Telling a Story

28 12 2009

“What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate” Luke in Cool Hand Luke (played by Paul Newman)

A friend of mine sent this video along to a number of friends in the Business Intelligence space, saying we need to be better story tellers (Thanks Katie McCray).  We do spend an enormous amount of time talking about data structures, common data dictionaries, ease of use, speed, consistency, etc.  What we typically fail to do is tell our clients how to create information, to tell the story in a convincing enough manner to create attention, and more importantly, enable action.

As analysts we typically spend more time talking about data discovery, and the calculations we used than starting off by making our point.  We try to create 50 charts to explain everything, and not the one chart that most simply illustrates our point.  This not only wastes time, but we lose our audience.

Watch the next couple of presentations you sit through and watch the number of slides that build up to the point trying to be made.  What happens is that with each slide our listeners pay less and less attention as they have lost the point trying to be made.  As learners, we need the point to be made first.  We need to see how it all comes together, then have it explained how to get there.  It provides the context for the point to be made.  People now understand what to listen for and why they are listening.

On a slightly different note, last week I wrote about the housing market and the Dangers of Leading Indicators.  I had to update the post due to a new story with a different viewpoint that ran in the Globe on the 23rd.  Amazing how story tellers can tell such dramatically different things.





Jargon

19 08 2009

This is from Paul Bayne, a guest blogger:

When you’re listening to a presentation, how often do you hear the current management buzz words or internal company acronyms? Do they add depth to the message, or do they serve to increase the status of the presenter by making them appear more versed or knowledgable? When looking back at the information in a historical context, will the language enhance the meaning, or will it detract from it? I worked with a consulting manager who was famous for his use of buzz words. The following paragraph was compiled from the 55 buzzwords used during one 90 minute conference call:

I’m trying to level set your assumptions, so we can then incorporate these concepts into the communication plan’s talk track for an apples to apples comparison of the current state/future state. That should give us the safety net and support mechanism we need to factor into as we create the coathooks to harden the numbers in the discussion document, strategically migrating to a closely aligned, re-engineered future state opportunity model. We’ll then drive away from the shadow tracking spreadsheets into a conference room pilot where we can more effectively and efficiently operate in sandbox mode to hardwire the black box into an actionable white box.

Does your use of language provide clarity to your thoughts and actions, or does it communicate very little while saying very much?





Design for Information

4 08 2009

All to often reports are designed to provide data, not information.  There are charts and tables with little intrepretation, or description.  While I am not great fan of PowerPoint, it can often make up for Enterprise BI limitations.  We can call out certain areas within the charts and graphs, as well as add the commentary to help us communicate our point.

A safe assumption is that the person reading the report will not have the same understanding of the material as the report designer, or analyst.  It is then our job to make sure that the report communicates the point clearly.  The last thing you want is to hear “what are you trying to show me?”

Below is a good example of presenting data, while not telling us much.  Here we see that he/she has a few fans that are frequent contributors, and that tweet volume picks up around the lunch hour.  There is not much variation for the days of the week, with a little drop off for the weekend.  August is also the most popular month.

twitter2008-1

What would be helpful to know is why this data is important to us.  What perhaps would be the most important is to know the subject material, so we could do things like tweet just before lunch as that seems to be the most popular time to inspire reaction.  Or that August tweets were up due to an embarassing grammatical error.

As we are designing reports, make sure that the information has a purpose.  Most specifically, know the audience and know the potential actions the information is going to inspire.





Clean Up

6 07 2009
  • When was the last time you cleaned up your reporting environment?
  • When was the last time your reorganized you computer files?
  • How many versions of old files do you keep in multiple back up files and how much space is littered junk?

Most BI environments and network file structures are collections of everything we ever used.  We have files that are used daily sitting right next to files that have never been used.  We have mulitple drafts of things with the same name in the same folder.

When you were designing the folder use, did you think about the lifecycle of that folder (or system) and the things within it?  This is why we end up with things we no longer need and it makes finding the things we need all that more difficult.





Simplicity and Creativity

21 06 2009

Often the best messages are the most simple and straight forward.  If you want a perfect example, check out Common Craft.  They simply explain things – there is no PowerPoint, there are just simple visuals that clearly articulate their points.  The visuals are borderlining on a junior high art project, but I am sure you will see that doing the same thing in PowerPoint is just not the same.

And while I am at it, if you wanted to learn about Twitter, Blogging, Social Networking, etc they have some great samples.  And if you want a short video to explain what you do, they just might be worth contacting.  And no, I do not represent them in any manner.  I just thought they were a great example of performance.

If you are trying to create a presentation to convince the executives to alter course, rethink the tired old PowerPoint and bar chart approach.





Clarity – Pick One Voice

17 05 2009

A few months ago during the Presidential inauguration, a concept I have kicked around a bit presented itself in a vivid example.  What stuck me was all the pomp and circumstance, all the background noise.  Did I really want to hear the opening prayer, the closing prayer, all the singing, and the poetry?  No, I wanted one thing – to hear the message this President was going to deliver on how he was going to set up his presidency.  Everything else was in a way, distraction.

As organizations, how often do we set a clear and concise goals for the organization and the individuals?  How many times do we repeat what someone else just said?

When we design KPIs for the organization, do we create a single measure for a goal and use other analytics for support?  Or do we create a number of ways to view the goal?  If we create many definitions, we allow for people to pick the one they want.  Use KPI design as a way to gain clarity of a goal.  Use Scorecard design to gain clarity of purpose.