Harvey Balls: A Good Way to Ramp Back Up

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As you may have noticed, my blogging here over the past couple of months has been pretty sparse. That was largely because I was winding down one job, taking a “break” between jobs, and then ramping up in my new job. The first was mentally exhausting, the second was physically exhausting, and the third was back to mentally exhausting. Plus, I’ve gone from a company with 35 employees to a company with 38,000, and I wanted to get my feet wet and see if there were guidelines of any sort regarding this sort of blogging by employees. What I’ve found out is that they’re really embracing social media as it should be embraced, so I’m excited that I’ll get to start blogging on data management (specifically address management). But…that’s not this post!

I’ve been sitting in on some vendor selection meetings in my new role, and, today, I was part of a “summary and recommendations” presentation review that had a really nice use of “Harvey Balls” on the key summary slide. Harvey balls? These things, which you might be familiar with from Consumer Reports:

Wikipedia has a brief, yet interesting, history on the subject, including some practical tips for actually putting them to use.

I was struck by how effective they were at providing summary information. In today’s case, they were used to iconically represent the roll-up of ratings for groups of vendor requirements. It worked. Obviously, there is a loss of granularity here, but, in the situation today, we were looking at 8 different groups of requirements across three different alternatives, so we were still looking at 24 summary data points on a single, clean slide (there was also some subtle background shading that prioritized the groups of requirements, which almost worked…but we decided that sorting the groups from highest to lowest would probably do the trick as well).

There’s a part of me that sees a circle and thinks “pie chart” and cringes. But these really aren’t pie charts. Well…actually…they sorta’ are…but I’m still okay with them. Now, if someone started trying to use 100 different Harvey Balls where the granularity of each “wedge” was deeper than just a quadrant, I’d have a problem with it.

Overall, it’s one more tool for my (and your) data visualization toolkit!

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