There are several ways to solve problems that emerge in an organization, but the best ones all have one thing in common — they start by understanding the data. When you consider the best course of action for your solutions, starting from a place of knowledge can help you better understand the context and possible ramifications of your actions.
Even so, it seems that many times decisions are made in the heat of the moment, or in a small window of time that doesn’t allow for deep contemplation of the issues. In these cases, it’s important to have a way to understand information easily, quickly, and effectively. To guarantee you’re always making the right decision, having a way to visualize your data is crucial. These are the best ways to ensure that data drives your future decisions and helps solve problems more efficiently.
Start with the right data
The first step to create a practical and relevant visualization is to find the right data to feed it. Organizations store data in a variety of sources and collect information from different streams. However, not all data is useful for everything. Understanding where your data is stored, what your channels are, and how to best collect and sort them is important in using powerful visualizations to solve problems.
To help find the right data, you can ask yourself some of the following questions:
- What is the source and is it accurate and updated?
- Is it useful to answer my question or solve my problem?
- What is the best combination of this data to answer my questions?
It’s vital to know how your data warehouses and storage are set up to help you access it most effectively. More importantly, it will help confirm that the data you’re using in your visualizations is always the most relevant data.
Clean it and simplify it
More than having the right data, visualizations thrive on having the best version of information. Most data sets rarely come in a ready-to-use format due to overlapping data points, redundancies, and irrelevant information. While it’s common to have these “dirty” sets, it’s still important to make sure the final result you’re plugging into your dashboards is “clean”—free from anything that may impact your analysis.
Additionally, you should focus on making sure the data you’re using for visualizations is displayed and stored in its simplest form. This doesn’t mean you need to give up complex analysis and parsing, but your visualizations will benefit greatly from keeping things more focused on single items than multi-variate analyses.
Consider these best practices when cleaning and prepping your data for visualizations:
- Think about the questions being answered and consider whether the data you’re using can offer insight.
- When in doubt, remember that keeping it simple and focusing on specifics can help create a more cohesive analysis.
- Consider whether the data needs to be manipulated or converted into a different format to be most effective.
- Remember that for data to have an impact regardless of the source, it should be standardized before being input into your visualization.
Choose the right visualization
With the right data from the correct streams, you can focus on providing the visuals that will inform your decisions. This step presents a big pitfall for many businesses looking to build dashboards as many will opt to fit their data into a visualization they want instead of finding the visualization that best fits the data.
In the former, this creates confusing and irrelevant visualizations that can make your problem-solving more complicated. Organizations that focus more on the form over the substance of their dashboards (“We should have a scatter plot because it looks great!”) can end up with stunning visualizations that offer little value.
Instead, it’s best to approach visualizations as an extension of your data analysis. The best visualizations are those that can simplify complex data, clearly communicate an idea, and express the data’s meaning insightfully. Focusing on finding the right visualization for your data, and not the other way around is an important first step.
These are some of the best practices to keep in mind when choosing your visualization:
- Make sure the visualization displays the data in a way that makes it relevant to the question at hand, and not just a pretty addition.
- Your visualizations — and dashboards — should quickly and easily explain their data. Remember that your visualization should answer a question in five seconds or fewer.
- Focus on providing the most relevant information first and prioritize it by importance afterward.
The right visualization is a key component to solve your business problems. By better illustrating and demonstrating your data and insights, they help you make the best possible decision. Focus on creating the right visualizations, and the answers will flow more easily.