Successful Data School Client Projects

by Ellie Mason

During our time at the Data School, we have about 8, week-long client projects. We get the brief and data on a Monday and then have to present our findings on the Friday afternoon. After presenting we then have a feedback session with the coaches and hopefully improve in the following weeks.

These are super intense, quick turnaround projects, but so much is learnt from them: both in terms of technical skills as well as softer skills like presenting and project management.

I thought I’d put some of the advice we picked up along the way (both from the coaches and personal experience) in a blog to hopefully help future DSers!

Use the time and space well

Spend most of the Monday going over the data -errors here can cause such a time suck later in the week!

Have daily stand ups – these involve quicklygoing around the room sharing any progress and asking for help. Limit the and time to 5 minutes max – which even so is 40-45 minutes! Which is a long time to be listening but also a large chunk taken out of the, often limited, project time.  

Respect each other by listening, not using the mouse and even shutting laptops when not showing work on the screen.

As PM, if there’s not time for a stand up then an effective way of checking in is to go and chat on a one to one level with each team/ person. Often this can help you get a grasp of task completion.

You don’t have to always work in the classroom. Whilst sometimes there are external training events on at the DS (meaning there’s no space to work elsewhere), when you can then explore, get some space or stand up at a different desk if needed. This can help you think if you work better in quieter areas, or even give you a different perspective. Looking back I think this would have been more useful, and as a cohort we slowly moved out of the classrooms as the projects went on.

Your cohort are people you can turn to for help and bouncing ideas off as you will all be aware of the data. If the problem is larger than the cohort then The Information Lab is full of amazingly talented people – who are at your disposal! Ask them if you’re stuck – they are so helpful and have the time to help you. This is a massive part of the DS and The Information Lab so definitely make use of it!

Also – feel free to work and present in pairs or teams if that helps you get the data analysed and the insights communicated.

Feed back to each other – and not just the negative

Always try to have a post-presentation team and coach huddle. But, remember to be positive too. It helps to learn from the project during these sessions, though occasionally it can get too negative. This is unsurprising as it’s an intense weekly project, with real client expectations and time limitations, but the highlights need remembering too!

Use one laptop to present from

It’s more professional and feels like a cleaner presentation. It also saves time from not switching laptops – especially if presenting through Webex too as changing whose screen is presenting is very faffy.

A great way to do this, and actually showcases another product, is to upload all of the workbooks onto Tableau Server. The Information Lab has one and creating a project folder with your team’s workbooks in looks very professional and organised. Clients will often also have servers so this helps them too.

Tip – when using one laptop, usually the project managers, make sure everything has opened, loaded and run (in the case of Alteryx workflows) before the start of the presentation. You will be working with big data sets and it will take a few minutes to run and this is awkward for you and the client!


Within the 3 hours of time on the Friday morning rehearse your part, ideally on the big screen, in the big space. This hugely helps with your storytelling, especially if you can do this to someone not as close to the project, like a member of the other cohort.

This is also a great way of deciding on some good examples to pull out when demonstrating the filters and parameter options on the client’s data ahead of time.

Don’t be afraid to have notes. It’s better to look something up than flounder and not know it. They also help to remind you of your plan and reassures you that you’ve prepared.

At the start describe what your particular part of the project is and what objectives you’ve tried to answer, then describe any project specific terminology for those that aren’t familiar with the project, or any fields you’ve created or design decisions. We know it as it’s in our heads, but they don’t so need to describe what’s in the screen to describe it more.

When presenting Alteryx workflows, it’s often not necessary to go through every tool. If it’s a complex part of the flow then by all means go through the formulas, but generally saying what you’ve done in each section is often enough, whilst still engaging the client/ those watching.

Describe, describe, describe! When presenting, especially over a Webex or in a Webinar, describe everything you’re doing. If you’re presenting to a client and online then you may need to both point and then describe too.

Really utilise the software

Info buttons! You can even use the logos to then give some extra context and richness to the topic. Also, it may seem obvious, but don’t squeeze too much into one chart. This is what a dashboard or a series of dashboards is for and being so close to the data means you’ll end up wanting to keep things simple but show everything which isn’t possible.

When doing stats or Alteryx – show the improvements (and save previous versions!). For example, show where the model or work was on Tuesday – ‘We were here but we’ve managed to narrow down from 80000% to 80%. Or perhaps explain how you reduced it from 8000% to where we are now.

When you present Alteryx, it’s helpful to zoom in to explain stuff, but not so much that you lose context of position within the workflow.

Handing over the work

Save the final presentation material (form both you and the team) as packaged workbooks/ workflows in a final folder within the project folder. This will save time when the final products need to be sent to the client, usually on the Monday.

Document everything really clearly. This is hard to do during the project as you work through problems, but documentation is vital when handing work over – both in Tableau and Alteryx.

Louise has some great tips for documenting in Tableau in her blog here.

Finally – have fun! It’s a great experience to explore new skills, both data-wise and presenting-wise. Seriously don’t worry if you decided to go down a route that doesn’t work out, or struggle pulling things together. It really does happen to all of us and it’s okay! As long as you learn something from the project, you’ll have used the project time well.

I hope you’ve found this helpful! If you’d like to know more about the Data School – have a read of DS11’s reflective blogs this week!

Fri 01 Feb 2019

Fri 01 Feb 2019

Fri 01 Feb 2019

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