Four things I learnt from the infamous Dashboard Week!

by Clare Fox

Every cohort in the Data School goes through infamous ‘Dashboard Week’. If you’ve not heard of this before, it involves getting a new unknown dataset every day, you then have until 5pm to prepare it, visualise it and write a blog on your process and your findings; you also need to present your dashboard and findings the next morning. 

Last week was DS17’s dashboard week, I really enjoyed being able to practice exploring new datasets and create a variety of different dashboards.  It is also useful to be able to practice all this under tight time constraints. But I can confirm, it is pretty full on!

Here are some of the key things I’ve learnt from the week:

1. Collaborate (to get the data)

The first rule of Dashboard week was that we all must work independently.  However, this immediately became a problem in terms of data acquisition.  On the first couple of days of dashboard week we had some seriously large datasets to download so we thought it was best to collaborate on this.  One person in our group took the task of downloading all the data (thank you, Collin) and this was distributed to the rest of the team via USB to save time for everyone and save the Data School Wifi for the whole team!

This collaboration to get the data was the best route to take and saved us a lot of time, however despite our efforts we still managed to break the internet when we attempted to upload this onto the Google Drive!

2. Make LOADS of charts

Andy wanted us to focus on insights for the week which meant lots of data exploration to see what we could find.  One of the ways that Andy suggested we do this was by asking the following of the data: when, where, what, how, then why.  For me, this essentially involved making lots of different charts and tables that looked at these questions, to see what I could find and where the insights or trends there were or weren’t.

Being open-minded about the data and what types of charts work for the dataset you have is key and it is important to spend a good chunk of time building a lot of exploration charts however…

3. Be decisive

… timing is tight on dashboard week and although it is a good idea to spend a while of the data exploration – when you’ve found an insight of area you want to pursue, be decisive and stick with it.

If the dataset is really big and it takes a long time to prepare in Alteryx or load in Tableau it might be because to make a decision about an area of focus earlier in the day. Filter out any data you don’t need to make your dataset and workload more manageable and workflows faster.

4. Plan and take breaks

It is easy to fall down the Tableau rabbit hole during dashboard week as you’re really aware of how quickly time is passing and how much you still have to do!  Although I wasn’t great at this, I think it is vital to take some time away from your computer and the projects during the day – it might even give you a new perspective on your project. Plan your time and tasks for the day to make sure you can schedule in regular breaks.

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