Telling Data Driven Stories That Can Save the World

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Most of us are living in a data driven world, operating within a realm of ones & zeros, colorful bar graphs and driving towards the green colored impact. It’s overwhelming at times, but at its core, data is honest and when managed correctly, gives us everything we need to turn this knob or lift that lever to drive fundamental growth and maintain forward progress.

So how do you get from the ones and zeros to a story that drives action, feedback and loops right back into improvements models? There are some foundational pieces that need to be understood to build and organize your world of data, and that will make the rest of the process so much easier (and your next business review a breeze).

Step One: Understanding Base Data

No matter the industry you’re in or what kind of numbers you’re working with, there should be base data that ties your world together at a granular level. You may or may not be responsible for this but should understand what it looks like and where it’s coming from. Ideally, this data is all tied together via a unique indicator (for example, in the retail world, maybe that’s a SKU or in the customer service realm it’s a chat ID number) and should include all the variable data around that indicator (categories that this unique ID falls under). All the numbers here should be flat and not made up of averages – this is key to make sure the pivots are not skewed by averages of averages that are inaccurate for our bird’s eye view.

Step Two: Understand the Pivots 

Once you understand the base data and all the pieces that make up the most granular view of your world, groupings and pivots can be identified to start understanding the rhythm that moves it. Looking at grouped averages and key performance indicators are going to give all the truthful insight into how the world is performing, the good, the bad and the ugly. These pivots will change and views will need to be updated with evolving needs and shifting world views (well, for your world anyway).

Step Three: Pressure Points

In the above two steps you now have the equivalent of the Hubble Telescope into your world. You can zoom out and see the bird’s eye view of your entire program and check the health of the different key performance indicators at the aggregate. Zoom in a bit and check how different groups are performing and changing. If you see a red flag, zoom in all the way to see how those tiny granular pieces are looking and what can be done to improve that piece of the world. At this point, it is important to develop an understanding of what the pressure points are in your world and how you can effectuate change to get those red groups or grains into the green. What is the audience that impacts those changes and what dials need to be turned, levers need to be pulled and buttons pushed to start helping those grains improve?

Step Four: Tell the Story

With these views into the grains and the groups and your whole world, you now have everything you need to start putting your story together and providing actionable steps at each level. A great and impactful story will start at your worldview (hopefully looking good), dig into the group view (maybe some red flags here and there), and be able to provide detailed examples of the red grains that need to be reviewed and resolved. These examples are perfect for identifying a defect that needs to be fixed, providing targeted training to a group that needs it, or providing justification for a program wide enhancement.  

This method of storytelling gives the audience a very clear line of sight into how the grains impact all the pieces leading up the bird’s eye view and gain a clear understanding of what needs to be done to move everything into the green. This creates accountability and builds momentum in the right direction.

Step Five: Repeat

If step four was done correctly and actionable changes were made in any of the pressure points on your program (i.e., knobs turned, levers pulled, buttons pushed), your base data and your grains should change. Your key performance indicators for your groups should start looking different and there might be some new areas to tackle to keep moving onward and upwards. 

In conclusion, having a scalable view into the data is going to build the best foundation for storytelling and creating actionable insights to drive change and save the world (well, your world of data, but it still counts).

Stefani McCloskey
Stefani McCloskey
Stefani McCloskey is an Associate Director of Customer Success for XSELL Technologies who has a weird obsession with Excel.

She lives in Southern California, where she constantly tries to get her family to look at her super cool dashboards, but they don't seem to share her enthusiasm.

Connect with Stefani on social media: LinkedIn

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