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Richard Maltzman
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Categories: dikw

Yep.  An owl.  The symbol of wisdom.

Project managers need to be wise.  Why?  When you get out your magnifying glass and look at what projects are all about, what do you see?  Look closer.  No, even closer.  What’s coming into focus? Decisions. Daunting decisions.  A cacophony of choices.  A plethora of preferences. Some are small (what color should this user entry screen feature?) and some are very large (to which Corporate Social Responsibility goals does our project link?).  Those decisions must be good quality decisions, which means that they should be wise.

What does that mean?  And...what is a wise decision, anyway?

There’s a system called the DIKW model which considers that Data (miscellaneous tidbits of info) can be advanced into Information (connected data) and then into Knowledge (applied info) and finally into Wisdom (understanding).  Below are my own short definitions and illustrations of these terms (although there is quite a bit of debate about these definitions).

  • Data: raw observations and measurements
    • Answers to ‘smaller’ questions, like “how many Oscar nominations did Moonlight receive?”
  • Information: data enhanced with appropriate connections and relationships
    • Answers contextual questions, like “how did Moonlight rank compared to other films in terms of Oscar nominations?”
  • Knowledge: applying the information for action, for establishing a practice, a method, a trend
    • Answers ‘larger’ questions, like “is there a movement to recognize more diverse-themed films by the Motion Picture Academy”?
  • Wisdom: the application of knowledge, understanding why the practice or method is right
    • Answers ‘reasoning’ and ‘ethics’ questions, like ‘why is this trend taking place now, and do we think it will continue? Is it the right thing to do?’


The PMBOK® Guide, although it does not mention the DIKW model by name, does implement the idea quite formally.  You’ll notice a theme in the PMBOK® Guide.  Below are the three terms PMI uses and their glossary definitions: 

  • Work Performance Data
    • Raw observations and measurements identified during activities being performed to carry out the project work
  • Work Performance Information
    • The performance data collected from various controlling processes, analyzed in context and integrated based on relationships across areas
  • Work Performance Reports
    • The physical or electronic representation of work performance information compiled in project documents, intended to generate decision, actions, or awareness

The key word here is understanding, or perhaps as PMI puts it, awareness.  As project managers, we can be very tempted to process data and let our projects go on “autopilot”.  This can actually work well for a number of project attributes and to help manage day-to-day ‘smaller’ scope, cost, time, quality, risk, and other decisions.

However, when it comes to the ‘larger’ questions – the ones that will truly determine whether your project is a success., as measured by benefits realization – we need to be wise guys.  We need that extended sense of understanding and awareness that is wisdom - that owl-like comprehension of all around us. That is, we need to climb up that DIKW pyramid - and stay there.

Reference and credit for this image: https://www.climate-eval.org/blog/answer-42-data-information-and-knowledge

In Part 2 of Owl Aboard, I will apply this important project management concept to how we as PMs can better understand our relationship to the effects of climate change – not on the planet, but on our stakeholders.  If you want to do a little pre-reading on that subject, have a look at this article and its associate maps of the USA.


Posted by Richard Maltzman on: March 07, 2017 09:59 PM | Permalink

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