The Best Data Presentation Method: It Depends


As we passed the midway portion of our All Analytics Academy program yesterday, the recurring theme of identifying the right presentation vehicle to bring data to a specific business audience kept bringing me back to a couple of comments posted by attendees.

When a speaker emphasized that different people perceive data in different ways and that one person will welcome data presented in a form completely different from what his coworker prefers, an attendee posted a comment along the lines of "this sounds like Myers-Briggs." In a subsequent discussion another attendee asked, "What's the best format for presenting results to police officers?"

I'm sure that many of you have gone through management training that involved the Myers-Briggs personality typing. It examines the different ways that individuals perceive what they see and hear, how they solve problems, and how they communicate. If you hear someone whining, "It said I'm an introvert" or saying, "I'm an ESTJ," they probably just took a Myers-Briggs program.

A lot of people take their Myers-Briggs training and try to find some connection -- or disconnect -- between their personality type and a coworker's type. Sadly, they missed a key part of the training. It's not about figuring out what makes someone else tick, but about the fact that the way you see, hear, and do things won't always be the same way that someone else does. You're not right or wrong, and neither are they. You're different people who need to take different approaches to work and communications. So, patience and understanding is crucial.

For example, when two people are presented with new projects, one will immediately map out a plan and schedule with action items and deadlines. The second person knows they have a deadline to complete the whole project and they sort of float along toward that final deadline. Both get their work done well and on time. But, boy, do they aggravate each other. Different, not right or wrong.

Let's carry that thought into how we present data to a business unit client.

Credit: Wikimedia
Credit: Wikimedia

As James Haight of Blue Hill Research demonstrated in yesterday's lecture, there are some people who can look at a spreadsheet that is chock full of dates, sales numbers, and regional labels and quickly tell which region has sales issues. You might be that spreadsheet savant, but you can't assume that anyone else can spot those same trends. A bar chart or fever chart might work for some people, but for many others a map highlighting troubled spots in red effectively tells the story.

Presenting to police officers? There are something like 1.2 million police officers in the US. As we've seen in recent months, they aren't all the same. Run a few hundred of them through a Myers-Briggs program and you can bet that every one of the 16 boxes representing core personality types will come into play.

Similarly, they will want to receive data in different ways. One cop might love an animated, interactive visualization, while another will be content with a red, yellow, green dashboard. Yes, there even will be a few of those spreadsheet savants.

One of the strong messages coming out of the three A2 Academy sessions so far this week is that the analytics team has to get to know the audience that will receive the results of their project. It's not a simple provider/client relationship but a partnership. The analytics team has to get to know how the business manager works, what challenges they face, their goals, and how they communicate.

Through that partnership the analytics team learns more about what data the client really needs and how to present it, and the client learns what data they can expect and what isn't available. Presentation isn't just about what the analytics pro likes but what the client likes and needs.

If you missed any or all of the first three A2 Academy sessions, it's not too late to hear what our guest presenters have to say. Those classes are available on demand, and you can catch the final two sessions live, beginning at 2 pm today when Tricia Aanderud discusses how to prepare for that crucial end-of-project meeting with business leaders who might not like the news they are going to hear.

Download the first three sessions or sign up for the remaining classes on the calendar page.

What differences have you noticed in the personality types of the business teams that you support? Share a comment or two.

— James Connolly Circle me on Google+ Follow me on Twitter

James M. Connolly, Editor of All Analytics

Jim Connolly is a versatile and experienced technology journalist who has reported on IT trends for more than two decades. As editor of All Analytics he writes about the move to big data analytics and data-driven decision making. Over the years he has covered enterprise computing, the PC revolution, client/server, the evolution of the Internet, the rise of web-based business, and IT management. He has covered breaking industry news and has led teams focused on product reviews and technology trends. Throughout his tech journalism career, he has concentrated on serving the information needs of IT decision-makers in large organizations and has worked with those managers to help them learn from their peers and share their experiences in implementing leading-edge technologies through publications including Computerworld. Jim also has helped to launch a technology-focused startup, as one of the founding editors at TechTarget, and has served as editor of an established news organization focused on technology startups and the Boston-area venture capital sector at MassHighTech. A former crime reporter for the Boston Herald, he majored in journalism at Northeastern University.

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know yourself
  • 12/4/2014 2:52:51 PM
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I don't need an exam to know I'm an introvert. But, then again, I did read 4 books on the subject, which happens to be a very introverted thing to do. 

Re: know yourself
  • 12/5/2014 1:55:08 AM
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This makes for a good case for presenting data in a variety of formats if possible and if time allows.   This might be easier for cultures that love examples vs. the U.S. culture of get to the point and move on.   I wonder if it is true that different careers attract different personality types.

 

Re: know yourself
  • 12/5/2014 8:55:19 AM
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@Ariella. Instead of reading four books in introverts you could have spoken with 40 people. But I guess that would have made you an extrovert.

Re: know yourself
  • 12/5/2014 9:08:42 AM
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@SethBreedlove I believe it is true to some extent, and when you're not the usual personality type associated with the career, you can run into problems. For example, everyone expects salespeople to be extroverts. 

Re: know yourself
  • 12/5/2014 9:13:50 AM
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@Seth. True, you might want to make data available in multiple formats for different members of the audience. However, the easier route probably is to get to know the likes/tendencies of the decision makers and focus on them. That's where we get back to one of the original points in the A2 Academy program, which is to get to know early in the process who you will be delivering results to. If you can execute on that, you might only need one form of presentation.

Re: know yourself
  • 12/5/2014 9:17:50 AM
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@Jamescon What you get out of 4 books can actually cover the experience of far more than 40 people who may prove not truly representational. We introverts (the kind who are not suffering from crippling shyness) don't really mind talking to 40 people, so long as we don't have to do so in a single group. Recent example, when the "Ebola Nurse" said she had not intention of complying with the quarantine rules, I asked one of the PCTs I saw while in the hospital what her thoughts were. She considered the nurse selfish, as she thought there was a danger, particularly to people with suppressed immune systems. She offered that her mother suffered from that because of her leukemia. I thought that was an interesting insight coming from a healthcare worker in a controversy in which people claimed that people in healthcare would side with the nurse. 

However, I did not proceed to survey every doctor and nurse in the hospital. If I were working on an official project, though, I would do so. 

Re: know yourself
  • 12/5/2014 9:30:17 AM
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@Ariella. I joke about speaking with 40 people. However, what gets lost on a lot of people when it comes to discussion of the terms extrovert and introvert is that introvert doesn't equate to "shy". Introvert and extrovert really boil down to how you "recharge your batteries". The best example I've heard is a comparison of the types of vacations or weekends that the two types enjoy. An extrovert might talk about who they met, how much dancing they did, what the other people are up to in their lives, etc. The introvert may reflect on the sights, and the sunsets that they saw, or how peaceful the lake was. They may have gone to dinner with friends and gone dancing too, but the memories that they take away are different from those of the extrovert. 

Re: know yourself
  • 12/5/2014 9:38:24 AM
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@Jamescon Getting the distinction between shy and introverted across is a big part of a number of introvert books. It's true that many introverts are shy, but there are actually also some shy extroverts. I think the latter is tougher, as those people don't want to just be alone with their books most of the time. 

I'm not sure about the nature of the memories. Though I like to admire scenery, exhibits, etc., I do pay a lot of attention to people and their interaction. My own theory is that extroverts tend to register public expressions much more than private ones in their own calcalus of relationship deposits and withdrawals.

Re: know yourself
  • 12/6/2014 11:49:42 AM
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My sense is that most people aren't too surprised by their Myers Briggs test results. But I do think one of the great takeaways of the MBTI is its framework, so well depicted in your accompanying graphic, Jim. By having a framework for other types, we can adjust our styles when dealing with different types of people, regardless of where we are in the organization's hierarchy.

I'd go so far as to say MBTI at its best can foster empathy, sorely lacking in a lot of organizations and relationships.

Re: know yourself
  • 12/8/2014 10:42:26 AM
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@Terry. I agree. The Myers-Briggs framework doesn't have to tell you exactly what personality type applies to a coworker, for example, but it can make you aware that there are people who see/do things differently than you do. So if your approach to a project is carefully planned steps and deadlines, and your partner on the project exudes a "don't worry, be happy" attitude, you don't have to panic. They will get their part done, or you can at least work with them to make sure that you have the information/data that you need for each stage in your carefully planned approach.

Of course, if they don't get their work done by deadline, then you can panic.

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