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Training Managers In The Visualization Of Data

Visualizing Data Trends

From MBAs to managers, leadership through effective presentation and communication is key.  The visualization of data empowers the curation and communication of results, problems, and ideas. Well-designed data graphics make the insights interpretable and actionable.  

Today’s post is by Dr. Kristen Sosulski, author of Data Visualization Made Simple (CLICK HERE to get your copy).

From MBAs to managers, leadership through effective presentations is an essential skill.  With the enormous amount of data that managers use to inform decisions, show results, and classify problems, data graphics are a simple, yet efficient means to communicate these data findings. It is a way of showing quantitative information visually.  At its core, data visualization is the process of creating data graphics for the purposes of exploration, communication, or decision-making. Knowing how to visualize data as charts is a competence that managers can develop with training.

When I first started teaching data visualization in both academic and professional settings, the all too common initial response from the learners was that it was likely that someone else, such as an intern, would be creating their data presentations.  Although they thought this was a valuable skill to learn, some felt that the task was not something that an aspiring manager would spend their time doing.

I realized I had to sell the value of data visualization as a leadership skill, rather than a technique. I focused on the business case rather than solely on the technical details. For example, how does the information presented in the data graphic help someone make a decision?  What is the value proposition? A visualization can simplify the way you communicate a complex analysis to stakeholders.  Whether it be a model to predict customer conversion, identify new markets, or improve a process, those insights will most often be presented in the form of a data graphic. The graphics serve as evidence that support the new idea, initiative, or solution.

A sample training program in the visualization of data for managers would include the five following topics:

ONE:  Data formatting and analysis: Use visual data exploration methods that aid in data understanding. Learn techniques for data preparation including data formatting and cleaning. Identify the target audience and the line of inquiry.

TWO:  Creation of data graphics: Identify appropriate data visualization techniques given particular requirements imposed by the data together with the driving questions. Build data graphics with the appropriate data visualization and analytics software for the task at hand.

THREE:  Refinement of data graphics: Refine the data graphics to improve readability, clarity, and accessibility of the data insights. Highlight and annotate to aid in the interpretation of the data.

FOUR:  Presentation with data graphics: Tell stories with data graphics that will resonate with the audience. Visually communicate the key takeaways.

FIVE:  Data visualization case studies and examples: See how data graphics are used in practice through case studies showcasing a unique approach to using data graphics in different settings.

Data can be a valuable asset for firms. Developing the ability to analyze and visualize data can help managers monitor performance across business units.  For example, using visual dashboards, key performance metrics can be seen at a glance through interactive, real time charts and graphs. Dashboards provide a visual interface to communicate what is happening now on a single screen in an efficient and clear way.

Investing in a skilled IT and data science staff will be needed for firms looking to up their analytics game.  However, the analysis and interpretation of data is best left to managers who know the business and see the value of data to inform decision-making at all levels.

Managers have the business experience and intuition to ask the key questions that are critical to the business. For instance, what are the most important metrics for me to communicate to my manager and for my employees to communicate to me?   What information could you collect to improve your response to customers? How often is this information needed? How will the information be used?

Although, managers do not know every scenario or question that may arise, managers can lead the organization in developing a data-driven culture. By using visualizations to highlight the salient information at the right time, employees at all levels, may start to identify how they can use data to support their decisions. This is a leadership activity that goes beyond the visualization of data.

Management training in the visualization of data empowers the curation and communication of results, problems, and ideas. The skills learned through this type of training offer enormous value not only for managers, but for creatives, educators, entrepreneurs, and business leaders in a variety of industries.

Today, when I train executives and managers in data visualization, first we focus on the impact and business case, then we work through the technical details. Through this lens, they see the value in pictorially presenting their data findings through charts and graphs as a means to communicate, monitor performance, and sell their ideas. The visualization of data is not only a skill for IT, it is a competence needed throughout every organization that deals with data.

Data Visualization Made Simple

Dr. Kristen Sosulski is an Associate Professor at NYU’s Stern School of Business where she teaches MBA students and executives data visualization, programming and business analytics. She is author of Data Visualization Made Simple: Insights Into Becoming Visual (CLICK HERE to get your copy) and is the Director of the Learning Science Lab for NYU Stern where she develops immersive online learning environments for business school education.   As a leading expert on data visualization, Kristen regularly consults, delivers seminars, and leads workshops on data visualization techniques and best practices.  Follow her on Twitter at @sosulski and learn more at http://kristensosulski.com.

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