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LEAD: What is soft data? Why does it matter to me?

Soft data has rapidly become a strategic asset for companies and organizations who recognize the value of knowing more than just the “hard” numbers in business. In the past, soft data was viewed as interesting at best, but not important enough to alter the direction of the project or company. Recently, however, soft data has appropriately taken its seat next to hard data as an essential element for both consideration and actionable planning. By adding soft data opinions to hard data absolutes, IT leaders can gain a more complete view of the projects going on, and where they'll be heading in the future. Let's start with some definitions: “Hard Data” is factual, verifiable and not subject to debate. “Soft Data” is based on the opinions, intuitions or perceptions of individuals and cannot be verified, only compared or debated. Soft data was (and is) the basis of the “Management by Walking Around” concept made familiar by Tom Peters, Jack Welch and others. Looking at this more closely, Peters in particular encouraged managers and leaders to “walk around” and listen to their coworkers thoughts, opinions and feelings. While nothing should get in the way of a leader interacting with their team members, from an organizational point of view the wealth of Soft Data is a valuable resource which, like any other, can be collected, collated, organized and analyzed to provide better inputs to management decisions and early warnings of negative effects on desired outcomes. This week we'll look at some suggestions on how to utilize soft data, how others have done it in the past, and the value of the “human” element in the workplace.

About Gavin Martin

Information systems architect / technical design authority with over 20 years experience delivering small-scale through enterprise systems to commercial, finance and government customers.

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