Big Data & Project Management: Is There a Point?

Mark Mullaly is president of Interthink Consulting Incorporated, an organizational development and change firm specializing in the creation of effective organizational project management solutions. Since 1990, it has worked with companies throughout North America to develop, enhance and implement effective project management tools, processes, structures and capabilities. Mark was most recently co-lead investigator of the Value of Project Management research project sponsored by PMI. You can read more of his writing at markmullaly.com.

So...big data has become a “thing”. If you'll forgive the expression, it has in fact become a big thing.

What is it? Why does it exist? What does it have to do with project management? These are entirely relevant questions, and ones that I will endeavour to answer over the course of this article.

Big data is typically referred to as the collection of structured and unstructured datasets that are so large that they are unable to be meaningfully processed using normal database management tools and data processing techniques. We're not talking a few thousand records here; we're talking terabytes and petabytes of information. That big data can exist is a product of the growing amount of data being collected, and the relatively cheap cost of both acquisition and storage. Logs, scans, remote sensing, pictures, videos and more all feed into the giant trove of data that is collectively referred to as “big data”.

Answering the question of why big data exists, however, probably nets about the same result as asking Sir Edmund Hillary why he climbed Mount Everest: "Because it's there." Data happens. Humans are packrats. Databases enable the increasing pack-ratted storage of increasing amounts of data. Q.E.D. Big data is likely to happen, whether we like it or not.

What we have to ask, from a project management perspective…

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I did this thing on the Ottoman Empire. Like, what was this? A whole empire based on putting your feet up?

- Jerry Seinfeld

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