Yes, this morning I did 4 hours of data entry.  Yes, data entry.  Our project was in a time crunch and we had major issues getting good operational data, so we begrudgingly took some print outs and manually typed them into excel. Yikes.  Yes, we did look at other OCR (optical character recognition) methods like ABBY, Evernote, Adobe etc. but nothing worked.

Consultantsmind - Crazy Data Entry

The early morning coffee and brain-dead work gave me these observations:

1. Small data. Depending on the industry, there is lot of unstructured data written, typed free form, and printed.  Lots of faxes and pdf.  To the consultant, this is painful, silly, and frustrating. However, as the associatesmind mentioned here, professionals (lawyers and consultants alike) attract problems – so, on some level we should be happy there are problems to fix.  A good friend of mine often tells me about big data and the potential it has to correlate disparate data sets to reveal new insights and solve problems. For me, perhaps a bit of a Gen-X Luddite, see an even bigger opportunity to get people to LEAN out all the paper-based and excel-based documentation and go to something more scalable.  Small data.

2. Lead by example. Did I have to do the manual entry? No.  In fact, if the senior partner found out, would be a bit of a laughing stock. Why are you doing $8-10 / hour work when you should be either selling work or billing out at $350+.  It’s a good point, well-taken.  And, I would say that we have to encourage the troops by not giving out work that we, ourselves, would not want to do.  So I see this a little bit like management crunches, of eating my management vegetables.  As Simon Sinek said, “Leaders Eat Last” here, (affiliate link).

3. Have hypotheses. My project manager asked that we enter about 8-9 data fields per transaction, customer name / gender / age / reason for visit etc.  While this does not seem like a lot, we were entering this information for 1,000+ customers. It made me wonder. . .so why are we entering the gender?  Why are we entering the age?  So, I pushed back and asked a question you should always ask at the data collection stage:

What is the hypothesis we are trying to prove?  How will this data prove / disprove that?

Because frankly, gathering data – whether automated or painfully manually entered, is silly without a purpose. It’s like the quote from Alice in Wonderland: ” If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there”

4. The Zen of Data Entry. A colleague pinged me by IM this morning while I was diligently pecking data into the excel file. As we chatted, she mentioned, “Yeah, data entry can actually be relaxing when you get in the zone.”  So true.  It’s perfect for Buddhist consultants, I am sure.

5. Be good. Yes, I was a good-guy senior manager and gave my hours to junior consultants who were doing data entry too.  They need the utilization more than I do.

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