Alter Everything

A podcast about data science and analytics culture.
Alteryx Alumni (Retired)

Why should you take the time to make your workflows look neat and pretty? (Hint: your team – and your subconscious – will thank you.)









Dawn Joella title card.png




Episode Transcription

MADDIE: 00:00

Welcome to Alter Everything, a podcast about data science and analytics culture. I'm Maddie Johannsen, and for today's episode I got to speak with Dawn Duong and Joella Chua. Dawn is one of our Alteryx ACEs, and she's a senior director with Alvarez & Marsal in Singapore, doing transaction advisory services.

DAWN: 00:18

So I've been a user of Alteryx for five, six years, and advanced certified. So Alteryx has been something that I found along the way, and I really like that I found it.

MADDIE: 00:30

That's great. Welcome. And Joella, let's jump to you. Joining Dawn is her colleague, Joella, who is a senior associate, also at Alvarez & Marsal.

JOELLA: 00:40

Dawn has been my mentor, and she is the one who sparked my interest in Alteryx. So actually, I wasn't too sure that I wanted to learn it. But once you get your head in the game, you kind of want to do even more and more challenges and get better at it. So yeah, similar to Dawn, I'm Alteryx advanced certified.

MADDIE: 01:01

I'm excited to share this conversation with you all because you're going to leave with a ton of tips for how to work efficiently in a team using Alteryx, how to keep your workflows neat and pretty, and how you can set your workflows up to do the talking for you. Let's get started. [music] So let's kick this off by talking about teams. So you guys work together, and your jobs require maybe a specific skillset of knowing Alteryx or using the platform as a way of enabling you to do your jobs. And I'm curious if you find that people who are in roles like yours, if there's similar skillsets on teams like yours. Or do you find that there's often knowledge gaps?

DAWN: 01:46

Right. In the same team, we find that different people are good at different things. So when I talk about different skillset, it's more around every one of us will have a common foundation. And then everyone will be better at something or not so good at something. But everybody will have the minimum requirements on a certain skillset. This is very important for a team like us, because your colleagues or your teammates-- our colleagues', our teammates' input will be another colleagues' or teammates' output, and vice versa. So I wouldn't call it gaps. It's more of knowing how we fit together as a team and where the strengths are, so that we can leverage our combined skillset the right way.

DAWN: 02:29

As to the second part of your question that pertains to knowledge gap, I think what is interesting about a [inaudible] team is nobody will know everything. And a lot of times, it's actually drawing from experience of the combined team. And when we talk it out, somehow one plus one is greater than two. So I would call knowledge gap is more of a function of experience and a function of how we have invested in ourself in learning about general knowledge and sector knowledge, market economic knowledge. And overlay that knowledge to the skill. Because skill without knowledge is useless, and knowledge without skill is helpless, right.

MADDIE: 03:07


DAWN: 03:08

Yeah. So Joella, add in.

JOELLA: 03:09

In terms of knowledge, people bring different knowledge and skillsets onboard. And as a team, how we kind of align our knowledge would be to set ground rules. For example, Dawn has had rules in Alteryx, which kind of makes sense after awhile. Because, for example, how she sets up her files as an input folder, output folder, and workflow. For me, I'm a super messy person. So doing that brings some order into things. And also, the way she organizes her workflow, it really helps anyone who gets onboard and just takes on your Alteryx workflow to understand your thought process, rather than go through a mess. Which is really helpful in that sense.

DAWN: 04:04

Yeah. Thank you, Joella. I didn't realize that you were messy. [laughter] Because her work doesn't look messy. Yeah.

MADDIE: 04:11

Yeah. It's always interesting to me to find out more about a person when it comes to, you are a really creative thinker, or, you're really organized, or just whatever kind of skillset that you do bring to the table. It's always really interesting to find out about that person. And it sounds like your team specifically, it's a great example of that, that you are all bringing something to the table, and you're really capitalizing on those strengths. I think that's really cool. And that kind of leads, then, perfectly to my next question. And I'm wondering, when you are thinking about communicating, when it comes to Alteryx, and when it comes to using these tools and different platforms for, like we were saying earlier, enabling you to do your best work, what are some tips that you have for communicating effectively about projects where you're using Alteryx?

DAWN: 05:05

I'd like to volunteer Joella. [laughter] So Joella, tell me, tell me, what have you found useful when we work together? What are the various things that we do together as a team that you have found to be useful in enabling communication?

JOELLA: 05:19

Well, I mentioned certain ground rules as one helpful thing. The second thing would be putting in checks. For example, I didn't know how to put in checks properly. Dawn actually took the time and had patience to guide me through how to put in soft checks, and then using the summary tool to make a summary of your data that you have already processed, and how to use that as a check in your workflow. That is really helpful, because if you don't know, you just process the data, and then you just use it, which is so risky. Yeah. So that's one of the tools that we use.

DAWN: 06:04

I'm so happy you found that useful, Joella. [laughter] Because I was so worried that you guys were like, "Oh, this nitpicking person." Yeah. So Joella is a very good team member. Yeah. Maybe I can chime in here. Part of the very important aspect of communication is to get the team buy-in. So I'm so glad that I think Joella bought in to my idea. And the idea buy-in is not possible without knowing why we're doing what we're doing. So setting the ground rules, putting in the how behind it, right. It's always important if we can explain to the team why doing that helps us together combined. For this case, we work in a team, and the data is really, really, really a lot. It's not a lot in the sense that we've got a trillion gigabytes, whatever, right. It's a lot in the sense that we have a lot of [inaudible] pieces. And making sure that they talk to each other in a coherent way is not easy. So how to make sure that every step we take takes us in the right direction. And not go back to where we were last month, for example, is important. So getting a team buy-in into why they have to spend the time doing this, and what it adds to and it saves time in the long run, instead of just another admin task they do, is very important. So the context of that will kind of help to put the ground rules, help to put a check, which is part of the ground rules, I think, in perspective.

DAWN: 07:30

And one thing I found also useful for me is, once you get the team to buy-in, make sure that communication doesn't rely on a single person. Meaning that whoever buys-in starts becoming the advocate, not becoming the people who take away my role, but explains to the next person. Right. Joella usually does a very good job of that. So after I explain to Joella and other more senior team members, they will take on the task of guiding and checking. So that's how communication doesn't stop where it ended, but it continues, and it grows, and we leverage on whatever that was built up.

MADDIE: 08:06

Yeah. Well, and it's interesting because I think the biggest thing that I am taking away from this-- all really great points, but overall, to summarize, it sounds like there's no ego on the team.

DAWN: 08:17

Oh, yes. No ego. [laughter]

MADDIE: 08:19

Yeah. And I love that. I think that that sounds so healthy, and I could see it helping with productivity, and efficiency. And just to all of the points that you're saying, none of that could happen if you have people who aren't bought-in, and people who don't want to take the feedback, or people who don't want to use checks and stuff like that. So I think that that sounds like a really healthy environment. And I'm wondering, how did you get there? Because as we were talking about earlier, everybody is so different. And what if it is hard for people to either give feedback or take feedback? And how do you kind of just open up your team as being a safe space for people to just be really focused on the work and getting it done in the right way?

DAWN: 09:03

Right. So I'm just speaking from personal experience. To me, I believe in leading by example. Meaning that I can't convince people if I don't buy-in myself. And in order for me to buy-in to my own idea, I need to make sure it is then correct. So basically, behind every 15-minute conversation with team members, I spend two hours to check every corner and prepare for every question that may come up. I think it's okay to do one time, two times, three times. But it's walking the talk in a consistent manner is very important. Because trust is not built overnight, and I believe that only when there's consistency, then the team can say that whatever I try to convince them, it's something that I myself have bought-in and spent effort. And if they trust me enough as a senior person with the right experience in place, then it's one round of validation before they actually have to go with it. Somebody has tried it, and it worked. It's not like, "I got an idea. Let's just do it." Yeah. So I think that's walking the talk and making sure that when I take on the responsibility of convincing my team, I put on an appropriate amount of checking and convincing myself, to prove that I'm not leading people in the wrong direction.

DAWN: 10:21

Another aspect I think is very important for communication is, people need to be honest. You really be honest and open up. I feel in everything, being honest and open about it is very important. It's very tiring having to second-guess what a person is trying to say. And we talk about communication here, right. Yeah. So in my team, there is a rule that it's okay to call a mistake that a more senior member makes. In fact, there's a running joke in my team that if I make a mistake, and they spot it, they earn a [inaudible] reward.

MADDIE: 11:00

Fun. [laughter]

JOELLA: 11:02

Right. Yeah. As Dawn mentioned, leading by example, not only-- Dawn, for example, she was the one who inspired me, that, for myself, when you do things, it doesn't matter how senior or junior you are, just doing things with the knowledge that it's okay to make mistakes. That's one thing that makes it a safe environment to learn and really helps everyone's learning as a whole.

MADDIE: 11:27

Yeah. I love when people give me feedback. And I also like giving feedback. I'm getting a little bit more comfortable with it. I think it's definitely still a work in progress. But it's nice to have a relationship with somebody or your team and be open to new ideas. I think that's really important. So my last question is, Alteryx is so unique in that anybody can create a workflow, and it might look different than how somebody else would make a workflow. But you're going to get the same result, right? And I think the weekly challenges on community are such a good example of this, where we have hundreds of people responding to the challenge, but they're all getting the same answer. But every workflow looks different. And when we're talking about communication and working in teams using Alteryx, what are some key things-- and I don't know if this is abstract, or if you have anything specific. But what are some key things that really help to streamline process, so that way-- Joella, as you were saying, your workflows look different than Dawn's. How do you set up your workflows in a way that, let's say that Dawn needs to access Joella's workflow, that she can pick it up and know what's going on without having to look into Joella's brain? How does the workflow do the talking for you?

JOELLA: 12:41

As I mentioned, the ground rules, so that everyone can follow your train of thought, in terms of where the workflow begins, where it ends, and what things are mandatory in your workflow, for example, checks that are mandatory.

DAWN: 12:59

So when you talk about communication - and Joella has rightly pointed out - it's, I think, the ground rules. The ground rules are important because people know when they take over someone else's work, what are the things that they definitely can rely on because they know it's there. So one ground rule we have is, don't mix input, output, and process, and proper naming. So when people go through my input, they will know 1A go to workflow 1A, 1B go to workflow 1B, and so on. That's a sequential one. Unless you are a really special character, you will usually go through one, two, three, and four, [inaudible]. [laughter] Right. So that's ground rules. Giving easy names, clear organization, and let the presentation do the talking, so that intuitively, you don't have to think too hard about, where should I start. When you've got 20 workflows, it feels like, which one do I start, right. So we go 1A, 1B, 1C, 1D, and so on. And it corresponds to the input folder. And then it'll go to the output, and so on and so forth.

DAWN: 13:58

The second ground rule is, workflow has to be pretty. When you look at the mess on the screen, the first reaction is, must be wrong. [laughter] So they have to be neat and pretty so that it's easy for people to read. Because I find that our subconscious mind is very powerful. When you look at something for the first two seconds, actually, we get 80% of what it's about. So make sure it's neat, and make sure that it's easy to understand. Small things like don't make the Y cross each other too often, for example. These are small rules, and they're more aesthetics. But it has a bigger impact than pure aesthetics. It enables readability.

DAWN: 14:35

The third ground rule, as Joella alluded to before, is making sure that the person in the team has confidence that you've done the right thing, by showing that you have checks. So in our team, we build three levels of checks. The first check is, make sure your output makes sense. If your output doesn't make sense, forget about it. I don't care how confident you are through the process. If the output doesn't make sense, then it's wrong, right. So it's the output check. The second check is, internally, at each of the steps, especially where we have major transformation, we need to put in some check to make sure that numbers still tie your-- like when 100 plus 200, it doesn't become 5,000, for example. Especially when you do merging of files and the instances. So there's the logic checks that we have along the way. And the third check is, I mentioned output before. So there is a blend between logic and output, meaning that we have intermediate results. Make sure that intermediate results are consistent across. Because sometimes we may not be correct 100%, but we can create lending space and say, "Okay. I'm not confident with my 100%, but I'm confident after 25 [inaudible] and I'll fix the remaining part." In this way, it takes the fatigue out of the thinking as well. Because after awhile, you go crazy, right? At least you know where you are and set up milestones, so that we know where we stop and where we start.

DAWN: 16:02

It's not just about communicating with the team members, but also-- maybe I wake up the next day, and I forgot what I did the day before. [laughter] It helps us to have some lending point as well, especially when the work is [inaudible] and it requires multi-day efforts.

JOELLA: 16:19

Something [inaudible] specific parts of your workflow and separate sections. And that would help the reader of your workflow know the thought process. And I also think Dawn's workflow always has these boxes on what does part of the workflow mean, which is really helpful if you want to understand what she's thinking and how she organizes it. Which is a good practice that you can learn from.

MADDIE: 16:49

Yeah. Absolutely. Thank you both so much for sharing those tips. I think, yeah, the details are so important. And I'm sure our audience can relate. And if they're struggling with organization or communicating with their team when it comes to their workflows, hopefully these tips will help them. So thank you both so much for joining me. This has been such a wonderful conversation, and I'm so glad that we were able to make it happen. [music]

JOELLA: 17:13

Thank you.

DAWN: 17:14

Thank you for inviting us.

MADDIE: 17:16

Thanks for listening. Join us at, where you can find links and resources, including links to our user groups. Dawn and Joella are part of the Singapore user group, and we encourage you to join in on the fun and learn more from Alteryx users like them. Catch you next time. [music]


This episode of Alter Everything was produced by Maddie Johannsen (@MaddieJ).
Special thanks to @andyuttley for the theme music track, and @TaraM for our album artwork.