Ever since my days delivering construction projects, the topic of a single source of truth has been front and center in my way of working and is now something that all project teams and organizations strive to achieve.
This blog explains a little more about what the concept of a single source of truth is, three areas to focus on when putting it in place, and the main challenges organizations face when implementing it.
What is a Single Source of Truth?
A Single Source of Truth is a term often used to describe the practice of storing, managing, and interacting with data in a centralized location. This means that everyone across the business references the same up-to-date information.
As a fundamental, every project will produce information. It is information that will form the foundations from which any project will be managed. This information will be far-ranging in content and importance, but examples could include the scope of works, execution plans, contracts, or even project controls such as risk and issues registers.
Throughout the lifecycle of your project, these pieces of information will change and be added to, so controlling this change and additional information is critical to a project’s success.
This is where a single source of truth (SSoT) comes in.
Using an SSoT means that the information you have access to is current, correct, and reliable. This avoids any miscommunication, confusion, and mistakes being made.
Think of this approach as having a definitive line in the sand or a North Star for your project. SSoT allows you to have full, transparent control over your project information and there are three key areas I would recommend focusing on:
- A clear and strong governance model
- An information structure that is simple and easy to understand
- Awareness and understanding from the whole business.
We will dive more into these areas but first I want to discuss some common challenges.
Challenges in Implementing a Single Source of Truth
I rarely see a perfect example of a project achieving a coherent and successful SSoT and this is generally down to failings in governance, structure, or awareness.
There are, however, root causes of these failings that we see time and again.
Firstly, the quantity of information tends to cause problems. You don’t need to reduce all information into one form and I am a true believer in having the right tool for the right job and the same goes for information – every piece of information has its place. Where the problem comes in, is when the project team doesn’t know which piece of information serves which purpose, which can lead to many different versions of documents that do the same thing. This leads to a lack of control and deviance from having that SSoT.
Secondly, we see many different tools being used to produce and store information. This isn’t an issue but a clear strategy and approach to this needs to be known and agreed. Even down to producing the information, we see time and time again the wrong tool is being used for the wrong job. Let me give you an example…
Business Cases. These are fundamental to a lot of businesses when making decisions. Here at edison365 we have a dedicated business case platform that makes this process seamless and transparent but what we see with customers launching our software is that the main issue they have is that they are receiving business cases on word, pdf, excel and PowerPoint. This is not conducive to effective working or achieving a single point of truth.
Finally and relating to the example above, document storage is often done badly. We see in so many organizations that documents will be stored in personal folders, on hard drives or on shared drives. We see organizations with a lack of folder structure and no coherent sense of having a structured approach to document storage. How can you expect the team to work effectively if nobody can find the information? If people can’t find the information they may duplicate the work or, even worse, miss out on providing a piece of information that is vital in your project delivery and decision making.
As you can see, each of the above challenges is not conducive to achieving a single source of truth for your projects. Each element puts a barrier in the way of having a clear and efficient way of working.
3 Areas to Focus on When Creating a Single Source of Truth
To quickly recap, the 3 main problems we see with organizations managing project information are:
- Information overload
- Information in too many formats
- Inadequate information storage.
The main solution to avoiding the above and becoming a much more efficient, collaborative, and well-informed team and organization is striving toward a single source of truth. There are many different key ingredients needed to get to a single source of truth but, I believe, the following are vital:
Your organization and project governance is your rulebook and framework in which everything you do sits. It is the map that informs everyone what is expected and the compass that tells everyone where they must go and how they must act.
Many organizations and projects have a lack of governance and structure, and these undoubtedly fail.
It is non-negotiable; you need some form of governance in order to inform your single source of truth and this governance must:
- Define the processes to be followed and the steps every piece of information must take
- Define the tools that must be used and the purpose for which they are to be used
- Outline clear information storage guidelines
- Clarify the expectations of everyone within the organization and project
Now, this only scratches the surface but the point is clear if you are to achieve a single source of truth and avoid the above challenges you first need to have in place a solid and clear governance model.
Next, you must apply a structure to your information in 3 ways:
1. Document naming
This may seem trivial and boring but trust me it is vitally important. Let me give you an example. Let’s say, you are working for an organization that has a portfolio that contains a large number of projects. If you allow your project managers to launch new projects with names that they have chosen for whatever reason then you will end up with a portfolio that nobody understands and projects nobody can find.
The same goes for individual pieces of information – you need to provide a structure and make it easy for people to find the information they need and providing rules around naming will help with this.
Remember the top challenge I listed above about information overload and people not being able to find what they want… naming conventions avoid this.
Another simple and trivial thing but folders are so vital to help you structure your information and get closer to that single source of truth.
I have seen this work with vast amounts of folders and minimal amounts of folders – the structure of this will depend on your governance model more than anything else.
Similarly with document naming, having a clear folder structure where firstly people know where to save documents and secondly people know where to find information will avoid that confusion and frustration and will always ensure that people are using the correct source of truth.
To repeat what I said above, there is no harm in using multiple tools for managing your projects – you just need to ensure people are using the right tools for the right purpose. Let me give an example:
The way we manage our customer projects here at edison365 is in a clear way with a number of tools used:
- For document storage we use SharePoint
- For meeting notes we use OneNote
- In team communication we use Teams
- In customer communication we use Outlook
- For project Management we use edison365projects
This structure and way of working are used on every single one of our projects and every member of our organization knows this structure and therefore knows where to find all information on each of the customer projects we undertake.
The final solution I would like to share sits outside of the actual management and delivery of projects but it is equally as important.
Once you have your way of working in place (i.e. governance and structure) you now need to ensure people are aware of what is required and are exhibiting behaviors that reflect that the right ways of working are being followed.
Along with effective communications, education, and recognition, this will require persistence and stubbornness to keep repeating the same message over and over. You need to stay true to the governance and structure you have put in place and keep hammering home what is required and why it is important.
The topic is pretty dry and relatively uninspiring for most people. Chances are people will balk at the thought of following some rules or being asked to do things in a new way, so try and empathize and understand the reasons people don’t want to embrace the new and correct ways of doing things. Always start by raising awareness of why the single source of truth is important and what they need to do to help the collective to buy-in.
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