First, there was “mobile first,” coined by Luke Wroblewski in 2009. But as Tableau’s Josh Lind and Eric Peterson showed at FutureStack16 in San Francisco last month, things soon spun out of control and spawned more than 40 different things developers were supposed to do first. The list ranges from the reasonable, like “cloud first” (for scalability) and “offline first” (for availability) to the increasingly silly, like “fail first” (automated testing before code) and “German first” (to make sure even long words will fit).

According to Josh and Eric, though, when you’re architecting new apps, sites, systems, and features, first on that list of firsts should be data.

Tableau’s mission is “to help people see and understand their data.” And in their talk, Josh (team lead, marketing web development) and Eric (marketing manager systems engineer) made it their mission to convince attendees that becoming data driven is the key to success.

Why we should all be data-driven

Josh Lind of Tableau, futurestack presentation

Josh Lind of Tableau

A data-driven culture, according to Josh and Eric, values objectivity and shared success over subjectivity and personal preference. By supporting your opinions and perspectives with data, you can define questions instead of simply asserting beliefs. “Data is a team sport,” they said, and “data is the way to align people” toward common goals.

Without data, lines of communication can become blurred. That’s especially true when designers are talking to devs, or devs are talking to the business, or the business is talking to … well, you get the idea. Why struggle to translate an idea when you can simply (as Josh and Eric said) #PutAChartOnIt?

The importance of instrumentation and analytics

Also integral to a data-driven approach is establishing instrumentation and analytics the moment you have a minimum viable product. The data coming will be invaluable in steering user experience and overall direction as your products and systems evolve.

eric peterson of tableau, futurestack presentation

Eric Peterson of Tableau

As an example, Josh and Eric explained how Tableau uses data to help convert trial customers into paying subscribers. A commitment to logging every single event—no matter how insignificant it may seem—furnishes the company with a wealth of potentially useful information.

By tracking what content trialing customers download as well as what positions those users hold in their companies, Tableau can curate and refine a specific selection of white papers, webinars, and other resources relevant for each individual customer.

For example, if the data shows that analysts are typically more interested than VPs in a white paper entitled Visual Analytics Best Practices, that particular piece of content can be placed front and center for analysts, while VPs might see it displayed less prominently.

Data-driven strategies for success

The data evangelists completed off their talk with five strategies for achieving an effective data-driven culture:

  1. Instrument everywhere and everything.
  2. Make your scenario coverage scalable.
  3. Separate data gathering from analysis.
  4. Focus on speed to insight—make your data count.
  5. Find your sweet spot—figure out what (and how much) data works for you.

To see Josh and Eric’s hilarious, off-the-wall talk in full—including their list of firsts kicked off with an awesome Space Odyssey tribute intro—watch the video below:


Photos: © Andrew Weeks Photography.

B.J. Hinshaw is a freelance writer based in Northern California. View posts by .

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