Recently I finished creating a company-wide leadership dashboard approach for a restaurant franchise. Stepping out of my traditional context (healthcare) and into something new gave me a chance to re-think everything.

Few people working in data today have the opportunity to own something end-to-end. If you work at a media firm, for example, your work as an analyst will typically have something to do with the effectiveness of media, or the opportunity for media to reach and convert customers. If you work at a personalization firm, your days are probably spent in understanding how different segments of people experience an ecosystem, and focus your work to constant optimization and improvement of the relationship between the two.

But if you’re like me and you are passionate about on projects that are fully end-to-end, your work begins and ends with people. Interviews to gather measurement needs, a deep-dive into a company’s data assets, a hard and cursory look at how the data matches with the measurement needs, and, most of the time, a supplemental data build involving anything from digital build-outs to survey design.

At the end of that process, your audience has to come first. What is the best way to isolate and contain an organization’s activity, in such a way that leadership can make informed, impactful and powerful decisions?

This is where analysts become a lot like theater directors. In my early youth, I had the pleasure of a summer internship for Boston’s Shakespeare on the Common. That year, Steven Maler directed “Tempest.” As a lowly coffee-grabber for the theater at that time, I was able to join in on the blocking sessions. This was where the actors spoke their roles to each other at various locations on the stage, with various levels of intensity. Steven sat in a chair, watching, recommending, finessing, tweaking. It took hours and hours and days to get the show just right. At times, it was hard to see where the show was going. But ultimately, the show turned out spectacularly. In fact, it was such a spectacular show that I, no longer a coffee-grabber and now a theater tech intern with the job of hoisting a lantern above the stage for the opening act, found something new, exciting and delightful for every night of the show’s run.

That’s how organizational measurement should be. The ultimate “play” of the metrics across a dashboard will be the information that literally steers a company forward. The images and language that are used, will become the common language of the leadership team.

Dashboarding and data visualization is important, sensitive, and powerful work, and the details should be considered with as much focus as a director blocking out a play. Your show will, and should, be just as memorable as a great piece of theater.

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