Thursday, June 26, 2014

Telling a story with data

Jim Stikeleather, writing on the HBR Blog Network, has five useful and usable ideas about applying data to weave a narrative and tell a story.

This comes up all the time in project management, starting with the business case, but going all the way through to test scenarios for user validation.

His points are good ones because, frankly, they're actionable by project managers, not just blah, blah:

Find the compelling narrative.  You are competing for the viewer’s time and attention, so make sure the narrative has a hook, momentum, or a captivating purpose. ... encourage examining relationships among and facilitate interacting with the data – think gameification.

Think about your audience.  The visualization needs to be framed around the level of information the audience already has, correct and incorrect:
  • Novice: first exposure to the subject
  • Generalist: aware of the topic
  • Managerial: in-depth, actionable understanding of intricacies and interrelationships with access to detail
  • Expert: more exploration and discovery and less storytelling with great detail
  • Executive: only has time to glean the significance and conclusions
Be objective and offer balance.  Even if it is arguing to influence, it should be based upon what the data says–not what you want it to say. Viewers and decision makers will eventually sniff out inconsistencies which in turn will cause the designer to lose trust and credibility, no matter how good the story.
Don’t Censor. Don’t be selective about the data you include or exclude, unless you’re confident you’re giving your audience the best representation of what the data “says”.
Finally, Edit, Edit, Edit. Also, take care to really try to explain the data, not just decorate it.

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