There’s nothing like a creative picture to tell an analytical story.
Twenty-two supply chain professionals from 14 organizations gathered for a roundtable event at MIT CTL this summer to talk about the art of visualization. They came up with a lot of sound advice on displaying complex data in such a way that managers can quickly absorb the information and turn it into decisions.
For example, cater for individual needs when designing data displays. Tech-savvy users want to delve into the technology and create tailored visuals; individuals who don’t care much about what goes on behind the screen want ready-made pictures.
Avoid clutter, and be careful about color selection. Have you thought about the challenges of user color blindness, for instance?
It’s important that designers are exposed to the working environments where their displays will be used. But beware of asking users for design advice. They are probably unaware of the technical nuances involved and often focus on the shortcomings of the current technology.
The roundtable participants also discussed the many pros of effective visualization. Here are four less obvious ones.
Shifts decisions to a higher gear. Shaving 10 seconds off the decision-making process may not seem like much, but when applied to thousands of employees it adds up to a significant time saving. Succinct, meaningful displays can help your organization make quicker decisions and be more agile.
Can’t see the wood for the trees? It’s easy to miss important patterns and anomalies when data is presented in a confusing way. Clever, well-designed visualizations bring clarity to complex data and help you to pick out the nuggets of information that really matter.
An equipment manufacturer created a four-layer map of a portion of its supply chain that highlighted how spaghetti-like product flows had become hopelessly tangled. Fixing the problem led to savings of some $ 120 million.
Provides a universal language. A picture is worth a thousand words – and is even more valuable when the words are widely misunderstood. A powerful picture cuts through the use of jargon and language differences – increasingly common as more teams are scattered across countries – and enables managers to overcome these communications barriers.
Stimulates healthy competition. Seeing that your team is not performing well in bright colors is a persuasive incentive to do better. In one company, distribution center staff members who saw that they were positioned at the bottom of the red zone on a company-wide performance dashboard made a special effort to improve.
Visualization technology is advancing rapidly, which is just as well given the rate at which the volume of operational data is increasing. In addition, the upcoming generation of supply chain managers grew up with electronic games and mobile devices, and expects nothing less than eye-catching screen displays.
For a more detailed account of the MIT CTL visualization roundtable discussions see the Supply Chain Management Review Talent Strategies column Seeing is Believing: Harnessing the Power of Visualization here