How do I graph/chart this information in a way that tells the whole story?
February 10, 2010 4:10 AM   Subscribe

I need to graph/chart the information below, but I am not sure what format tells the whole story. Can you help?

My company has a lot of meetings with foreign nationals. Various suboffices within the company and occasionally the head of the company conduct these meetings with varying numbers of foreign associates. We want to graph/chart/visually capture this activity in a way that shows:

* What offices in our company are conducting the meetings
* WHEN they are conducting them (I'd like to have either the x or y axis be the months of the year, so we can see our annual coverage)

I can do a regular graph in PowerPoint that includes the numbers of foreign nationals met with and categorizes our internal agencies by color. OK.

But here's what I can't seem to capture: The numbers or frequency of some offices' meetings don't really tell the whole story. The head of the company's meetings are clearly more significant than the others. He might have just one meeting with just one foreign partner, but that meeting can be more significant for our company than countless weekly working meetings some other section has.

Final information: The reasons we are making this chart are 1) to capture what we do to see where our coverage is and where we may have gaps 2) to prioritize our resources.

So, graphic information specialists and other Mefites, what do you think? How can I meaningfully display this data in one graph?

posted by laskagirl to Work & Money (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Is it more significant that there are *a lot* of foreign nationals there or is it more significant at the frequency of the foreign nationals being there. One meeting with 30 people vs 15 meetings with 2 people?

Is there a rank of importance in forein nationals 4 Peons + 2 Grunts = (4x1+2x3=10) is as important as 2 Committee Chairs (2x5=10)? In other words, can you assign every meeting a score that would obtain buy-off from your manager? Is there a group of individuals which always trump others (CEOs, Vice Presidents, etc.)?

Is there a concern about duration of meeting (6 30 minute meetings vs 1 3 hour meeting)?

A 3 day meeting falling on January 3,4,5 is clear. Do you consider a Meeting on January 31, Feb 1, Feb 2 3 January meetings or 1 meeting in January and 2 meetings in February?

Lastly, is one room more important than another?
posted by Nanukthedog at 5:00 AM on February 10, 2010

Best answer: X axis is period of time, Y axis is number of visits. Use circles to indicate the number of visits, so it looks something like this:


That undoubtedly looks horrible, but you know what I'm getting at. Then, color code the circles by office. Vary them in size by significance/seniority of the visit. Smaller is less important, bigger is more important.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 5:32 AM on February 10, 2010

I think using a calendar would help, like a souped-up version of Google Calendar pages, especially if there are seasonal dimensions to the work. Put the months in a grid on a single sheet of paper and then use a combination of colors and symbols to represent the sub-divisions and outcomes. If folks from the orange group were meeting with two different prospects on the same day, that could be shown. If it's important to know how many people attended the shape could be thicker or deeper in shade (you could also indicate how many of your people were involved that way vs total attendees), perhaps in ranges (1-5, 5-10, etc). Or you might want to reserve the most visually striking indicators for deal size or some other factor you want to understand. A multi-day meeting could stretch out across several days. A meeting that lead to a success could have a pattern overlay or an asterisk over the core color that was easy to see. And/or the contract outcomes could be numbered so you could see that the yellow group first met on the matter, then the blue, then the CEO. This system would also allow you to see that x type of contract or group took y months to reach fruition. It's intuitive, but don't force so many variables that the graphic becomes cluttered and hard to see.
posted by carmicha at 5:39 AM on February 10, 2010

Oh and if this is for a PowerPoint presentation, you could make a "build" for the calendar that added the information one type at a time, e.g., by sub-unit or deal type or whatever is important. Not all information is best shown in a graph.
posted by carmicha at 5:43 AM on February 10, 2010

Maybe a more free-form timeline instead of a data-driven graph. Months or quarters across the top, then rank the meetings by significance, and you can still color-code by agency. Or use stars for the CEO, circles for VPs, and triangles for peon-level meetings. This gives you some flexibility to show longer meetings as rectangles or thick lines stretching across several days, too.

You could do one overall page for the year, and then drill down on subsequent pages for detail by month/quarter, depending on how many meetings there are. Tiny text boxes next to or inside the horizontal bars can show exact dates of meetings, or initials of participants.

Or, you could plot the meetings directly on a map. Assign meetings a rank (by importance to the company, number of participants), and use bigger or smaller bubbles to indicate importance, and then use colors for timing. Or reuse the symbols from the overall timeline for importance.
posted by mgar at 5:46 AM on February 10, 2010

Does it really have to be one graph? If you could have a separate graph for each office, I would go with... well, I'm not sure what it's called, but it's a bar plot with time along x and number of meetings on y. Then, on top of your "total meetings" bars, you plot your "meetings with big boss" bars (kind of like in the plot here, except with vertical bars).

Because the number of boss meetings can never exceed the total number of meetings, there's no problem in stacking the bars. And if you put all the graphs of the different offices on the same x and y scales and the same slide (easy unless you have more than 6 or so), it will still be very easy to compare offices.
posted by McBearclaw at 6:59 AM on February 10, 2010

Best answer: I see this as a scatter plot with each office on the Y axis and days of the year on the X axis. Dots show when and where a meeting takes place. You might want to do two versions of this: one with the Y axis ordered by number of meetings per year, and another with the Y axis ordered by the "big cheese"-iness of the meeting.

The whole point of information visualization is to bring hidden information to light. Different visualizations will highlight different aspects of the information, so no one chart is necessarily "right." Calendrical views, maps, histograms, etc, will all show you something slightly different, but each might show you something valuable. So don't restrict yourself.
posted by adamrice at 8:44 AM on February 10, 2010

For a more generic treatment of these types of problems, with a process-oriented approach, check out The Back Of The Napkin by Dan Roam.
posted by cross_impact at 9:56 AM on February 10, 2010

- How many different offices are we talking about? Two? Fifteen?

- Do you need to worry about making it work well for colorblind people? In other words, how large is the audience? If it's just you and a few bosses who you know, color is probably good. If it's 20 people you don't really know, and there's a chance the top guy or guys is colorblind, then a red/green differentiation isn't your best choice.

- Does your "when" question have answers in terms of specific months, specific weeks, months every year (i.e. "April is a big month for us as you can see from the past five years"), hours during the day (i.e. "We tend to always schedule meetings during our working day, even though our most important collaborators are in Asia"), or triggered by an event (i.e. "We have a ton of meetings at the beginning and endings of projects, not so much in the middle)? The answers you want to obtain would affect whether one of your axes were "Jan Feb Mar" or "2009 week 1; 2009 week 2" etc.
posted by amtho at 11:26 AM on February 10, 2010

Response by poster: I ended up doing a combination of the above. I used a bubble chart in which the bubbles were distributed along an x axis that represented the year. The y axis was divided by departments. The size of the bubbles represented the number of foreign officials. And the colors of the bubbles represented the type of event (four categories; examples: reception, athletics, coordination meeting, etc.)

Thanks, MeFiers!
posted by laskagirl at 6:11 AM on February 5, 2011

« Older Understanding crazy girls...possible?   |   Robust Tablet PC - exists? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.