Life of a frustrated analyst

Hoshang Mehta
October 4, 2023
Opinion

When I started my career, I was working with a fast growing B2B SaaS company. They had just started to build out their operations team and I was the first junior analyst hire they made.

We had recently onboarded a spanking new data visualisation tool and I was the first and the only one to lay my hands on it. Revenue teams were excited to get rid of their 500+ excel sheets and move to these really clean looking dashboards which I was going to make for them.

The idea was to help Revenue teams be more data-driven, but did I succeed? We will see..

This is how it all started..

It all started with this one dashboard I made for the senior management to track business performance which included things like funnel conversion rates, sales quota attainment and customer churn details and more. I could roughly fit in about 20 visually appealing charts on that dashboard.

In no time, I observed my Revenue teams getting tempted to fiddle with the dashboards to dig deeper into the data- dashboards acted as a great starting point! However, there were follow-up data-requests from a single dashboard to further understand why things were happening the way they were. These trailing questions were directed to my inbox and suddenly my inbox was flooded with these ‘ad-hoc data requests’ from revenue teams.

Oh that’s simple- just add a lot of custom filters, create custom views and maybe add a few more charts for the FAQs to the same dashboard. I did that.

Soon enough, these ad-hoc data requests started becoming requests to build out separate dashboards for different Revenue teams. The 100+ filters seemed to still not quest their hunger for more data. So here I go making more dashboards..

One for the Sales team

One for the Marketing team

One for Customer Success and

Another one for Finance!

And then soon enough, my slack was flooded with requests from individual team members that looked like this-

Sales Rep:

“Hey Hosh! I really love the Sales Overview dashboard you made for the VP of Sales. Can you make a similar one but only for my leads and also if you could add in a chart showing their lead scores and also my activity on them please? Thanks a tonne! XoXo”

This is how my ‘dashboards-to-do’ list looked like-

One dashboard for Jack from Sales

One for John from Marketing

One for Amy from Sales again

One for Charlie from Finance

Another one for Olivia from Customer Success too!

And then there was this too..

The VP of Customer Success has a meeting with top customers every week… build a dashboard

The Sales Manager has a weekly meeting with his reps…build a dashboard

The CEO has an investor meet next month… build a dashboard.

The list goes on.

….

I was busy making one dashboard after another and adding more and more filters to each of them — In my head I was like “Oh wow! see? they’ve already started to become data-driven”.

 I love making dashboards

Were they really though?

Not even close! Let’s understand why?

What was really happening?

The “data requests” started to become redundant and I started wondering if anyone was even looking at the dashboards I kept making.

Let’s see..

I wrote a small code to count the number of page views all my dashboards were getting and started tracking it over a few months.

The result?

An overall average of 5 views MoM for the 50+ dashboards I made. I was shocked! It was disheartening to see each of my nice looking dashboards quickly turning into “trashboards”- It was almost never looked at after the first time I had sent it to them.

why is no one using my dashboards?

It was clear that the dashboards were not efficient, they did not answer the numerous business questions in a repeatable fashion and that’s when I realised that I needed to get to the depth of this problem. One size fits all didn’t make the cut.

So what really happened just after I sent them the dashboard?

What changed? Nothing much!

Typically business users would play around with the filters on the dashboard and end up exporting ‘mini-reports’ over to their Google sheets where they felt more comfortable operating.

A few reasons why?

  • Business data requests often have a limited shelf-life. Hence, they only needed what they needed in that instance to get going with a decision
  • Dashboards gave them a limited ability to add ever changing business context to explain what they thought the data results actually meant
  • Collaboration was challenging on dashboards. Dashboards give them limited ability to collaboratively interact with the data together as a team and chat or question the data
  • Google Sheets somehow felt like home..

Context? Lost in transit..

Once the chart/dashboard has been shared, there are trailing conversations that the teams have before they can make a decision. Questions like-

“Hey! Sales are low in January, why do you think so? Did we also receive less demo requests in Jan? Let’s check?”

“Hey the product usage from our free users spiked in March! That’s amazing, maybe the new feature did it or was it something else? Let’s validate?”

The discovery process that starts from a dashboard is completely lost when a dashboard updates or its configuration/logic changes.

Ad hoc analysis is haphazardly recorded among a sea of scratch work in disparate digital ‘rough books’. Conversations around data is where the actual contextual knowledge lies and this knowledge actually accumulates, but is washed away by the Slack/Email firehose.

All the knowledge is lost in transit over multiple channels of communication so the next time they want to look at why did they decided on something, they have to either go through all the emails/slack messages or just repeat the process (well, of creating a new dashboard)!

To ensure our time is spent exploring new avenues rather than tracing old steps is essential. What we learn from data, what we say about it together and eventually what we did with the information that was evaluated is essential to be recorded.

Answers looking for Questions

Once upon a time, an early human living in the northern pole channeled his curiosity about how to keep himself warm in the cold, harsh environment he was living in. The purest form of ingenuity led him to figure out how to start a fire. The curiosity started with a question in the context of the environment he was living in at that point in time.

Imagine, what if the fire already existed for an early human living in the Sahara desert (totally different environment) and somehow he came upto it. He would most probably try to question the fire’s existence forever, run away from it or at worst try to play with fire and maybe burn himself.

Okay, not the right analogy but dashboards are the later. A single dashboard might answer questions for some users in that point in time and not for some or many.

Dashboards are answers looking for the right questions instead of the other way round. The ‘right questions’ are very contextual on its current environment, business environments keep changing, so will the questions and the process to answer them. One size fits all doesn’t make the cut.

Hey Dashboard! You look cool, but can I trust you?

“Something is fishy, can I trust this data?”

The next thing we check is-

“Who built it?”

“Did it change recently?

“hmmm, it somehow doesn’t look right? “

“How is this number calculated?”

“Why did we choose this logic?”

“Oh maybe it’s still referring to the ‘new_arr’ field we discontinued using from last week”

If there are trust issues, the dashboard is already in the process of being sentenced to death! This leads to a series of investigations between revenue and data teams to find out the proof for it’s innocence (or not). The investigations are majorly an endless chase across countless tools, spreadsheets and emails to prove the business logic leading up to that number.

Typically, the convicted dashboard is given one more chance where the data teams present the business logic behind those charts. These proceedings take time, a lot of time and happen over meetings, emails, slack messages, phone calls (again, all lost in transit and nearly impossible to trace back). If the business logic, which was once valid is no longer valid in the changing business context- the poor dashboard is beheaded with a sharp edged sword called ‘irrelevance’.

Often, the amount of time teams take to verify if the number is right is far more than the time they take to debate what data-driven business decision to make.

That’s when I realised that we had serious trust issues — some of the major reasons-

Dashboards offered very little freedom to view the complex underlying business logic (i.e code) that was used to show a chart, every person has a different definition of what the metrics should mean and sometimes they just didn’t trust the data entered in their CRMs (this is a separate problem in itself).

These trust issues did not allow teams to take real action with this data.

Sigh… So I failed my job to make my teams really ‘data-driven’.

BUT, there is a revolution coming up in the data world which is going to change things for good!

A co-working space for revenue and data teams

When it comes to making data-driven decisions, we at Airbook believe that consumers and operators of data should never have to leave one system to start over in another.

It’s time for a new era of data solutions to solve for some of the most pressing problems that traditional solutions don’t solve for.

We are building Airbook as a collaborative space where revenue and data teams can ‘co-work’ and make decisions together, confidently with a bias towards acting on the insights they gather.

Today, the analytical workflow is siloed and chaotic and we strive to break these silos by designing a modern solution that brings people together to work on data.

Airbook provides teams ‘one page’ where they can-

  • Gather and iterate on data requirements
  • Explore and visualize data using the interface of their choice- drag-drops, SQL, R/Python or NLP
  • Build trust by making the underlying business logic visible
  • Give context to the numbers they see and explain insights
  • Brainstorm on the next steps and build an action workflow
Airbook brings revenue and data teams together

By providing a single, collaborative workspace for teams to work together, teams can quickly move from data exploration to making decisions.

FAQs

What was the initial goal of creating the dashboards for the B2B SaaS company?
What were some challenges faced after creating the initial dashboard for senior management?
How did the author measure the effectiveness of the created dashboards?
Why was there a loss of context when using the dashboards?
What were some trust issues related to the dashboards?
What is Airbook, and how does it address the challenges faced with traditional dashboards?
Similar Blog Posts

All Blog Categories