Data Visualization for Business Analysts
Data visualization is critical for technical and operational-savvy business analysts who juggle multiple projects at a time. Both analysts and project managers tend to understand the business problems that are being asked, including all the nuances, special business rules, and “oh-yeah-forgot-to-mention” requirements that seem to come with traditional data analysis. Presenting this data visually and adding pertinent information to complement the business analysis process not only makes it faster and easier to point out areas of opportunities and concern, but also enables decision makers to take action with their data.
Business analysts are often working very closely with the customer—working through requirements and functional design, and working closely with the technical leads to help create the technical design. Sometimes that will require quick and accurate decision making on the part of the business analyst. They need to confidently make decisions with the information they have on hand. Effective data visualizations allow not only the analyst, but also business decision makers to quickly examine large amounts of data, understand trends and issues efficiently, streamline faster, and make more accurate decisions by allowing the key people to see the right data at all times.
Keywords: business analysis, requirements, scope, dashboards, visualization
Author, data journalist. and information designer David McCandless said in his TED Talk: “By visualizing information, we turn it into a landscape that you can explore with your eyes, a sort of information map. And when you're lost in information, an information map is kind of useful” (McCandless, n.d.).
Know Your Audience
Across organizations, subject matter experts in areas such as finance, marketing, citizen engagement, customer service, and more need to interact with data to understand key process indicators (KPIs), trends, and patterns. Most of these subject matter experts are “nontechnical” operational users that are not experts in business intelligence tools, but often know their data very well. Analysts typically serve as the liaison between subject matter experts and the technology department (software developers).
From the project management perspective, explaining the concept of requirements, budget, scope, delivery milestones, or a project timeline to a range of stakeholders (both technical and non-technical), can be particularly challenging. As consumers, we're positively swimming in data. Ever since the first pie chart or bar graph appeared in a presentation, organizations have used data visualization techniques to make pertinent, yet unengaging numbers clearer and easier to grasp. As an example, when Healthcare.gov initially launched, it kindled a lot of debate ranging from project oversight to technical issues with the public-facing website. A common number mentioned was that it contained 500 million lines of programming code. What does that number really represent? Is it good or bad? It's a hard number to get your head around.
The creative team at Information is Beautiful created an infographic (“a visual image such as a chart or diagram used to represent information or data”) to give the citizens and constituents a sense of scale by comparing the volume of code comprised in Windows, Facebook, and iPhone apps (Exhibit 1).
Exhibit 1: Infographic comparing lines of code
(Snippet from Information is Beautiful).
Know the Data - “Actionable Intelligence”
Both infographics and data visualization are tools used to visually represent data. They make it easier for key decision makers to grasp difficult concepts by communicating wider context in a summarized, visual form. In many cases, stakeholders might not understand static numbers, lengthy reports, or super-long descriptions, but they tend to understand the graphical representation (Kao & Wong, 2012).
From the moment we wake up in the morning, infographics and other visual representations of data fill our lives. In the world of social media, where you can reach millions of users in a matter of seconds, at it's core, data visualization is a form of communication. The best visuals are storytelling tools that invoke discussion and elicit calls to action. Sophisticated visualization and business intelligence tools are being deployed to help parse large amounts of data from budgetary projections to customer feedback for business users.
Consideration needs to be given as to how much data to present to users. Overwhelming amounts of data presented in the form of charts, dashboards, or visual reports can lead to information overload, and simply too much for top-level executives or key stakeholders to process when making decisions.
Exhibit 2 shows a sample dashboard outlining the project portfolio and health of the organization's projects. The dashboard displays the projects, budget, milestones, and milestone status. It's simple, effective, and allows key decision makers to review the key process indicators that impact their organization.
Exhibit 2: Snapshot reporting (scorecards).
Imagine seeing a dashboard that would help you grasp all the measurable bottlenecks and problems ahead of time, with the goal being to arrive at some conclusion with enough accuracy, really quickly.
Overloaded resources – Who's carrying the weight?
Development speed – What's due soon?
Problematic user stories
Quality problems – How can I prevent defects?
One of the key benefits of data visualization is that it allows the users to interact with data. The ability to make these type of correlations allows analysts, project managers, stakeholders, and executives to identify the root cause of problems and act quickly to resolve it.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Nadia Hansen is the founder and lead consultant for Result Logix, an IT consulting company.
Her expertise with project management offices (PMOs), portfolio management, and organizational project management (OPM) is supported by her attainment of the Project Management Professional (PMP)® certification. She is based out of Las Vegas, Nevada, with a branch office in Ottawa, Canada. Ms. Hansen has a unique background in art and science. She studied textile design in Pakistan's prestigious Indus Valley School of Art, and attained her bachelor's degree in computer science from University of Nevada, Las Vegas. She is an experienced senior project and business management professional with business operations and project management experience, predominately in the IT field. She has a proven record of delivering impressive contributions to an enterprise's operational objectives, productivity, and profitability as a consultant, employee, contractor, and owner in the public and private sectors within the United States, Canada, and Asia.
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Gentile, B. (2014). The top 5 business benefits of using data visualization. Retrieved February 13, 2016, from http://data-informed.com/top-5-business-benefits-using-data-visualization/
Information is Beautiful (n.d.). Ideas, issues, knowledge, data - visualized! Retrieved February 13, 2016, from http://www.informationisbeautiful.net/visualizations/million-lines-of-code/
Kao, D., & Wong, P. (2012). Special issue of selected papers from visualization and data analysis 2011. Information Visualization, 11(1), 3–4. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1473871611431117
McCandless, D. (n.d.). The beauty of data visualization. Retrieved February 14, 2016, from http://www.ted.com/talks/david_mccandless_the_beauty_of_data_visualization?language=en
Project Management Institute. (2013). A guide to the project management body of knowledge (PMBOK®guide) – Fifth edition. Newtown Square, PA: Author.
Sviokla, J. (2009). Swimming in data? Three benefits of visualization. Retrieved February 13, 2016, from https://hbr.org/2009/12/swimming-in-data-three-benefit
© 2016, Nadia Hansen
Originally published as part of the 2016 PMI® Global Congress Proceedings – Barcelona, Spain
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