Data Migration, SMART Tasks and Super SMART Tasks

We are all familiar with the acronym SMART when applied to tasks (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timely).  All this is the common place of the well-structured plan. 

So what then are “Super Smart Tasks”? 

Well often on a project we may have multiple drivers.  But any good manager should have an eye to at least three imperatives:

  • Complete the task
  • Build the individual
  • Build the team

(Based on the work of John Adair)

Complete The Task

This is at the centre of our SMART Task definition.  Many words have been expended on how to create a product break down structure that completes the task and I do not intend to add any more here.

Build The individual

This necessary aspect of people management can often mean that we may over task an individual.  Give them work beyond their current skill set and outside of their comfort zone to grow the next generation of project workers.  We may accept sub-optimal performance in the Complete The Task zone so that next time around we will have workers who are more highly skilled.

Build The Team

I imagine that we have all been to team building events.  Some a great success, some that felt like an unwarranted distraction from the project life cycle.  But the skilled manager will be conscious of the smaller activities that can be built into the every day life of a project that go to build the team.

Now this has been expressed in the following diagram.

There are some tasks that sit solely in one circle – but fewer than you might think.  Building the team is one way of ensuring that we complete the task.  Building the individual is one way we have of motivating that individual to help us complete the task.  But I bet we have all worked for managers who focus so much on Complete The Task that this obsession actually gets in the way of its own success.

So What Is A Super SMART Task?

A Super SMART task is one that is designed to sit at the intersection of all three drivers.  It builds the team, it builds individuals and it completes the task.  And often we can, with a little creative thinking, design our deliverables in such a way that they become Super SMART.  Conversely we can also be so task focused that we unwittingly create deliverables that de-motivate the individuals upon whom we rely and de-stabilise our team.  An example from Data Migration follows that shows both how to be Super SMART and how to be less than Super SMART.

What Is Mid Cycle Slump?

First though let us look at another common place of project experience – the human reaction to change.  (And I think we can accept that most IT projects involve some degree of change for our user population)

The diagram below shows us the normal stages of individuals’ reaction to a change that is about to impact upon them:

There are differing accounts of the emotional stages which, in any case, vary according to the degree of change and the positive or negative impact of it upon us, however there is general agreement that there will be a mid-cycle slump and increased resistance to change.

Unfortunately this crisis in confidence often also coincides with our most urgent efforts to gather appropriate data from existing legacy systems to prime our new application.  Any doubters will have been convinced of the reality of the imminent change by the arrival of the data gathers, pouring over existing systems.  What we do at this important juncture can either push our user population up the slope of acceptance or deepen the slump of rejection, depression and inertia.

Why Data Matters to People

When in the flux of change we have to accept that data matters to people beyond its possible intrinsic value.  As technologists we can see it for the bits and bytes that it is.  But for an end user it represents their business reality (often in a significantly limited manner with all its data quality challenges, but that’s another story).  The system may change, but the data persists, or at least it should.  To aid our project we need to build the individuals most impacted by change and we can do this by providing reassurance about the continuity of their data.

Why People Matter To Data

On the other hand we need the knowledge base these people have about the reality that the bits and bytes represent.  We can model the data, we can normalise the data, we can pattern match and range check.  But we can’t know that the bits and bytes represent business reality.  I’ve often told the story of having physical assets, the size of a detached house, pointed out to me from the window of an office when the physical asset repository I have in front of me does not have them present.  Reality checks can only be done by people who know the reality.  We need to build these people into our team.

Non-Super SMART Tasks

The industry standard approach to Data Migration is to retain as much work as possible within the confines of the project, only venturing out when the data gaps become so enormous that they cannot be filled no matter how much ingenuity is applied internally.  We trust our software tools and our databases to uncover an accurate reflection of the existing business reality.  When we do venture out we find a suspicious and unhelpful user base, defensive of their data stores and gloomy about the prospects of us bettering their lot.  We retreat behind the barricades of project scope and are discouraged from ever encountering “that lot” again, except as a last resort and only then with the whip hand of superior executive sponsorship.

Super SMART Tasks

A more enlightened approach recognises the nature of the change experience and sees that we are going to need co-operation from our user base to secure decent data for our new system.  We set out earlier in the project life cycle to engage with the business.  We build the individual by getting the users to take on responsibility for data selection and quality.  Involving them achieves a double whammy – we secure better quality data and by giving them more control over their futures, more ownership of the end result.  They are no longer the passive recipients of unasked for change, they are part owners of that change.  We will still experience the Mid Cycle Slump but it will be us to whom they complain not us about whom they complain.

Learning Points

  • We can create tasks that achieve the result and build the team and the individual at the same time.

  • All change involves some degree of mid cycle slump in the expectation of those subject to it.

  • As a team with the potential for programme long contact with our user base the way we design our tasks can help mitigate the slump or prolong it.

  • Look to create Super SMART tasks not just SMART ones