The other day my team was just kicking off a new business intelligence dashboard project and the client’s data modeler and DBA led us through a through of the data landscape. We were knee deep in entity relationship diagrams, data dictionaries and all kinds of data “stuff” that made my eyes glaze over.
I subsequently discovered Stephen Few’s fabulous article entitled “Exploratory Vistas: Ways to Become Acquainted with a Data Set for the First Time” and I thought to myself, “OMG, I should have kicked off the meeting with a joint review of Stephen’s approach to getting to know the data!”.
Here is the link to the pdf: Stephen Few: Exploratory Vistas
When you lay eyes on an unfamiliar territory for the first time, it always makes sense to get an overview before venturing into the thick of it. An unfamiliar data set is like an unknown land. Unless you have unlimited time to wander (who does?) and don’t mind getting lost, it helps to study a map before starting out. If no map exists, then you should head for high ground to get the lay of the land.
Analytical journeys are quite different from vacationing in Italy or France. Leisure travel involves a series of destinations with the hope of enjoying ourselves along the way. We want to add sweet memories to our lives of the great meals, beautiful sites, and interesting people we meet along the way. When we embark on an analytical journey, however, we don’t pre-plan all our destinations and we’re not just collecting memories. The goal of the analytical journey is a thorough understanding of the territory, often to solve specific problems. We approach the journey as if we’re preparing to become tour guides, able to explain each site in a way that ranges from its history to predictions about its future. We must learn to navigate like a native.
I really like the part about using treemaps. Here’s a look at a Panopticon treemap:
Be sure to check his pdf for more!
The Dashboard Spy