Life can only be understood backward; but it must be lived forward.” -Soren Kierkegaard, Danish Philosopher

History captured

Europe was plunged into the dark ages after the fall of Ancient Rome. The sophistication of Rome, its laws, its administration, and engineering prowess were lost for centuries. However, much of this knowledge was, in part, secreted away in remote monasteries. Monks were the keepers of information and their monasteries were the foundation of what came to be known as universities, the seat of learning.

Without a data repository we would be mired in continual ignorance. We would have to reinvent the wheel, and learn from trial and error which food was nourishing or lethal.  Apart from wasting a lot of time, this makes life more precarious.

Mathematician and physicist Sir Isaac Newton, (1642-1727), wrote that if he had seen farther than others, it was because he was standing on the shoulders of giants. In other words, he relied on data from the past. Newton is widely thought of today as the father of modern science. And science is systematized knowledge capable of being captured in a data repository.

Our data repositories give us the ability to look back and learn. We can ask questions such as: Why didn’t we approve this project three years ago?  How did we rank that project while it was in early development?

As Kierkegaard so rightly pointed out, we can only understand where we are from understanding the past, and we must use this knowledge to inform our future. As financial gurus tell us, past performance is no guarantee of future returns. They are obliged to say that— and it’s true. Nevertheless, an absence of knowledge about past performance puts us in a much worse place in trying to predict—or invent—the future we want.

Data repository benefits include:

  1. Available source of data
  2. Ability to quickly write and run queries to find a data subset
  3. Calculate key portfolio trends and metrics
  4. Assess actual versus estimated delivery of a project
  5. Track change history (who entered what and when)

Truthiness

In 2005, the word truthiness appeared in American usage. The following year it was selected by Merriam-Webster’s dictionary as word of the year.  The word arose because of the problem around general acceptance of verifiable facts. Most people would agree that each of us is entitled to our own opinions, but not our own facts. This word came about by disagreement as to what facts are. Who has them? Which ones are true and which are not? So what has this got to do with PPM? Plenty!

One version of truth is an unhelpful term used by many organizations to describe their master database. Our master database is not about accuracy or verifiable facts. It is a repository for holistic data upon which to make decisions about the future. When we see the interconnections between data and past events we avoid falling into the trap of truthiness, or institutional amnesia.

The master database is dynamic institutional memory. We access it to see what happened when a similar event occurred, or comparable circumstances presented themselves. For example, somebody has an idea for a fork that also can be used as a toothbrush. We can look back and see that the problem was people were stabbing themselves in the cheek while brushing their teeth. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel, or rather the toothbrush/fork, but we do need to modify our innovation and make it less harmful. This is an example of understanding from the past, but with a future purpose. Our data repository needs to be a living organism, relevant and up to date. 

A data repository is foundational to The New Discipline of PPM capability. Without it would be like having a car with no wheels. It wouldn’t get you very far.

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This is the third post in a five-part Series. Click below to read Part One and Two.

Part 1: Product Portfolio Management as a Business Process

Part 2: Payback on Product Portfolio Management