Why and how: communicating data for humans not analysts

This is a guest blog post by Paul Joyce, CEO of Geckoboard

The vast majority of businesses today buy into the value of data. Whether it is driving innovation within an organisation or providing focus to team tasks and goals, data is king. We all now concur to the ethos of “what gets measured gets done”.

However, despite the clear value of data, many businesses are failing in its application. While data scientists are able to analyse the vast data available in detail, in many instances communication of data to the broader team is ignored.

This is a big problem for companies. Without an accessible and accurate view of the right data, team members will always struggle to stay motivated and focused. With research showing that over four in five (81%) employees do not receive the appropriate levels of information at work, the issue is evidently widespread. The data may be there, but it is not being shared in a way employees can easily digest, if at all.

How do you make data available, understandable and useful to the whole organisation?  

The golden rule is to present data in as simple a way as possible. It’s important to be sympathetic to human beings and deliver it in a way which is free of distractions. The more “noise” you can strip away from data, the less intimidating it will be and more accessible it is for your whole team.

The way data is visualised is key. Graphs may seem ideal for plotting out key company metrics; however, try not to overcomplicate them with too many lines and colours distracting from the point. Pie charts are particularly poor at conveying data quickly because the size and scale of each segment gets lost in the image and it’s easy to misinterpret the data.  The form of the information gets in the way of interpreting it.

Similar to pie charts, sporadically sharing raw data isn’t optimum. Any weighty spreadsheet dilutes focus from the most important metrics due to the reams of data. It will likely end up buried in busy inboxes and won’t register as a real attempt to provide valuable insight.

Looking at human psychology and science also helps us understand how the brain consumes data. A simple example of this is that we read left to right in the west, therefore the most important piece of information should be positioned in the top left corner.  

Using colour effectively goes a long way to rapid data digestion. This is because our brains can assign significance to colour very quickly, without conscious thought, so if used carefully and sporadically our brains will process the data without much energy. Make a number green and we immediately know that metric is traveling in the right direction, for example. The key is to not overuse colour, as they will compete with each other and dilute the brain’s ability to interpret that data.

Once we remove the cognitive and access barriers between humans and the data they need to make better decisions, entire companies and teams can react to and be motivated by the data you’re sitting on. In fact, many may actually start to enjoy looking at data, because it’s no longer a chore. The opportunities that come with the liberation of data in businesses are significant. It’s exciting to think about what can be done when you can deliver the right data to the right people at the right time.