What is a data table?

You have captured your process knowledge. Elements can support Requirements and User Stories. But now you want to add ideas for improvement, capture pain points, identify risks, or manage users authorizations. You're using Lean, Six Sigma, FMEA techniques. You want to add some custom fields to your Reference model nodes - or capture any metadata in context of any object in Elements. That's what data tables are for.

So how does this get used? Let's say you want to have some simple fields to capture suggested KPIs across your process activities. You want to identify and categorize risks. You want to capture and note improvement opportunities or pain points in a structured way across many activities and multiple diagrams. Not just that - you want to report on all that information, too. Whatever you want to capture to add structured information to your diagrams at the activity level, you can create a data table template, attach it to an activity, requirement, reference model node, and add one or more records to each attachment.

Like a row in a spreadsheet attached to an activity box

Put another way: a data table is a set of records of structured information stored against any number of activities within a map or multiple maps. You can think of it like a ‘user definable row of information in a spreadsheet’. Each row is associated with a record (a filled-in table), captured against an activity. You define what the title of each column is as the structure. Each time you add a record to an activity, it’s like adding another row to your spreadsheet. The difference is that the information contained in your Process Maps is automatically included in your "spreadsheet view", is relatable through reporting, and can be filtered to give you powerful insights and perspectives on all the process related information you are capturing.

When you set up a data table, you define how you want the data to be entered. Back to the spreadsheet analogy: it’s like saying “the cell in this column is a pick-list from the following, the next cell is free text, the next one is a nested list, the next one is y/n option, the next one...”, and so on. You can even say which are mandatory to be filled in and which are optional.

Now you attach the empty data tables to whatever activities are appropriate within your map. When relevant, you open the data table attachment, and add a record like a filled row on a spreadsheet containing information in the context of the activity that the data table is attached to.

Now you can run reports across a scope of Diagrams within your map and generate useful, actionable process knowledge. Where are all of our outstanding pain points, which activities do they relate to, and who is responsible for those? Which activities have we identified that could be automated or enhanced by the latest new functionality in this Salesforce Release? Which parts of our business will be impacted by us merging three instances of Salesforce, and need to have the new end to end processes included in UAT?

How can I start using data tables?

Data Table Managers can create and edit data tables and report on the resulting data table relationships across your maps. Click here to see how to give someone ‘Data Table Manager’ rights

To create or edit a data table go to the "Manage Spaces" page and select Data Tables from the left menu.

Once you are in Space Management you can select "Data Tables" in the left panel. 

Click on New Data Table to create a new one, or select an existing data table from the list and click on Switch to Edit Mode.

Define the fields in the data table by dragging and dropping fields onto a form. The form is what end users use to add data. Once you have defined the data table you can add data tables to activities.

Editing headings, fields, data table names: if you want to change the name of the data table, or any of the headings or template contents it contains, you can do so in edit mode in the right hand panel. Simply edit the name or field inline. Note: to save your changes you must click anywhere in the right panel BEFORE you select your next data table item to edit, or your changes will be discarded.

Using data tables

Each Team or Public Space in Elements contains a library of data tables. Think of them as ‘blank form templates’ for filling in that row in the spreadsheet. It’s up to you and your fellow team members to create a library of blank template data tables. Once you have the data table library in the team, you can attach a blank form to any activity to provide fields to capture information about that activity. Once attached, you can add a record (fill in the form against that activity).

If you copy a map to your space that contains data tables, the associated data table will be added to your space's library, so you can easily get other useful data tables into your team and copy ones you find useful to other teams.

Can you provide a simple example of using a data table?

Say you want to identify which activities have problems associated with them. It would be useful to know how severe the problems are, what type of impact (quality, time, cost, customer experience etc…).

So, you could

  • create a data table (give it a title – here let’s say “Pain Points”)
  • Add some fields to the data table (here, text description of problem, then a drop down list of Severity; low, medium, high, drop then the ‘type of impact’; quality, time, cost, customer experience etc…)
  • From now on, anyone in the Space you created this data table in can add it as an attachment to an activity box (right click on an activity box, select attachment, data table, “Pain Points”)
  • Having added the data table, you then need to click on the attachment to “add a record”
  • Once you have captured your pain points across the processes you’ve mapped, you can then report on them. (for example: show me all activities with High Severity Pain Points. You can then filter by type of impact e.g. customer experience etc.)

Since you can create any custom structure, and even extend it later, this simple concept provides enormously powerful and comprehensive analytical capabilities by building relationships between specific activities within your maps and structured metadata about those activities.

So what kinds of things do people use them for?

Pretty much anything! Gap analysis. Documenting risks and pain points. Opportunities for improvements. Categorizing the types of change, issues or capturing information in a structured and repeatable way about anything. You can also extend the System Requirements or Reference model node capture in Elements for Salesforce.com, SAP, Workday etc. Custom development. Regulatory requirements. Embedding Lean Six Sigma tools and techniques into your process models. Identifying risks, highlighting and detailing business controls, process feedback, open issues, waste, risk, FMEA, VOC (Voice Of Customer), bottlenecks, etc. The list is limited only to what information it would be VALUABLE to capture and make visible in the context of your Process Knowledge.

Clearly, they can be used for adding almost any metadata into your process descriptions. The question is why, and for what purpose. Used well, they can be very powerful – if in doubt, contact us at success@elements.cloud to discuss what you’re planning to use them for and access our extensive experience.

You first define and configure the list of data and selectable options you want to capture in a data table. You can then attach the data table to any number of activity boxes. Any user that has access to the diagram can then click on the data table which pops up a form to add a new structured record. The reports aggregate the data for a data table across all the activity boxes.

Adding data tables to activities

Attaching a data table is simple. Any Diagram Editor can right mouse click on an activity box and attach the data table.

Populating data tables with records

Any user that has edit rights to a diagram can click on the activity box paperclip, select the data table and add a data record using the form that was designed by the Data Table Manager.

Editing a Data Table Template – what happens to existing completed records?

For instance, in the above example (Pain Points), you might want to go back and edit the data table template after you have captured lots of pain point records, adding “deadline to be addressed, Nominated owner, initiative name that will fix it, completed Y/N” etc. Every instance of that data table (i.e. those attached and filled in) would now have these additional fields. People could then fill in this additional information in the existing records and report on subsequent progress.

Reporting on Data Tables across a map

You report on data table data by running the report from any diagram. You set the scope of the report – this diagram or this diagram and lower levels. So to report on a map, you run the report from the top level diagram. You can filter and reorder columns in the reporting capability in Elements, or export the report to Excel as appropriate. See reporting for more detail.

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