“I built 14 dashboards in two months and it is my best work.”
Let’s get something straight right from the start. I did not intend to build 14 dashboards in two months. In fact, I wasn’t even hired to build 14 dashboards in two months. The truth is, I had six months… but the wrong tools.
In late October, I was airdropped into a team that consisted of two – another BI developer, who is my data SME and someone I had already worked with, and me.
I knew I was being brought in to help with some dashboards, but 14? In two months? I might have second guessed joining if I had this information up front.
What happened to the other four months?
I won’t get too far into the weeds here, but we can chalk up the first four months to the onboarding process and the wrong tools. I was allowed into the workplace but had to undergo a background check before I was allowed access to the network, company computers, data, or software tools.
Like all companies, the intent was to use the software solutions they currently owned. I am open to anything and trust my methods, so I engaged the challenge. What we discovered, in a very painful way, is to stick with the upper right quadrant of the Gartner chart for data visualization tools. As the saying goes, “you get what you pay for, ” and if your visualization tool is free… well… you get what you pay for.
During those four months, however, we made the case for the right tools, developed a comprehensive guide to which tools those were (i.e. Tableau and Power BI), and set out to prototype the dashboards.
In the end, because I still had to use my own equipment, we prototyped in Tableau on my personal computer using scrubbed data extracts, achieved sign-off on the dashboards using the BIDS methodology, and then converted the Tableau prototypes to their existing SAP BusinessObjects environment.
Yes, with enough creativity and the right methodology, you can make a BusinessObjects report work effectively as a dashboard.
What is the right methodology?
Picture this, you are stepping into a conference room with a group of SMEs to discuss your next dashboard project.
Do you see it? Now let’s adjust that picture a bit.
You are walked to a cubicle barely big enough for one, introduced to a person who didn’t know you were coming, grab the rolling filing cabinet from under the desk so you can sit and begin your process.
Are you ready for it?
If you even question the ability to say yes in either of those moments, then it is time to invest in yourself. I urge you to seriously consider training with Mico Yuk and folks at BIBrainz.com. Purchase the online course BI Data Storytelling Mastery (BIDS).
I have been building dashboards for quite a few years, but during my four-month waiting period on this project, I took the time to attend Mico’s latest webinar on Master Data Storytelling. I wanted to see if anything had changed since the days of the BI Dashboard Formula Methodology (BIDF) class which I had taken a few years earlier.
I quickly realized that the BIDF and the BIDS classes were not one and the same. I knew what I was watching in that webinar had the ability to change my process greatly, but I wasn’t quite ready to invest. I have been fairly successful these last few years and I was on the fence. At the end of the webinar, Mico emailed out a freebie – The BIDS Analytics Design Guide Template.
I immediately did two things after opening up that freebie. One, I forwarded it to everyone that I had previously worked with, and two, I got out my credit card and I purchased the class as an investment in myself.
–Full disclosure: The company I work for, cBEYONData, liked what I had to say about the class and did reimburse me for the expense. You have to love a company that knows how to invest in their people.–
The design guide template is a one-stop-shop for building trust in your work. The design guide’s purpose is “to help our clients scale their analytics visibility and branding by setting a standard for others to use.”
In the guide, you will find a standard for:
- Applying colors
– A trusted color palette (remember this is a standard)
– Best practices for color usage
- Applying fonts, font sizes, and when you should adjust them in your design
– Headers & Titles
– Sidebars & Sub-labels
– Tile Headers
– Detail Text
- How and where to apply icons
- How to design charts and tables
Additionally, you get a glimpse into the standards for dashboard layouts which includes examples of how all the above are applied to a typical dashboard. The layout provides a purpose for every piece of real estate on the dashboard.
Let me repeat, this was the FREEBIE!
A Repeatable Process
Success requires multiple skills, all of which can be learned. To be great, chose to learn them and chase after the following skills:
1. The Tools: Learn how to use the right tools. Stick to Gartner’s upper right quadrant and start with Tableau or Power BI.
You could find no greater mentor for these tools than Kirill Eremenko. I stumbled upon Kirill a few years back by purchasing one of his Tableau class on Udemy.com. He is by far one of the best teachers I have ever discovered and I am committed to seeking him out first when I need to learn something new in our field. He is extremely passionate about Data Visualization and Data Science. You can find more classes from Kirill on his membership site at SuperDataScience.com.
2. The Overall Process: Learn the BI Data Storytelling (BIDS) Methodology from Mico Yuk at BIBrainz.com.
This will change everything from the first question you ask to how you maintain scope throughout the process all while ensuring you will get successful sign-off. Users will buy in because you will build trust. You will maintain focus because the multitude of cheat sheets and guides that walk you through each step of the process will ensure you stay on track.
3. The Requirements and Documentation: Learn the BI Dashboard Formula (BIDF) Methodology for requirements.
There is a primer for this in the BIDS class as well, but the BIDF tools are your key to requirement gathering, documentation, and ensuring the SMEs or business users own their role in making sure you can develop what they are asking.
4. Note Taking: Take great notes. Don’t take good notes, take great notes. Learn to Bullet Journal.
Can someone else open up your notebook and immediately take over? In less than 30 minutes, you can learn how to Bullet Journal. There is literally no expense required other than purchasing a notebook. My favorite is the Cambridge Notebook that I picked up at my local Target for $7.99.
I watched the videos on the Bullet Journal website and a few on Youtube.com, but my key was writing the details of the system in the final 10 pages of my notebook as an appendix to keep with me at all times as a reference guide.
5. Organization: Learn the Getting Things Done method (GTD) to stay organized.
Have a trusted system of organization for all your documents and e-mail. Every day your inbox will be emptied, e-mails you sent for follow up will be in a trusted location, e-mails that require action will be in one spot, and all your project related emails will be in project folders.
You can find wiki pages and lifehacker-type sites full of instructions on GTD if you want to save a few dollars. Use this system to free your mind up from all the little things that are crowding your brain.
6. Attitude: Last, but most importantly, learn how to adjust your attitude. Manipulation is not a bad word when you are using it on yourself, to adjust yourself, to set yourself up for success.
So much of what I have accomplished started out simply because I chose to walk in the room with the right attitude… I sat down in someone’s cramped cubicle with the right attitude. Let your attitude echo your confidence.
On your way to work in the morning, put something in your ears that will set the tone for your day.
My current favorite is MORNING MOTIVATION – How Successful People Start Their Day.
My all-time favorite is the first 4:10 of following When You Are About To Give Up
(Use the Youtube Music app to listen to the audio only.)
Check out more from the following folks on Youtube:
a. Be Inspired