Project Management

Delivering Complex Data

Esther Choy

Back in the 1990s, a Lockheed Martin engineering team was preparing to celebrate a successful collaborative project with NASA. Together, they had spent $125 million building a spacecraft that could orbit Mars and bring back information about the planet’s past. But just as the Climate Orbiter was ready to enter the planet’s orbit, the spacecraft ran into engine trouble. Instead of orbiting Mars, it got lost in space.

What caused the loss of the $125 million orbiter? Mainly the fact that Lockheed Martin was using English units of measurement, while NASA was using the metric system. Some of the Climate Orbiter’s navigation software hadn’t been translated into metric units.

It was a failure to translate data. Literally!

While translating data is vital, the way this translation plays out in meetings can be incredibly time-consuming. It can make an otherwise efficient meeting grind to a halt. It can leave attendees frustrated or confused. Sometimes, the whole purpose of the meeting gets forgotten when data needs to be explained. That’s a problem for a project manager because you want to “build a reputation as someone whose meetings always have value.” (See Meeting Management: Lessons for the Project Manager.)

So here are three tips for running an efficient meeting — even when data and complex information are involved.

1. …

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"The human race has one really effective weapon, and that is laughter."

- Mark Twain