Data teams spend a lot of time thinking about users, both internal and external. Yet in my opinion they could get a lot more mileage out of these conversations with end-user centric information design and formats driven by personas and Jobs to Be Done techniques. 

Personas in my experience are more often talked about and created than actively used to drive data storytelling activity. But in order for us to make insights and stories meaningful to decision-makers in a data culture, we need to focus on user types and building personas to define their needs, the problems they’re trying to solve, and the decision-making bottlenecks that slow them down. 

In the same way, Jobs to Be Done techniques can focus your data teams on the outcome your target audience is trying to achieve by using a data visualisation. This is typically more effective than meeting the goal they initially state or the format or colour they claim to prefer. Laddering down to get to the gist of why they need to know what they need to know can create a rich space for effective information design.

Inform / decide / act
I like to think of a simple three-part sequence: we inform our colleagues so they can decide and act. But people will only be informed if the information meets their needs, they will only decide if they believe the data is relevant, and they will only act if they believe the behavior will move the organisation and themselves forward.  

In short, they will only work with your data products if the information tells the right story. Information and data design are not one-size-fits-all. A finance person will need information presented differently than a product development person. It’s incredibly important that we actually design for the end user.

It might also be that instead of seeing a dashboard, a user might say, “I want to be informed by a text message because I am going to be away from my computer.” Once back at their desk, they may prefer to see a richly detailed visualisation. What you decide to deliver should be based on how the user ought to be informed, how critical the decision might be, or even whether the information is time-based and will degrade rapidly. Depending on the user’s position, the time of day, or the particular event, the role that they are performing could change dynamically.  

For all these reasons, your data teams should be building personas and using them, and taking an outcomes-based perspective when they go to analyse and deliver data in ways that it can be used most effectively. Ideally that’s a combination of storytelling, design, and analytics, because paying attention to these factors will always drive better outcomes.