Project Management

How the Narwhal Beat the Orca

Ian Whittingham, PMP is director of Calixo Consulting, providing project and program management expertise from initiation through to implementation, covering business transformation, workflow process re-engineering, and enterprise data integration. He is a regular contributor to ProjectManagement.com. You may contact Ian directly at [email protected].


Topics: Business Intelligence, Estimating, Strategy

This is not a tale you will find in Rudyard Kipling’s Just So stories, sandwiched between How the Whale Got His Throat and How the Camel Got His Hump. But the outcome of this particular tale--a contest between a Narwhal and an Orca--certainly gave some people the hump and left others shouting for joy. What makes this contest interesting to us, however, is the role that big data played in its outcome.

Vote early, vote often
Winning an election is easy. You just need to get people to participate in the voting process--and then make sure that they vote for you. Did I say easy? Of course not. Because the people who do the voting are a complex mix of opinions, beliefs, hopes and fears. So trying to find the people who are going to vote for you--and then getting them to vote for you--is a complex process, one that now involves accumulating and analyzing, often in real time, huge quantities of data about those people.

In essence, that was the fundamental problem that Barack Obama and Mitt Romney both needed to solve when they competed against each other in the 2012 U.S. Presidential election. And although they approached solving that problem in broadly similar ways, the teams that helped them do that also diverged in some very significant ways, ways in which decisions about how to use the data they collected would influence the outcome of the election.

The key …


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"It is hard to fight an enemy who has outposts in your head."

- Sally Kempton

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