DanMaycock.com

Data, Strategy, Leadership, and Innovation

Month: October 2015

3 Ways to Make Data Visualization Useful

Data visualization, the front end of data analysis that makes everything more understandable, interactive, and attractive, is taking off like never before. Many companies have risen to helping establish accessible data tools that are both easy to operate, and understand to where anyone today can point the tool at a data sent in particular and begin developing dashboards, and charts like never before.

However, democratizing data analysis and working towards creating self-service BI can have very negative implications if the discipline and rigor behind that data analysis isn’t handled along with developing all those great dashboards. Furthermore, you can easily find yourself building interesting charts without being able to articulate why those charts are impactful, and what knowledge you’d need to back up if something irregular pops up that someone calls out in a meeting.

People would agree, for the most part, you shouldn’t take someone off the street that isn’t an engineer and have them design & build an airplane. Even if the tools to design an airplane become accessible, engineering is important to make sure the plane flies successfully when it’s actually constructed and launched.

The same should be true for data, though most data isn’t related to life or death situations, there is data misused or incorrectly calculated that can bring a company to it’s knees – from bad sales figures, to bad market analysis resulting in tweets that spin the company into damage control.

With that in mind, I have 3 steps to make your data visualizations more accurate and useful, so your understanding of data can go hand in hand with your energy to leverage it.

1. Understand Data Modeling Fundimentals 

This may sound / seem like overkill, but if you’re going to work with a tool like Tableau or Qlikview, having the basics down around how data works and how to model it effectively means you can go into some data source somewhere, understand it down to the elements themselves, and join that data together in a way that allows for meaningful and accurate analytics.

If you don’t know what an inner vs outer join is, then you’ll have a hard time even pulling together the data into a tool like Tableau without potentially impacting the outcome.

The best book to dive into here is “The Data Warehouse Toolkit” By Ralph Kimball (Kimball is the godfather of dimensional modeling, and is used by most all BI people to develop “cubes” for data analysis). http://www.amazon.com/Data-Warehouse-Toolkit-Definitive-Dimensional/dp/1118530802/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1443215078&sr=8-1&keywords=data+warehousing

It’s a hard thing to get through, especially if you want to stay out of the weeds of data management, but it’ll get you deep enough in the fundamentals around good data governance and management, that you’ll be far more effective at building compelling and accurate data models.

2. Focus on Impact vs Interesting

The world is full of interesting data, that would make for all kinds of interesting conversations. However, very little of that translates into impactful data that can make a material impact on a company’s bottom line. Knowing what’s interesting vs impactful can make the difference between a bunch of nice looking visualizations, vs an impacting dashboard that drives business change and makes what you’re doing both useful and practical.

There are a lot of books out there that show examples of data visualization, and the majority are certainly interesting and informative. However, if they don’t have a direct impact on helping change your business in some way, then you might as well frame and hang those pictures on a wall. Develop a clear hypothesis, know what you’re looking to get from the data, and work the problem through to a conclusion.

Data journalism is a great approach towards this, that combines story telling with a clear impact, call to action, or outcome.

A good resource for where to begin is at http://datajournalismhandbook.org/1.0/en/

3. Know your audience

The most important step in making data visualization useful is to know your audience, and tailor the output in a way that makes it the most useful for the consumer. A CFO typically won’t want to see the same visualization as a CMO, and with the majority of data visualization tools allowing for the ability to filter / slice / drill based on the data available in a cube, you can tailor content like never before and peform ad-hoc data analysis with less construction up front required.

Understand what questions your audience might ask ahead of time, and consider how your material is fluid enough to respond in turn. You might be building a dashboard for showing sales nationwide for your company, but what if they ask for one product vs another? Can you build your data model to support that, then add a filter or will you have to go back, work for a week, and bring the specific chart back?

There’s tons of great data points out there, waiting to be discovered and shared via data visualization platforms to help enhance and enlighten business users at all levels of the organization. Make sure though, before jumping into the fray, that you have the foundation, direction, and foresight to develop something meaningful.

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3 Shark Tank Tips for Success in Anything

If you’ve ever seen Shark Tank, you see first hand what happens when an entrepreneur comes in prepared or not. Each time someone that comes in to pitch, there’s typical things an investor calls out that makes the difference between getting funded or not. Knowing your numbers is the big one, but there are a number of other things that can derail a good pitch or cause the sharks to compete over the start-up. These lessons though, can be applied to anything in life, whether you’re an enterprise executive or college student.

1. Know Your Numbers

The most damning thing you can do on the Shark Tank, is not know your numbers. The same is true in life, that if you want to achieve something (weight loss, financial freedom, a promotion), it makes a big difference to know your numbers. There’s so many LinkedIn profiles I’ve come across that don’t quantify what someone has accomplished, and it’s hard to know what someone actually achieved without a number to back it up. I can say I’m good at sales, but if that’s true, I should be able to say I sold X millions in Y period of time to make Z downstream opportunities for my company.

More importantly, if you aren’t able to measure what you want to accomplish, how will you build a plan to achieve it? Yes, you can lose weight just based on how you look in a mirror without measuring a thing, or achieving success based on how you feel about yourself in the morning, but numbers can help you know what works and what doesn’t, and knowing if you’re starting to slip. Some things can’t be measured, I’ll never know if I’m a good dad based on some measurement and I’d never ask my son to fill out a report card on how I’m doing, but those things that can be measured can help a good deal in where you’re going. In professional life especially, it’s much easier to justify a promotion if you have concrete proof that you’ve achieved great things. In investment, it’s required to show your books to validate how much you’re making or losing, but many other things can be tracked with a number and can help if you know / follow them.

“The best measure of a man’s honesty isn’t his income tax return. It’s the zero adjust on his bathroom scale.”

– Arthur C Clarke

2. Have a Plan

There are people that pitch the Sharks without a clear plan on what they’re going to do next, if something bad happens or if they have to spend more than they are expecting. Having an optimistic set of next steps isn’t a plan, it’s a day dream. A plan shows multiple paths, including the “happy path”, and shows you’re willing to consider and understand multiple ways to achieve your outcome. Too many people want to think optimistically or pessimistically and chose not to entertain the other side of what’s possible. To be good in business, and in life, you have to consider multiple possible realities and have a plan, if you want to demonstrate clarity of purpose and determination of outcome. In project management, you have to be able to share the bad news with the client if the project is in red, but you need a plan on how to get to green. If you lose your job, outside of your control, you can take a day to feel awful about that but your success will come from waking up the next day, having a plan on getting re-employed and then executing on it.

You’ll get beat down so much in life, for things that may or may not be your fault. Not feeling like a victim is only possible with a plan to get yourself out of that space, and having a plan can often keep you from getting in that position in the first place. You can’t predict much in life, but you can reasonably know what might occur and build a plan around how to handle it. Eventually you could be good enough in a certain set of circumstances to just react in the moment, but whether it’s getting out of debt, or achieving the goals you want professionally, sitting down and having a plan on how to get there (along with step 1) can help clear out the distractions, default decisions, and unexpected bumps that derail even the best intentions. And when that derail occurs, no matter how good your plan is, accept that defeat and make a plan to get back on your feet.

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”

– Abraham Lincoln

3. Don’t Go for Easy

There’s lots of ways to take the easy part in life, hit auto-pilot, and call it a day. Life is meant to be lived, and we aren’t meant to be well preserved corpses that never experienced life outside of our 5 square mile life. Humans begin with nomadic life, as we were meant to roam and explore. Those brave souls that show up on Shark Tank didn’t take the easy path, starting a business and asking for money is never an easy thing. Yet, to hear their stories and understand their passion, you can tell they aren’t living a boring existence. We aren’t all cut out to start companies, but we can all start something and live a life full of passion.

Things will be difficult, life won’t always pan out, but if you know your numbers and have a plan, you can get there and over time – failure will teach you lessons, and those lessons will make you a better person. The best ship captains have experienced the most things going wrong, not so things on the ocean can always be avoided but that they’ll know what to do when something happens. This is only possible with experience, failure, loss, and determination. Live to the extent of what you think is possible, and you’ll find 10 more steps in front of you that you didn’t see before.

Don’t go for easy, don’t hit auto-pilot in your life, and remember that life is a bullet train that goes down the same path for us all – it’s just a question of what we see, experience, and impact along that journey that matters.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the person who points out how the strong person stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the person who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends themselves in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if they fail, at least fail while daring greatly, so that their place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

– Teddy Roosevelt

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