “a frenzied gathering of bits, collecting any and all manner of jetsam and flotsam. There is a subconscious belief that the marketer will know what it is that they are looking for once they find it."

He recognizes that more data isn’t better. In fact, it can be worse. Vast expanses of data have a way of lulling organizations into a false sense of security. It is easy to believe that the answer to virtually any business question will be available because all available data has been collected.

This reminds me of a data gathering process I recently observed for a software release. I watched (and participated) as the organization collected more than 160 “reporting requirements" through brainstorming by a wide-range of stakeholders.

The repurcussions of this massive list aren’t good:

  1. Reporting requirements are often the first things to get dropped as software development schedules get tight. With little prioritization, these requirements get dropped in a relatively random order.
  2. No one was challenged to ask: what are the truly important measures of success? The assumption was that somewhere in these 160 data elements, the answer would be found at some later date. But is there any guarantee? The organization has an illusion of future flexibility. In truth, the resources necessary to manage the sheer bulk of data gathered reduces flexibility.

I couldn’t agree more when Jim says says: “you’ve got to have a thesis around which your experiments are structured or you don’t discover anything because you don’t know what you are out to discover."