Join Bill Shander for an in-depth discussion in this video The power of simplification: Convincing your bosses, part of Data Visualization for Data Analysts.
- Let's assume that you believe the arguments I've been making in this course and you like the examples I've been showing. You're all psyched up and you're ready to go and show your boss and your clients these fantastic new simple visualizations you've created. So the first thing that's going to happen is that they're going to make all the same arguments you were thinking in your head. They'll make all the same excuses for more cluttered, more complex, harder to understand charts and graphs. And you can't say, "Hey boss, go take this lynda course, "believe me, you'll be convinced after spending some time "listening to that guy, Bill," right? Okay, my feelings are a little hurt that you feel that way, but seriously, it might be true because they don't have, or maybe won't take that time for this.
So what do you do? First, let me say this, you will lose many of these battles. As I always say, my clients pay me to tell them no once. I'll make the right arguments, I'll defend my position, and I'll ask them if they're sure they want to do what I don't think they should do. Actually, I'll even do it more than once, usually a few times. But in the end, it's their company, it's their project, and they're paying me for my help and not to tell them what to do. When your boss makes the decisions, she or he may not listen to you. But, when you get that first no, here's what you do.
First, you have to understand all the reasons they say no. These are the various facial expressions you might see and what they mean. The primary motivator is almost always fear. They're worried about what their bosses will say. Don't forget that. This boss needs expertise and data and rational reasons for your arguments. This is Mr. Skeptical. He heard your rational reasons and just won't believe it. He might need to hear case studies and more proof points. This boss is simply jaded to the entire process and thinks you're hilarious for trying something new.
For him you have to laugh along and note that you're playing the same game too. You get that this might fail, but are willing to take a chance on it and he should too. She's overwhelmed by too many other things to deal with, by the number of people she'll need to help convince. The overly technical nature of the ask, etc. You need to calm her with a clear plan of attack for supporting her through this process. This is Mr. Tough Guy. He might not be convinced but a portfolio approach of arguments used for all the other personas is the best thing you can bring to bear against this guy.
So just do your best. Make your case and hope that your message makes it through. Some specific arguments here. So your boss just but the kibosh on your plans. What's the first thing to do? Do you slink back to your desk, tail between your legs, and undo all those wonderful edits you made to your visualization? No. You ask why. You don't slink and you don't argue, you are the empathetic professional. All you have to do is say exactly this: "I completely understand. "We need to get a lot of detail to your audience, "but I think I have another approach I'd like to recommend.
"Do you have five minutes to discuss it?" Your empathetic approach will put your boss or client at ease and he or she will be curious to hear more. Note that I said recommend and not try? You're not experimenting. You know what you're doing. You're making smart recommendations. You're actually like a coach with a plan. Another approach, you're not the expert in this, at least you won't be perceived that way by your boss. But by leveraging the expertise of people in the field, you can bask in that expertise glow a bit. You need one or two statistics or facts to pull out to make the case for simplicity.
Tell me this woman doesn't have some serious expert glow to benefit from, right? So two great facts. Humans can only hold around four items in short term memory, for 20 or 30 seconds. This is scientifically tested psychology. So a chart with dozens of labels and call outs and details, is really not useful from a presentation standpoint. One of the most common reasons we forget things is because of something called interference. The competition between different ideas struggling to be captured in our brains. A busy chart creates more interference, reducing understanding and memory.
Now another approach is you can always blame kids today, meaning that you can point out that as time rolls on we're more and more distracted by data, by demands on our time, by our electronic devices, by advertisers, etc. People are exposed to 15 and a half hours of consumable media per day. Your chart has to make it through the clutter to be seen even by an attentive audience. The other thing I remember is that it's much easier to sell someone one thing at a time. So think about when you buy a car. You start out all happy when you get to the dealership.
The sales guy isn't too sleazy, the cars are shiny, and you just want the car. You make a deal and then you get passed off to the finance guy. And now suddenly, he's talking about all those extra things to add on to the car. It's frustrating. You get annoyed because you're being sold too many things at once. Sell your audience the car on its own. You can weave a more complex sale together, starting with a car, and then moving on to the sunroof, leather seats, etc., but make the deal for the car first. Use this metaphor with your boss. You want to show one thing in your chart. Then add more pages to your presentation to layer more details on top of that.
And the other thing to remember is that humans are wired for visual communication. A million text labels and call outs and a lack of white space, this isn't ugly, it's just bad communications. This is all heavily researched and backed by brain science and studies galore. There's a reason that books have margins and that newspaper visuals are extremely simple and that USA Today began printing simple charts and graphs back in the '80s. We're wired to see data, not to read it. So a simpler graph with less detail will do a better job communicating than a table full of numbers or even a heavily labeled chart.
Keep asking what are we really trying to say? Your boss or client is always trying to say something, even though they may not consciously feel that way sometimes they just want to include everything, right? But they do have an agenda. If you can remind them of this by asking that question, asking them to sum up the headline for the chart, you might win the argument. And if the answer that they give is too vague or broad, just keep adding, "Meaning what?" or "Why?" You can usually ask enough questions, just ask why and why and why and why again. You can usually whittle just about anything down to one key idea or point.
And don't forget to offer to do more than one version. One for the leave behind and one for the presentation. This will usually win the argument. But, wait a second, you just promised to do more work, that's not so fun. But I know you're willing to do a little more work to get it just right. And consider the first one as practice. You'll get to the point where this extra bit of work really can be not too overwhelming. And remember, even the leave behind likely has stuff in there that can be removed. Do you really need to segment all those categories in those bar charts if the main point is just that the bars are going up and down over time? If and when you lose this argument, and you will, produce a version of the chart that you think is right and show them anyway.
Do it on your own time. No boss or client likes to be ignored. Maybe the final product will convince them. If not this time, then maybe it'll influence them for the next time. You'll have your chance to do it the right way because you are on the right side of the argument. Good luck, and if you come up with any really convincing arguments, please share them with me. I'd love to share them with others.
- Why visual communications matter, and how they work
- Communicating via story
- Communicating with color
- Using legends and sources
- Sketching and wireframing
- Rethinking slides, charts, and diagrams
- Rethinking your templates and brand guidelines