Breathe life into your data with visualisation

Welcome to our blog a regular publication by Mantle, with a focus on business growth, business value, decision making and performance management, in other words, all things that make a business better.  Today’s edition is written by Laura Landmark. 

«Let me draw my idea on the whiteboard» said one of the guys I was in a meeting with recently. I love it when people start drawing, as it gives a deeper perspective on what they are thinking, a privileged deep dive into their psyche! 

I must admit, I also enjoy the spoken word, but I had been listening to him and his idea for about 20 mins and was having a hard time buying into what he was saying, the drawings I was creating in my head were not very compelling, so it was good to eventually see his.  

As soon as I saw it in his way I felt clarity and connection to his idea and within a few minutes a level of understanding that a written document or a brief conversation would have never offered.

Visualization help us understand the bigger picture

Visualization helps us to understand ideas, information, and data in a deep and meaningful way, and this is no doubt why dash-boarding tools are so popular these days.  Visualization breathes life into data.

Visualisation breathes life into data

Laura Landmark

Dashboards are a fantastic tool for conveying a message in a quick and effective way, however, they can also backfire and become a visual mess creating irritation and confusion if we are not careful.

I was recently introduced to the idea of making a visual standard for presenting dashboards a bit as you have with musical notation. It is a very interesting idea, there are several experts that have written publications on this and given examples of great looking dashboards vs not.

Often the simpler the better, less «ink on the page» enhances your opportunity to see the wood through the trees.  Tufte & others since advocate for a high data-ink ratio, this means most of the ink on the ‘page’ should be used to display data, not fluff.  

The images below demonstrate what I mean,(they are from the following link: https://infovis-wiki.net/wiki/Data-Ink_Ratio). Minimalism is good for conveying your message in an uncluttered and quickly understandable way.

Low amount of data to ink (bad!)                       High amount of data to ink (good!)

«Solid Outline Hatched»

The International Business Communications Standards (IBCS) is an organization set up to create a uniform set of rules for improving business communication, they are worth investigating. An envelope turned up in my letterbox the other day called «Solid Outline Hatched» which is a book written by Rolf Hichert & Jurgen Faisst and published by IBCS Media.

This book advocates for consistency and uniformity across all business communication so that business leaders and managers don’t need to waste time and energy on trying to interpret data. People in business are overwhelmed with information, so the easier it can be delivered and understood the more value it is. 

I am learning to play the guitar now, and luckily every single time I turn on my online learning app, the music I need to play is served to me in exactly the same way. And I mean exactly, no matter what the song. 

The notes are always called the same name (of course!), they are always displayed in the same color, or on the same lines, in other words, the view I look at is always the same. The only thing that changes is the order of the arrangement, ie the content. 

This means that it doesn’t matter whether I have never played a song before, my brain is becoming tuned to perceive and react to the data I am seeing almost intuitively. Over time interpreting this music will be second nature.

My brain is becoming tuned to perceive and react to the data I am seeing almost intuitively.

Laura Landmark

So as the IBCS says, why not the same in business? Numbers are the language of business just like notes and chords are the language of music. Why have we waited so long to try and standardize how business information gets displayed when we have been doing this in music since 1400 BC. At Mantle we haven’t applied all the rules the IBCS advocate for, but we do standardize as much as possible the way we display data, see some examples below.  I see more and more sense in going further with this, so will be looking more closely into the work of the IBCS.

Real-time insight

Just like musical notes, our business dashboards should deliver real-time performance insights. This means you are being informed as things happen.  Just imagine that for a minute, as I think this is often lost in the message.  You are informed as things happen.  This means you are able to also manage your business in real-time.  

See the big picture

You can delve deeper into the drivers behind your successes and setbacks by visualizing KPIs across multiple systems and departments.  Business doesn’t happen linearly or in neat silos and buckets.  Business is an infinitely and intricately connected system that spreads far and wide.  Data is everywhere, some of it is structured and easily available, some of it is unstructured, intangible, or difficult to capture.  No matter, gone are the days where we can manage our business by looking at one system or module at a time, things are moving way too quickly for that.

 

Business doesn’t happen linearly or in neat silos and buckets.  Business is an infinitely and intricately connected system that spreads far and wide. Data is everywhere.

Laura Landmark

Connect from anywhere

It doesn’t matter if you are working from the home office, from the cabin, or the beach, you remain just as connected to your business data and performance and well-displayed dashboards will allow you to connect instantly with the heartbeat of the business.

Start somewhere

As I alluded to above, data is everywhere, but that doesn’t mean we should start creating dashboards that cover “everything”.  Start small but start somewhere.  Figure out what the most essential KPIs are for your business and start with creating them.  A small portfolio of carefully selected KPIs displayed on a well-designed dashboard is a good place to start.  Start with 3 at a time, get them up and running before moving to the next.  This will keep the project manageable and the budget under control.  You will also be able to ensure full adoption before rolling out further.

We have plenty of experience in helping to identify the right KPIs and setting up a simple management dashboard, so contact me for a no-obligation chat if you want to pick my brains.

 

Example of a Mantle dashboard

 

Skjermbilde av dashboard
Example of a Mantle dashboard

 

Skjermbilde av dashboard
Example of a Mantle dashboard

 

 

“Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”

Steve Jobs

Something to watch 📺

Here is a link to the chat I recently had with Ron Saharyan of Profit First.

Profit First is an international community of accountants who have gained skills and experience in helping companies grow their bottom line with the Profit First methodology. It’s a system for building a business in a way that creates long-term success by setting up a bank accountant based on the core functions of your business.

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