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Please add Hill Chart App

Topic Labels: Extensions
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I would really like a ‘Hill Chart’ app to be supported.
To learn more about hill charts, see here.
The implementation could be simple - a table with a numeric scale of 1-100 (or 0-1) and a date. Each entry in the table results in a plot on the app at the relative location on the hill with date annotated.

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It already is supported, but not easily.

I love hill charts and I’ve used them with a number of clients. While the work at Basecamp was certainly inspirational, there are many instances of this data visualization that intersect with the basic concepts. It is truly an appealing visual and when people look at it, they get it immediately.

One of the issues with the Basecamp example is that it depends on human inputs over and above the usual and customary data collection in a project management process. Using this data instead of allowing them to create subjective interpretations of where projects are or to forget to update the chart, or people make mistakes – is a mess waiting to happen.

Data Visualization Rule #1 - If the visualization is dependent on people who must drag a single control to show high-level project status, it will almost always be misleading.

Instead, I tend to fully automate hill chart interpretations based on status indications in the project management data. This could be a collection of sub-tasks, or a long list of classified tasks. Whatever the case, hill charts must…

  1. Render objective measures as much as possible
  2. Do so automatically
  3. Be able to drill in to display increasingly granular views.

#3 is critical for teams - they need to see the big picture and a similar vision that breaks the project into smaller chunks - i.e., classes of tasks.

By combining the new Vega Lite charting feature with some relatively intricate javascript (through automation or script block), you can fashion a charting system that transforms your project data into a clean visual like this:


I created this mock-up example because none of my clients has authorized me to display their data. But it provides a clear understanding that it is possible.

Got approval to show a real one -


Thanks @Bill.French - this is great !!!
Would you be able to share the vega-lite settings ?

Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. The Vega code is 300 lines alone with many external dependencies.

As I mentioned this is not a trivial undertaking. It requires an extremely complex collection of Vega layers embedded with conditions based on another set of Airtable conditions. Then there’s the script process that keeps the Airtable resources up to date.

Lastly, there’s the normal distribution math that is not easily performed in Airtable and must be called from a web service.

I shared all this code with a colleague last year and that created an endless time-sink that cost me a week. It requires a lot of polish and documentation before it can be released openly.

This is similar to my research and solution for full-text indexing; I want to share it openly but doing so has proven to be a liability so I will do so only under a professional services project.

My approach is possible and you can tackle this - here are some hints.

  • Vega layers - 5 in all; each of three layer separates the distribution line, circles, and project names. Two additional layers provide right and left transformations. The layers are required for a host of reasons.
  • Vega conditions - these serve to apply color and left/right renderings.
  • Web service to fit a normal distribution curve of the dynamic array of tracked projects.
  • An Airtable table to manage the rendered project data and provide the hover points in alignment with the normal distribution.
  • Script action to update the table and interpret the status of each project.

For my clients who deeply care about project management, this is practical, but certainly not practical in every case. Cool doesn’t always mean practical when the price of cool is added complexity.

But… one thing that is undeniable is just how well this visualization technique is appreciated by managers.