Framing data in a visual way by David McCandless

general article writing


Framing data in a visual way, as described by David McCandless, could be very beneficial for all

stages of the change process. One of the greatest overall benefits that I see is that it's a very

quick and easy way to gain a better grasp of what the data really means. Employees in today's

organizations are so busy that they need to be able to grasp the information being shared with

them quickly and visualization of the data does that. 

I can especially see how it's helpful for the Awakening stage when the change agent is trying to

communicate the need for change in a way that others can understand. Some of McCandless'

visuals were amusing but others were more eye opening - like relating the size of military

spending or number of soldiers compared to the country's total budget or population size. It

makes you want to look a little closer at those small countries that are spending a lot of money

on their military to understand why and if there's a risk there.

In the mobilization stage, using a visual to show how far or how close one is to their goal could

help drive action. Folks can either say, we are really close to our goal so we just have to dig a

little deeper and we will be there. Or they can say, we have a long ways to go so we better get


The acceleration phase is where the plan is developed. This made me think of strategic plans.

When there's just a lot of text explaining the various goals and tactics and how they fit

together, it's not very interesting and most staff won't want to wade through all the text. But if

you can organize the key steps of the plan under headings or use arrows to show how the

tactics intersect, it's so much easier to understand.

The last phase is institutionalizing and making the change inherent in organizational processes

and showing the level of success achieved. Visuals are a good way to keep initiatives top of

mind and celebrating success. 

Following the election we just had, I think McCandless' depiction of the two sides of

government could help people find some common ground. 



The visualization of data aids in all stages of the change process.  When organizations or departments go

through change, it is difficult for those not involved in the decision making to understand the reasons for the

changes, let alone grasp the value of it.  Many times, data and words alone do not appropriately tell a story and

I’m guessing that all of us, at one point or another, have looked at a colleague, a spouse or a friend and asked,

‘do I need to draw you a picture?’  David McCandless video made some very good points that through

visualization, transparency, clarity and often context can be realized. 

In the Awakening stage visualization is essential for communication of the need for change.  During this time

defects and gaps are identified along with opportunities for change.  Having a strong visual presentation could

be instrumental in the success or failure of the overall project.

In the Mobilization stage visualization could be used to create a roadmap or timeline of the project/change.  It

is during this time that communication to stakeholders and other affected individuals will take place.  A

roadmap would give them a better understanding of the projects progress.

In the Acceleration stage visual tools could be used to show the progress that has been made as well as any

milestones that have been met.  Often times Stoplight charts are used to show status of red, yellow or green.

This is an important time to keep the communication lines open to ensure the stakeholders are remaining

involved and knowledgeable regarding the upcoming change.

During the final stage, institutionalization or implementation, visual tools are a key factor in displaying the

progress, the success and any identified risks as well as a means to monitor progress towards steady state.   

Having been involved in a very large project over the last year and a half, with significant amounts of

information coming my way, I can attest to the fact that visualization has been extremely important in

presenting and understanding data.

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