How to track data when it changes rapidly and unpredictably?
June 7, 2016 10:05 AM   Subscribe

When you are receiving updates to data or a project in rapid and unpredictable fashion, how do you keep track of these changes?

I missed an update to a dataset that caused a minor error. It's not seen as being a huge deal, but I want to avoid this happening in the future.

I have a data table in Access listing customer information. We recently had to send letters to customers letting them know of changes in the services we provide to them.

I was initially given data that was outdated by the group that oversees the service. When I sent the data on for review to the client sales teams assigned each customer, they came back with a barrage of updates.

One of the changes to be made was missed by me. As a result, we sent letters with incorrect information to a subset of customers as to when their versions of our product would be updated.

My question is: how do you all track project changes and ensure you don't make errors? The simpler the better. I am not adverse to using websites to help do this, but the firewall at work limits which sites I can access.
posted by reenum to Work & Money (8 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Possibly I'm misreading the question but why are you maintaining a separate database from whatever CRM software your sales teams use? Is there a compelling reason not to have client info accessible through the same tool to both whatever your team is and the client sales reps, and editable by either?
posted by Wretch729 at 10:13 AM on June 7, 2016

Yeah, this is a problem that calls for a fundamentally different process. You should not have a separate Access table that you alter manually from updates that the service group delivers to you manually. That simply should not be a thing.

There should be one actual source for this data, which contains properly updated information managed by the proper custodians with conflict checks (or more likely proper transactions), probably in a CRM system as noted above. When you need a snapshot to send letters or whatever, you should pull a report from that database, and then consider the report stale and outdated the minute after you send your letters - toss it out and pull another report next time you need it. If you have updates, push them to the real DB, not your local copy.

It's not clear if the sales team currently has a real CRM or other database; if so that should be the authoritative one. If on the other hand everyone is maintaining their own Access DBs or Excel spreadsheets or whatever and the only coordination is this manual passing around of updates... that is a recipe for disaster, as you are discovering. The ultimate solution is to implement something more coordinated and centralized. Do your best to move the organization to that type of system.
posted by Joey Buttafoucault at 10:25 AM on June 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Hi all, this information is unfortunately maintained on spreadsheets. We're working on getting the company a proper CRM system, but that is eons away.

I just need an interim solution until the CRM is implemented.
posted by reenum at 12:02 PM on June 7, 2016

The technology doesnt really matter, what you should be striving for is "one version of the truth" which means storing the data in one place and LINKING from there to anywhere else where it is needed. You may also want to restrict who can read and/or edit the data, but the key thing is only having one copy.
posted by Lanark at 1:35 PM on June 7, 2016

I completely agree with the above answers: whatever the technology, the client sales team should be directly updating the original data, and then you should draw on that. But putting that aside: how did the client sales team *give* you these updates? Knowing that might help us suggest a tool that improves your existing workflow.
posted by McBearclaw at 1:47 PM on June 7, 2016

Along the lines of what Lanark said, a Google Sheet with certain protections for who can edit would be a more streamlined solution.
posted by crunchy potato at 7:02 PM on June 7, 2016

Response by poster: Again, this is not best practice by any means, but the client teams sent me updates via email and I updated the dataset.
posted by reenum at 4:44 AM on June 8, 2016

crunchy potato's Google Sheets suggestion is a good one, if that works for you all. Client teams could either directly modify the data that needs correction, or use comments to highlight erroneous records.

Another option would be to use an issue tracker of some kind. The client teams could put each item into the tracker as an issue, and then you (or better yet, the group that sent you data in the first place) can correct each issue and mark it completed. That would give you a more reliable way to track what you'd done, as well as a centralized place for your colleagues to request and monitor corrections.

Most project management software seems to have something like this, but I've used both GitHub and Trello successfully for this purpose.
posted by McBearclaw at 8:39 AM on June 8, 2016

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