Many organizations want to use data visualization to tell a better story with their data instead of building a standard report of facts and statistics. They want to guide the user through their data to show its impact, so they invest in tools like Tableau and task in-house people turn the reports into a story. Along the way, we hear three common pain points that usually surface in this endeavor which can lead to failure and frustration. We would like to share the pain points and what you can do about it.

Pain Point One: There is a lack of knowledge and experience with data distribution and data storytelling.

Organizations often do not realize how much data they have until they start going beyond the surface. When the individual or team sees all the data from multiple sources before their eyes, they do not know where to start. They become overwhelmed and easily gravitate to what they know and understand. When this happens, the data has the risk to be inaccurate or half-true because it becomes bias out of familiarity. The other pattern that we see is a glorified report that does not make sense, because data is added for the sake of being able to add new data. The pain point is felt when the user, whether the consumer or stakeholder, is confused and frustrated.

Pain Point Two: Data focus is either too far on the technical side or too far on the design side.

Without training in data visualization fundamentals, organizations often go to two extremes. The first extreme is a very technical side. This extreme usually comes from IT professionals like system admins and programmers. The data visualization reads and looks like a car manual. Lots of information, but there is no creativity or story. The other extreme is the design side which comes from marketing professionals like graphic designers and creative directors. The data visualization from the extreme design side is heavy on the creative like infographics, but the depth of information is narrow and the story is missing. The story is the common element usually missing in both extremes and the pain point is experienced when there is no balance.

Pain Point Three: Investment in tools like Tableau is going to waste.

Tools like Tableau have made it easier for organizations to create their own data visualizations, so organizations purchase the software. Like other great software like Adobe Photoshop, it is powerful and requires time to learn. Robust software like Tableau and Photoshop, in a sense, requires its own skillset, but it is not advertised that way. They say you can use them out of the box. This is true to an extent. Yes, you can use common features to pull in top-level data and create visualizations, but the pain point is felt when an organization needs to go deeper with the software to tell their data story and they don’t know how. The expectation that it is an easy tool to use becomes disillusionment and Tableau gets put on the shelf, because no one has the time to learn it.

What can you do to alleviate the pain points?

First, it is essential to understand that data visualization and storytelling are meant to go hand-in-hand. To make your data visualizations effective and successful, the organization’s data team must learn storytelling skillsets. According to a Forbes article, up-and-coming data analysts need to be able to tell stories. There are different online courses like Data Visualization: Storytelling on Lynda.com that will help your team learn the fundamentals. This requires time and an investment, but as an organization you need to look at the cost of investment versus the cost of creating confusing and ineffective data visualizations with little to no return of investment.

Second, an internal data team may not be practical at this point, but some organizations still try to make it work to save a few dollars. Again, looking at the big picture, hiring a data visualization consultant or firm who is experienced will be able to create more effective data visualizations versus the individual tasked with the responsibility who is trying to fit it in with other responsibilities. Lifting the burden from the inexperienced person or team will improve their productivity in their core areas and prevent unnecessary tensions in all levels of the organization.

The big takeaway is that data visualization is a learned skillset. To alleviate the pain points, the organization needs to properly provide resources for their team to learn the skillsets or partner with an experienced data visualization consultant or firm who can build great data visualizations.