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Our team has been bombarded by the overwhelming amount of data that we have to and potentially could gather to make a final presentation as valuable as possible to our client. However, we know that at some point there needs to be an end to collecting data so we can focus on communicating a meaningful amount in our final deliverable. Presented with this challenge, we have created the framework below to decide how much is too much.

Consultants love to use frameworks as a way to apply logic and structure to projects that seem to start out ambiguous and chaotic. There are frameworks that focus on organizational behavior (i.e. forming, storming, norming, and performing), others that focus on implementation (i.e. requirements, design, develop, test, and install), and others that focus on strategy (i.e. gather, analyze, interpret, plan, and recommend). One thing that is common among these frameworks is the need to collect data at the beginning of the project. Without this important step there is little relevant data to guide the final stages of implementation and recommendation. However, projects tend to have unlimited data that could be gathered to inform the final stages.

So how does a team balance the opportunity for unlimited data with the fact that all projects must come to a close on an agreed upon date? Target low hanging fruit first, collect other pertinent data required to make recommendations second, and stay as true to the work plan as possible third.

Low hanging fruit is somewhat of a holy grail to a consulting team trying to create clarity in a project filled with none. On a two-by-two chart of Ease to Gather Data and Value of Data to Recommendation, it is the easiest data to gather with high value to the recommendation. Focusing on this area first creates a “can do” attitude on the team, an attitude that is highly valuable in the first part of an ambiguous and chaotic consulting project where structure is difficult to come by and frustration is not. It also helps to clarify the murky waters of gathering the right data that leads to a successful, informed recommendation to your client.

After the low hanging fruit is identified, the next step is to find other pertinent data. This is the information on the two-by-two chart mentioned above where the data is hard to gather but the value is high to the recommendation. This data should have been fairly obvious as the data the team needs to gather; however, if done after the low hanging fruit, needed data will be even more obvious and possibly easier to gather, either because the team feels more clear as to what data should be collected or the team just feels more confident thanks to the momentum from the low hanging fruit.

Here is the challenge though: once the low hanging fruit is collected and most of the other needed data is gathered, won’t more information always help, even if it seemed irrelevant before? In true consulting fashion, the answer to that question is always “It depends.” It depends because technically more information is always helpful, and as a project progresses other information might become needed to help answer questions from the team or the client. This, however, can become a never-ending cycle of seeking new information that leads to seeking more information and prevents the team from finishing the data collection phase and moving on to the analysis and recommendation phases. So how can that never-ending cycle be stopped? 

This is where the team has to stay true to the original work plan, or possibly refine the work plan while keeping the end date in mind. As a team, the first question should be, “Do we really need the additional information to make a valuable recommendation to our client?” If the answer is no, continue as planned; if the answer is yes, the next questions is, “Can we reallocate our resources to continue with analysis and recommendations while still collecting more data?” The answer must be yes for the team to collect unplanned data. If the answer is no, the team better work together and modify the work plan to meet the deadline. This can be done by reducing other phases of the project, but the team had better be careful not to reduce critical phases.

All in all, the question of “How much is too much?” is a tricky one without any clear rule. However, if you are one of those consultants who loves to use frameworks, here is another one to add to your framework utility belt.

Author: Brad Geren