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It's a Data Request, Not a Fire Drill

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We all know that email. The one with the red exclamation point of doom and the dreaded words “due in two hours.” That’s right, it’s the “fire drill” data call email. The one where you stop everything you’re doing because someone important needs an answer now.

Organizations can put a stop to the fire drills that occur during data calls by taking the following steps:

Designate a Point Person
When fire drill requests come in, they’re often distributed to a large number of people simultaneously. This approach means there’s a risk that an entire team could see the email and ignore it, assuming that someone else on the team will handle it. Here’s where a strong coordinator is critical. When a request comes in, this person should take the lead on coordinating, compiling and cleaning up information. While they’re not expected to know every detail of every project, ideally they’ll be knowledgeable in your team’s portfolio of work and can quickly determine who to go to for what information. This person should be a strong writer who can translate a few bullets from a project manager into clear and concise information.

There are several advantages to having a single person play this role. As the point person, they will likely have better recall of past fire drills and can quickly locate past submissions to start a framework for new requests. They will also learn the preferred tone and style of submissions and be able to draft a response that’s less likely to be kicked back for further questions.

Update Data Regularly
Part of what turns a data request into a scramble is the lack of updated information on a project. PMs are often so busy with the day-to-day work that they don’t have time to document highlights, accomplishments, or updates. The result? When a fire drill request comes in, PMs may find themselves sifting through hundreds of emails and files trying to collect data from the past six months or more.

You know what the hot topics are in your portfolio, which means you can anticipate what you will be pinged on most often. Stay ahead of fire drills by updating info about these high-profile projects regularly—at least quarterly. For the rest of the projects, institute a team rule that all data must be updated at least annually. Integrate the process into your team’s annual calendar, possibly as a wrap-up activity at the end of the year. To make the process easier, have the point person design a template to collect information. The template should be designed to include the standard pieces of information that fire drills demand. Once the template has been filled out, future updates will become faster and easier because much of the information will remain static.

Implement an Information Management Tool
We live in a digital age. So why not take advantage of the various data and knowledge management tools that are now available? These tools will make it easier to update and share information with your team and across your organization. For example, the Insite data management tool allows users to enter and view data from multiple platforms, including mobile devices, at any time. So, if a fire drill request comes in while someone’s in a meeting or on vacation, then you are no longer in the lurch. You have the data you need at your fingertips, along with information about when it was last updated and by whom. The tool also includes chains of approval to ensure data shared is vetted and accurate.

Try out these tips and help your organization save time, energy, and resources when responding to a data call. In doing so, you’ll find that the fire drills decrease and your organization will be better prepared to respond to the next data call.

Have other tips for preventing “fire drill” data calls? Post them in the comments section or tweet them to me at @LGBackhaus.

Lindsey Backhaus is a senior consultant with Corner Alliance.

(Image via 3d brained/Shutterstock.com)

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