Show Me The Data: Map Your Plan

Murphy’s Law applied to marketing and database projects says that the clear, complete and agreed upon definition of a project in a proposal or processing plan will always be misinterpreted. If you don’t follow driving directions to a party, you can always turn around or take an alternate route and still get there while the party is going on. Marketing project deadlines are not as flexible as your arrival at a party. Your plans and instructions have to be followed by other people to accomplish complicated multi-step processing in a sequence that does not allow turning around or taking alternate routes.

A wonderful exercise that has helped me work with a service bureau or other data supplier or vendor is to draw a map. Some people have told me that they are reluctant to draw pictures for a client or vendor because they fear the other party will think their intelligence is being insulted. But I have not found a better way to insure agreement on complicated processing steps.

If you create work plans that give your list of lists, list prioritization, address standardization and hygiene, NCOA, merge/purge and back-end coding instructions, try this exercise. Sit down with the project manager at the service bureau that will use your plan and map out what you think is supposed to happen based on your instructions. You may be very surprised to learn that your instructions are not communicating the actions you intend.

When creating your map, don’t worry about flowchart symbols, just start with a box on the upper left hand corner of your white board. Label it “customer file.” Label another box on the upper right hand side and label it “prospect lists.” Add another on the lower right hand side for “file to printer.” Draw boxes linked with arrows in between for all the other steps you have specified.

The value of this exercise is evident every time I do it. I have never gone all the way through a processing map or had one drawn by the vendor without someone spotting steps that need to be clarified or put in a different point in the sequence. Going through a process such as this can be time consuming to get everyone in one room or on one interactive web meeting page. But it can be financially important. You might notice if a segment of your best customers and prospects fell out of your merge/purge and didn’t get your holiday catalog. But would you notice in time? Thousands of sales depend on your insuring that the right people get your mailing at the right time.

The biggest processing projects of the year will be starting soon in preparation for holiday mailings. Even if you have done it before, take the time to map your processing again. That way you can make sure that Murphy’s Law will not lead to you or your vendors misinterpreting your most important plans.

Bill Singleton writes “Show Me The Data” each month for Lists and Data Strategies. He is a manager of analytics and consulting services at The Allant Group in Naperville, IL. He can be reached at:

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