Q14: What is data visualization and how does it help drive better decision-making?

Most of us are well aware that people generally learn best visually. A simple pie chat can turn a 1,000 row excel spreadsheet from a headache inducing overload of data into something one is able to make decisions on in a few seconds.

Of all the things that have made me a successful analyst, one of my greatest skills is knowing which visual to use in my presentations and reporting.

To demonstrate how data visualization can drive better decision-making, I will borrow from analytics guru Bernard Marr’s 7 Key Ingredients for Knock-out Data Visualizations.

Even the best analytics will amount to nothing if you don’t report the results properly to the right people in the right way. Make sure you report the results effectively by following these 7 steps:

  1. Identify your target audience. What do they need to know and want to know? And what will they do with the information?
  2. Customize the data visualization. Be prepared to customize your data visualization to meet the specific requirements of each decision maker.
  3. Use Clear Titles and Labels. Don’t be cryptic or clever. Just explain what the graphic does. This helps to immediately put the visualization into context.
  4. Link the data visualization to your strategy. As a result, they are much more likely to engage and use the information wisely.
  5. Choose your graphics carefully. Use whatever type of graphic best conveys the story as simply and succinctly as possible.
  6. Use headings to make the important points stand out. This allows the reader to scan the document and get the crux of the story very quickly.
  7. Add a short narrative where appropriate. Narrative helps to explain the data in words and adds depth to the story while contextualizing the graphics.

So there you have it. Data Visualizations allow the analyst to inform and empower the audience of the report/presentation to use the data to make good decisions.

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It sounds easy, but a lot of people really struggle with this concept. Most presentations I see are either too wordy or include visuals the audience can’t see easily. Most reports are formatted in a way that may look good, but have little functionality.

Nothing prohibits good analysis like an excel spreadsheet full of data but not formatted in a way that allows a pivot table to be built.

Likewise a lot of reports are just summaries, with the original data hidden or absent. When you take away the power of an end user to do their own analysis, you really diminish the value of what you are doing.

So besides everything that Bernard said above, I would add make sure you provide the ability for your audience to use and analyze your data.

If you are having challenges with coming up with engaging and actionable data visualizations, let me know. I can definitely help.

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