Creating Visuals with Data

creating-visuals-with-data_picThe key takeaway – We can make data more impactful by sharing it in a visual form that is easy to recognize and understand. There are many ways to do this with almost any type of data. Our only limitation may be our imagination.

“A picture is worth a thousand words,” and “Seeing is believing.”  Creating visuals with data is incredibly powerful as we display information that drives behavior. Examples of visual data are all around us in many forms. We often take them for granted.  Visual data is presented to us in our newspaper financial sections, weather reports and more. It is on our car dashboards and even in our kitchen drawers. (I will explain the kitchen drawer in a bit.)

By taking raw data and putting it in a visual format, we can create a greater sense of urgency and react faster to recognize trends; Positive or negative.  Visual information sharing such as pie charts, Pareto charts, and graphs grab our attention and need little explaining.

Our biggest enemy to sound decision making can be preconceived ideas and ignorance of information (data). Displaying data in a visual format or way that is easy to understand eliminates time wasted interpreting it. We can go right to assimilating appropriate actions based on factual, information.


Run Charts and Flowcharts Save the Day

The Georgia State Department of Human Services had a big problem. They were responsible for reviewing and determining which applicants were available for government-sponsored rehabilitation services. The process required excessive documentation. In one district, it was taking an average of 292 days. Recent legislation mandated that this process takes no longer than 60 days.

The team of caseworkers created run charts to track performance. They were trained on how to collect information and update the run chart. Trends were now visible as they began to improve their process. They could see the improvement on the chart and this reinforced behavior. They created flowcharts to analyze all activities within their process of determining eligibility of services. The flow charts showed opportunities for improvement and the run chart validated progress.

The result was a 70% improvement in the timeline for eligibility. This was done within the first year. The team was now confident they could continue to improve.

The driving force was the availability of information that tied effort to outcome.


Making Numbers Come to Life

The first step is to determine what needs to be measured and the units of measurements. Next, determine how you will gather the data. It must be clean and provide an accurate representation of what you’re analyzing.

To get the most out of visual sharing we need to answer two questions:

  1. What is the best visual format to use? (Pareto Charts, Pie Charts, graphs, etc..)
  2. Where is the best place to display the information?

We want to share the information in the most impactful way.  We want to drive behavior and get the most bang for our buck.

Bulletin boards and electronic scoreboards in high traffic areas are excellent. Virtual bulletin boards and mobile devices are a great option if available. Updates can be sent out real-time with alerts. This makes your information intrusive, but in a good way. It grabs the needed attention which leads to a timelier response.  It becomes proactive and reactive…which is much better than inactive.


Data Beyond Numbers

Make the invisible visible. Data is all around us and visuals can be created within almost any environment to guide behavior and make work more efficient.

A simple and powerful example of visual data can be found in most home kitchens, including yours. It is the flatware (or silverware) drawer. Almost all flatware drawers have a plastic container in them that separates the forks, spoons, and knives. If a fork is in with the spoons, we immediately see it. This visual separation system makes our life easier.

In this example, we are dealing with items, not numbers, but it is still data. In our businesses, we need to apply visual data control to everything we do. If not, we most likely have problems and issues we have normalized. Like a “junk drawer,” full of stuff. We get used to it and accept it as the normal condition, even though we hate digging through it.

We need to use a “flatware,” approach to data gathering. We need to be able to quickly separate the useful information from the noise that surrounds us. The goal is to recognize problems and opportunities, enabling us to focus our efforts and resources in the best way possible. We want to avoid best guesses and shooting from the hip. We want to recognize patterns and understand our surroundings.


Visual Data Taken to a New Level

Our imagination may be the only thing holding us back when it comes to sharing data in a creative manner that has a powerful impact when viewed. Companies, and organizations have created visual presentations of data in ways that are entertaining and grab attention. For example, check out this presentation; Hans Rosling’s 200 Countries, 200 Years, 4 Minutes presentation on YouTube. Watch as data comes to life in a virtual setting.  

Put your data to work for you. It’s information with the power to drive behavior. If it’s not creating dynamic tension and a sense of urgency, the information is not being used to its full potential.

Visual data is like using a flashlight on a dark night, it illuminates where we are and gives us confidence we are heading the right way.