One Overlooked Element that Can Stop or Supercharge Any Project, DPPE

Housing - Stakeholders

Leaders know that good data is essential to good decisions. But what data? Finding the right data, at the right time, from the right sources is critical. Data is the first of four elements from a simple acronym DPPE that stands for Data, Purpose, Plan, Evaluate.

DPPE is an easy way to describe and categorize project phases as well as many small to complex leadership tasks. These may include:

  • Updating strategy and programs
  • Making a policy or process change
  • Implementing new initiatives, 
  • Educating leaders for 21st century and/or emerging new needs
  • Building a house the suits the neighborhood as well as the buyers (photo above)

This post, the first in a series of four, features lessons learned useful to leaders about working with Data, particularly data from a variety of stakeholders. It’s smart strategy to invite members of your community to provide input to your surveys and interviews when you plan. As Sara Maher, from Wayne State University* describes in this 1 minute video clip, they also are happy to be invited to your strategy session, to add new energy, engagement and perspective:

Engage stakeholders to gather data. Honor everyone’s truths. Get to the core of what the organization wants by asking lots of questions, within a spirit of inquiry and curiosity, especially when their truth is emotionally charged.  Sometimes the community is overlooked, and it can be a project stopper as described below:

The university announced earlier this week through a letter from president Mark Schlissel that it would be putting the proposed transportation center “on hold” while resident concerns were heard and dealt with.

MLive, Michigan news article, March 2016

Start with Data. Start with Stakeholders.

Often, the key question is Who as much as What, when it comes to data. Stakeholder analysis is an important part of fully answering “Who needs to be present?” when collecting data. The chart illustrates why. Check sources. Who we hear from and why we believe certain views might be more relevant or important than others is revealing of overt and hidden values. Simply engaging with and hearing from overlooked constituencies can prevent offense, as well as unintended, negative news stories.

One well known example was the overlooked stakeholders, the fishing industry, more than a decade after the BP oil disaster. The example cited above is about neighbors who protested a proposed transit center resulting in a university president and regents apologizing for overlooking them, as reported in local media.

Stakeholder Analysis Grid

The Data phase of DPPE also is well matched with the word “Discovery.” We can more easily move to a generative place of asking questions for which we don’t have answers (or need to create openness for new answers) if we adopt a discovery mindset. It also helps us create readiness listen to and better comprehend what the data implies, as well as adapt to the implications of the data. Involving the community, helped by Stakeholder analysis, creates this readiness for the future.

When Collecting Data: What’s Important?

Collecting data often involves multiple methods and stakeholder groups. Physicist Albert Einstein provided a reminder of the need to filter and focus our data and consider different types of data collection when he stated, “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.”

Realize that “it’s all data” when leaders, advisory groups and organization start working with, or reacting to or even “fighting” their own data.  It’s easy to get defensive with views and opinions you don’t like.  The leadership challenge is to set aside “shoulds,” “wishes,” and defenses and open our hearts and minds to hearing the voices that are speaking to us in data delivered in a variety of ways.

The UM (University of Michigan) is a benefit to the community but that’s not a ticket to ignore the community and pursue only its own interests.

Commenter, MLive, Michigan News post, March 2016
Resistance is a Resource

At times, our own resistance to our data is also a resource to us in the following ways.  We can:

  • Build relationships  with our constituents or stakeholders in our communities and our organizations, especially taking care to include all voices such as those who think differently from us, yet desire or are required to maintain a relationship with us.
  • Prepare ourselves to  understand and make meaning of our data, especially when we “fight it.”
  • Develop new ways to communicate in, with, and through our differences as we begin to ask questions for which we do not have easy answers. (Conversational Intelligence, by the late Judith Glaser, mentions this.)
  • Renew our commitment as leaders to fully hear and sponsor change that honors different voices and stakeholders that matter to us and affect us.

“What is in the way IS the way.”

~  Mary O’Malley, author, and a counselor in private practice
Leaders are Data Champions and Sponsors

The simple act of asking input, or making a consultative decision, creates expectations for change. Leaders have the task, when charging people to gather data, to commit to get back to those voices and opinions with a collective report and response to “This is what you said.” This alone is a major commitment to possible, productive change and better shared ownership of the work, as well as a recipe for mistrust when this step is not handled well. In a future post in the DPPE series, we’ll cover consistent leader commitment and the challenge to avoid leader “waffle.” Ignoring data does not take away that it exists and has impact and weight.

Communicate Fully

The D in Data also includes making a dedicated commitment to fully communicate task and process steps in handling data. Leaders who collect data from people will find that it is important to:

  • 1) Gather data with integrity (confidentiality does not guarantee anonymity)
  • 2) Realize data comes to us in many forms, both quantitatively and qualitatively, (It’s all data.)
  • 3) Hear diverse perspectives, honor different voices, setting aside our natural defensiveness to views different than our own, and
  • 4) Sponsor consistently, throughout the life of the intended use of the data, the purpose and plans for which it was collected.
  • 5) Communicate regarding the actions in collecting data in multiple ways, formats and times. If change is involved, communicate four times as much as seems needed. Most change is vastly under-communicated.

Leaders will find that the sense-making task to analyze all data received, in multiple forms, is made manageable with the assistance of a microcosm group of the whole such as through an advisory or design team. Much is written about 21st century leadership complexity relying much more on teamwork for good decisions, and less on the heroic “command” leadership of the past. A design team can help craft good data collection questions and methods as well as help interpret the resulting data.

“A point of view can be a dangerous luxury when substituted for insight and understanding.”

~ Marshall McLuhan, Canadian Communications Professor

So, plan fully for capturing wisely representative Data in DPPE. Also plan for: resistance as a learning tool for opening minds to new ways of seeing. Plan for

  • Resistance as a learning tool for opening minds to new ways of seeing.
  • Creating receptivity to the fullness of data, including qualitative conversations, remembering stakeholders and Einstein’s advice about what counts and what cannot be counted.
  • Long term sponsorship of the project, consistently, as a guardian of the data collected.

To find out more about how DPPE can help you with strategy, facilitation, planning, projects, change, leadership, contact Deb at: or contact Deb here.

* Note: At the time of the video recording above, Deb was also a senior consultant with Ideas for Action, LLC in addition to doing work through REVELN Consulting. She was using a Preferred Futuring planning process to help faculty and stakeholders of the Physical Therapy Program at Wayne State University map out approaches to meet future needs.

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Credits: To a mentor, the late Kathy Dannemiller who introduced me to DPPE early in my consulting career. For more on stakeholder analysis see: with credit to:  Eden and Ackermann, Making Strategy: The Journey of Strategic Management, London: Sage Publications, 1998: 121-5, 344-6

Published by dnrevel

Change & transition, Leadership team & organization development. Executive Leadership team coach. My LinkedIn profile:

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