Make the Message Clear!

We are getting grief at work, we aren’t dispatching van drivers quickly enough.

(The first bit of that statement is true, we are always getting grief at work, the second bit is made up to protect the innocent, but you will get the point).

My boss is jumping up and down about our dispatch rate (the time it takes to send a driver to a customer).  We are hopeless; it takes us forever to send out a driver.  It is a shambles.

There is a lot of noise

There is a lot of heat

But there is very little light

  • As my daughter would say, nobody has a Scooby
  • My boss is more forthright about the situation

I am sure you have experienced something similar.  Why do bosses always wait until Friday afternoon before they lose their cool?

The man to solve the problem

Now I know an analyst who can explain what is going on.  He has dug into the data and this is what he presented me with.

Slide 1The analyst is a sharp cookie, I am sure the answer will be in there somewhere, but I have to admit it isn’t obvious to a man of my limited intelligence or attention span.

Unfortunately my boss has an even shorter attention span than me (he is brighter than me as well, not a great combination).  Hell will freeze over before I show him this, it will be a blood bath, mostly my blood.  The presentation doesn’t answer his question.

So the analyst and I walked through the three rules of data presentation.

Rule 1:  Tell me what you are telling me

“Easy” he says, “blindingly obvious.  We don’t have enough drivers to cope with the volume of customers.  When the volume is high we send drivers late.  We have a plan to train some more drivers, that should solve the problem by the end of the year.”

At it’s simplest the story is…

  • Driver shortages cause poor dispatch rates
  • We plan to train more drivers and improve performance

At which point I wonder why he doesn’t tell me that on the slide (In a caring, sharing, coaching, sort of way).

A presentation is an exercise in communication.  If done well I should grasp what is going on simply by looking at it.  I shouldn’t have to guess what a slide is telling me.  Or worse still jump to my own conclusions.

And the best place to tell me that story is in the title, preferably in big letters so it gets through my thick skull.

Writing down what the message is:

  • Makes the writer think
  • Stops the reader having to

Write out a clear story in bullets and use those as the titles for the slides.

Rule 2:  Only tell me one thing at a time

It is true that squashing as much information as possible onto one piece of paper saves trees.

But in the days of digital projectors the argument has long gone.  There are no extra marks for slide optimisation.

Each slide should be a single obvious idea.  That way the reader (my boss) is less likely to get confused.

Put one idea on one slide.  

Rule 3.  Make sure the picture supports the story

Now for the last rule; the data on the slide should support the title.

If the title says that “Driver shortages  result in low dispatch rates” and the supporting charts and data show the impact of snow and seasonality on your ability to get a van on the road plus the detail of a training plan, is it any wonder if your audience gets confused?

Charts and titles should match.

Now the slides look like this

Slide 2Slide 3The same numbers, just presented a little more clearly.

The problem with being clear

Unfortunately providing clear information does have a downside.  Now my boss has a whole host of other questions

  1. Why didn’t we train the drivers earlier?
  2. Why will we only have a 90% dispatch rate?
  3. What else needs fixing?

But then, maybe that is progress and it keeps me employed.

P.S.  The events depicted in this post are fictitious. Any similarity to any person living or dead is merely coincidental.  Especially my boss, who, for the record, is a lovely man and, more concerningly, has been known to read this.

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Late driver

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Image by Roberto Trm

Comments

  1. Hello James

    Love the story. Reminds me of another story. Back in the days I was ‘in charge of’ a data mining and predictive analytics practice some of my colleagues went to see a lady in marketing. She asked a question. One of the data analysts, had just the information she needed.

    Being eager to help win this lady as a client he got busy extracting the data and putting it into an excel sheet. Then he mailed it over. The next day the business development manager got a call to the tune of “what the f**k is this? What is it telling me? What do I do with it?”

    That is the issue with data scientist. I knew nothing deep about data mining and predictive analytics. My job was to be the one that talked with the marketing folks and translated their needs into requirements that the data scientists needed. And then take what the data scientists came up with and give that one answer to the marketing folks.

    All the best
    maz

  2. James,

    Great story. This is a problem for so many organizations.

    Data is just data until you tease out the story and turn it into something meaningful and actionable.

    Annette :-)

  3. Hi James,
    A number of years ago somebody told me a story about organising presentations and that was….if you were to lay out all of your slides and read just the titles then they should tell a coherent story. If they don’t go back and redo it. Simple advice which seems to work. Make it easy for your reader.

    Adrian

    • James Lawther says:

      You put it beautifully Adrian, make it easy for the reader, sounds a little like make it easy for the customer doesn’t it.

      James

  4. Mark Welch says:

    Need more drivers. Really? I saw no examination of the process of dispatching and routing drivers in the analyst’s analysis. I wonder how much waste is in these processes. Perhaps the analyst is doing nothing more than throwing more resources at the problem before truly understanding it. Perhaps he is right, but did he go and observe it? Get the input from those who actually do the work? If I worked in this business and a guy came in from the outside, put up some pretty charts, and told me what we needed to do I’d be insulted.

    The points about presenting and understanding data in this post are clear and well-taken, but the approach to problem-solving by the analyst leaves much to be desired.

  5. James Lawther says:

    You make a very valid point Mark.

    James

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