Turning information chaos to order on a new project
At the start of any project, or actually at any time in any project, there is a ton of new information that you discover every minute.
This can be really overwhelming especially if you’re a new consultant. How do I handle all this information? someone just mentioned something in passing, should I note that? it seems Joe had a really strange expression during that workshop when we spoke about the page layout… What do I do with that. There are so many sources — google, the intranet, manuals, operations guides, interviews, workshops, my gut feeling… what do I do with this?
This is all unstructured information, and a great way to think about it is through divergent and convergent thinking. It sounds like a fluffy term, but indulge me for a minute. Diverge means “To go or extend in different directions from a common point; branch out”. This is when you are picking up all the toys from the floor and putting them in a big basket. You’re looking behind the couch, in the kitchen, under the tv cabinet, you’re seeking, not deciding what to do with anything yet.
So now you have your basket, it’s time to do something with it. Converge. Converge means “To tend toward or achieve union or a common conclusion or result”. This is where you make sense of the toys you’ve just collected. Which ones should go in Jane’s room, which ones are in better shape than others, which ones can I discard, how valuable are different items. What you land up with is a manageable set of toys that you can do something with.
The key thing here is that we treated diverging and converging differently. We had different tools and mechanisms for each. For diverging we had a big basket, for converging we had little piles, a calculator and a guide.
All your data can be collected, grouped, ranked on value, ranked on difficulty. As each new piece of information arrives you can find where it fits in your schema.
Here is a detailed example in this post: https://dawidnaude.com/how-to-understand-complexity-a-method-4c43059a2b58
In design thinking we call our tools ‘methods’. You have a method for collecting information, and a different method for making sense of it. For instance, in a single day you could have 3 interviews in the morning. You’ve just diverged, you’ve collected a whole lot of data, but no meaning out of it. Now listen to the recording of each interview and translate each insight into a post-it note with a colour code. If it was something they liked, it’s pink, if they don’t like it’s blue, and a question or idea is green. Do that for all 3 interviews. You now have a whole lot of colourful post-its, but that’s still not enough, keep converging. Now go through each post-it and group similar items together and start making themes. Now you’ve turned 100 post-it’s to 6 themes. Now rank those themes in value, now rank those themes in difficulty. Now you’ve turned activity into insight.
TL;DR — capture everything in the smallest chunk possible, a post-it note… Then make sense of it once you’ve got a good amount of data. Then turn it into insight.