Managing information flow: How much is enough?

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Controlling the flow of information for projects, programs and portfolios is a key core competency of a program manager.

Too much information, and tasks can spiral out of control, meetings can cascade down rabbit holes and deadlines can recede into the distance.

Too little information, and team members can start to feel isolated, decisions need to be revisited and quality becomes an issue.

So how do we know how much is enough information?

Information management is about controlling and facilitating three things:

Discussions: As managers, we have to ensure that conversations take place, and that those conversations take place between team members. Providing regular team meetings without agendas can help facilitate this.

Decisions: What is the best course of action? Has all the relevant information been gathered? Have all relevant stakeholders/team members been contacted for their input?

Determinations: We may need to know the estimate to complete, measurement of quality, calculation of activity durations, forecasting resource utilisation or other significant details.

Of course, the information entering and leaving these deliberations also needs to pass simple criteria. Is the information . . .

  • Accurate and complete?
  • Timely?
  • Relevant and meaningful?

It is important that these three standards are maintained for both input (information coming in) and output (information going out).

Of course, adherence at all times to these standards is impossible. Even the PMI warns us of the dangers of expecting perfect information: “Living with some uncertainty is an inescapable situation, and a prudent manager should have an understanding of the uncertainty in different types of information and the possibility of drawing misleading conclusions.”

Advanced research is ongoing into the properties of information flow itself. One of the most interesting lines of inquiry is relating information flow to flow in the physical world — for example, finding parallels between the two types of flow in fluid mechanics. Engineers can measure and predict whether the flow of a fluid will be stable and smooth or turbulent and chaotic.

Could we therefore treat information flow in the same way? Could we learn to predict when turbulent information flow could lead to project and program disaster?

Early indications are that we can.

Is this the next evolution of program management?

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