Friday, July 10, 2009

Information Management

Good people get the job done.  Even if they are out of the loop.  Even if they are "not important enough" to have access to critical information.  I'm having that 'someday' feeling- someday I want to teach a class on information flow.  There are some things that are so obvious, and yet every day I see them being violated.

  • Information not shared is worthless.  In every organization, people hide and horde information.  Operational Security demands that some data have a limited dispersal, granted.  But you are gathering the information for someone to use.  It needs to get to that person.  It needs to get to all the people who need to know.
Corollary to this: you need to know who is actually doing the job.  The boots on the ground are doing the job.  Cops, soldiers, factory workers or primary health care providers are the ones doing the job.  Nine times out of ten, they are the ones who need the information.  After all, the information is all about doing the job better and safer.  If your subordinates are the ones doing the job, they don't work for you. You work for them. You can direct, guide, supervise manage or even (gasp) lead but it is not their primary purpose to make your life easier. It is your job to make their job easier.
  • Know your sources and know your sources' motivations.  The big boss will eventually hear what he or she rewards.  There are a hundred different ways to discourage information you don't like, even if it is the truth.  Strive never to discourage honesty. People that come to you with information are doing so for their benefit, not necessarily your benefit or the organization's.  Always ask 'why'.  This will eventually tie back to the intro and the last point- one of the most critical pieces of information you can have is to identify your good people.  Not your politicians or your suck-ups or your resume padders.  Look for the boots on the ground that the other boots turn to when they have problems.  The men and women in charge of the quiet areas that you never hear about because they are running smoothly.  That's maybe another corollary- people being productive often make less 'noise' than people having problems or people trying to inflate their numbers.
  • Information management can get complicated in the middle stages.  Things can affect multiple databases.  You need a good gatekeeper or information triage person or system to make sure that the data goes to all the people that might need it.  At the most basic, you arrest a guy for possession and reports need to go to the courts, the jail and the precinct.  They need that stuff.  But it's possible the gang task force might want to know about someone wearing those colors in that area.  Narcotics might be very interested in a new dealer in the area. Maybe local businesses need to know if a new shop has opened...  If none of these databases are shared, and even if they are, it is very possible for important data to only go some of the places it is needed.
  • So, learn thoroughly where the gathered data is needed.
Aside-  I'm not talking specifically about intelligence here in the military sense.  With enough technology gathering data is easy.  Interpreting and prioritizing is not.
  • Format the information for the end user.  Too many people gather, store and disseminate data so that it is easy to gather, store and disseminate.  Not bad things, but not the same as easy to use.  The end user is who and what the information is for.  "Dangerous, likely to be armed" needs to be verbal because you don't want your troop taking his eyes off a dangerous armed guy to read the warning.  It is easier to put data in order, say: name, identifier, second identifier, comments.  If the comments are the really critical information it has to be easy to see- especially if the other stuff are things the officer already knows because he had to enter them to get to the comments.  It takes a little more time for the information gathering and storing team, but it saves time for the boots on the ground and that is the entire purpose.  You can't lose sight of that.
  • Like in most tasks, it's usually easier to plan from goals backwards, if you are lucky enough to be able to design a system from scratch: Who needs the information? What do they need and in what format?  That drives how it will be disseminated and that in turn drives how it will be stored and correlated and analyzed.  That need drives how it will be gathered and what the sources need to be.


Bram said...

This piece reminded me of a poster my that has. It reads:


Misconceptions most misunderstandings come from.

jks9199 said...

I think I'm going to be sharing this entry with my co-workers.

We got too damn many people with lots of good info, residing solely in their heads, and they don't offer it up unless you ask the right questions. Which, if you knew what to ask, you would already have the answers...

And ain't it amazing that the same guys who don't share are the very ones who bitch and moan about not being told something themselves!

Unknown said...

While I may not have much to say, I would like to express my interest in the post with a ping.

Kai Jones said...

It's frustrating when the boss doesn't know, or can't articulate, what he or she wants out of the data. If they can't tell me what they want to be able to do, I can't write the database to give them what they need.

So the first skill is learning to elicit the goal from the decisionmaker.