Business Intelligence teams need the cooperation of stakeholders across business units and roles when it comes to collecting, aggregating, and analyzing data on the enterprise level. How might these stakeholders be persuaded to adopt a standard set of mindsets and methods that lead to trustworthy and ultimately valuable data flows?

It all starts with understanding what motivates them. And as with most challenges, visual thinking is a powerful way to peel back the layers.

I have been lucky enough to learn from and work with the talented team at XPLANE on several projects with large enterprise clients. XPLANE combines the “strategic expertise of a management consultancy with the creative power of a design studio” to help clients clarify their understanding of complex situations and communicate important information in effective ways. 

Images have been scrubbed to protect the client’s identity.



Final deliverable.

In 2013 I was invited to contribute to XPLANE’s first engagement with a new client, the business intelligence unit of a major bank. The client was about to launch a major internal initiative to update their  data collection standards and pipelines in an effort to create a centralized collection of clean and consistent data from its many siloed business units. They came to us to create internal communication artifacts that would describe these changes and help persuade key stakeholders to cooperate with this top-down guidance. 

To get started, our small team traveled to the client’s headquarters and spent a day with eight VPs and managers to learn more and establish the key components of a narrative that we’d be communicating via a poster and animated video that would ultimately be shared with managers across the company

Research & Discovery

We assembled a series of visual thinking exercises that we worked through with the group, and visually recorded everything we learned in real time. This was an invaluable way to help all the stakeholders present have a great sense of what we—and their own colleagues—were thinking, and let us quickly validate or course-correct our understanding of a myriad of complex topics. Early on in the meeting we agreed that both deliverables would offer a narrative from the point of view of a business unit manager, the focal audience for this communication effort. Thus, most of our activities focused on understanding this persona and how we might persuade them to willingly embrace this new data regimen.

Back at the XPLANE office, we recognized that we’d need to understand two correlated processes: the data-centric architecture and flow, and the human-centric series of interactions with those flows. Using a combination of hand-sketched notecards and rapidly produced flow charts, I was able to identify the parts of these flows that I was still fuzzy on, and quickly validate my understanding with the client. 

From there, we started exploring how we might best visualize these flows for rapid and effective communication to the audience we’d identified. Over the course of several calls with the client, we progressively moved toward a representation of two growing data stores, a smaller one to represent individual business units, and a larger one to represent the enterprise-level aggregate. We also utilized these calls to validate and refine all of the copy and blurbs, which I was also responsible for.

Design Iterations

We presented a number of stylistic treatment options to the client, and they chose to run with a pseudo-isomorphic style. From this point I worked with a digital illustrator to convert the lo-fi working illustration into a polished handoff. 

Art Direction

The illustrator produced a kick-ass set of character illustrations and palette options, and I wound up rebuilding the “towers” and color applications for the final deliverable. Between this poster and the complementary video, the client was psyched and reported a successful response and rate of adoption to this internal campaign. Even better for XPLANE, this proved to be a strong start to a long and lucrative relationship with this client.

Final Deliverable