Data analysts test their mettle in competition to benefit Mott Patient Technology

Approximately a 5-minute read

The Iron Viz first-place Top Video Games dashboard, designed by Plotts and Mayman, features visualizations for analyzing the most popular video games by age, by gender, and by the youngest victors. The dashboard also includes a popular About the Data tab.

Key takeaways:

  • A recent contest, modeled after Iron Viz, the world’s largest data visualization competition, was held to help the Patient Technology Department at Mott.
  • The event was sponsored by PTERADACTYL, a community of practice that stands for People of the Extraordinarily Roundaboutedly Acronymed Data Analytics Club That You Love.
  • The winning team looked at which video games were most popular among patients at Mott. 

Michigan Medicine’s PTERADACTYL* community of practice for data analysts sponsored its second annual Iron Viz contest, held online this past December.

The contest is modeled after Tableau’s Iron Viz — the world’s largest data visualization competition. In the same way that television’s Iron Chefs attempt to turn themed ingredients into recipe masterpieces, Iron Viz participants focus on making data analysis more digestible — and more importantly, actionable — through easy-to-interpret, insightful dashboards.  

The challenge

Participants for this year’s contest were challenged with developing dashboards to assist the Patient Technology Department at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital with their therapeutic gaming and digital technology initiative. 

This department is committed to enhancing the patient experience and supporting healing through the creative use of gaming and emerging technology platforms.

By providing several years of de-identified data for the Iron Viz contest, the goal was to receive useful analytics in the form of visualizations to indicate what’s working and where improvements can be made in their gaming technology approach.   

The teams

Team #1, consisting of business intelligence developer Justin Litzner and business intelligence analysts Gary Jankowski and Roberto Guzman, focused their visualizations on Lego-related games and kits used by Mott patients.

Team #2, composed of manager Beth Plotts and business systems analyst Gillian Mayman, delved into Mott’s video game data to develop their visualizations.

On the day of the competition, both teams presented their dashboards to the 50+ remote attendees at the PTERADACTYL meeting, then judges and audience members had the opportunity to ask questions before voting for their favorites.    

Team #1 decided to divide and conquer, with Litzner focusing on the visualization development, Jankowski digging into the data, and Guzman sharing ideas and reviewing their work.

Litzner explained his visualization approach: “For Iron Viz, I like to try things I’ve seen but haven’t worked with, visualizations that could be interesting or fun.”

That’s how he arrived at incorporating a Sankey diagram for his team’s first visualization — a diagram type used to depict a flow and relationship from one set of values to another. “I hope what we tried can be useful to the Patient Technology team and provides an example for other analysts about what you can accomplish using Tableau,” Litzner said.

The LEGO dashboard, designed by Litzner, Jankowski and Guzman, includes visualizations for analyzing the projects by worker or by the top 10 selected projects. It also features a LEGO Jokes tab.

Asked what prompted Team #2 to focus on video game data, Plotts explained, “Normally when you do an analysis, you start with a question or a problem from the customer. In this case we were given the flexibility of looking at anything we found interesting.”

Having two kids of her own, Plotts was curious about what games Mott’s youngest patients liked to play.

According to Mayman, “We were initially interested in the simple question of which games were most popular with the patients. But it was quickly obvious there were gender differences regarding which patients played games and which games they chose to play.”

As a result, Team #2 chose to create visualizations that highlighted the top 10 games as well as the most popular games by gender and age. 

The feedback

The judges for this year’s competition included Addison Neely, from Tableau, and three representatives from the Patient Technology Department: J.J. Bouchard, Conner Rivera and Dylan Lester. Prior to picking a favorite, each of the judges voiced their overall impressions of the two dashboard submissions.  

The judges first shared their feedback of Team #1’s Lego-inspired dashboard.

“I am a major fan of Sankey diagrams,” Neely admitted after seeing Team #1 use this flow-type diagram in its first visualization. “The graphics were amazing,” she added about the team’s dashboard in general. 

“I enjoyed seeing what devices were being picked most and if the staff was having an impact on what was picked,” Bouchard said after seeing Team #1’s first two visualizations. And all the judges agreed the team’s Jokes tab was a fun addition. 

Upon reviewing Team #2’s video games dashboard visualizations, the judges’ consensus was that everything was very clear and it was easy to tell what the metrics meant.

Lester and Neely were both impressed with Team #2’s About the Data page.

“About the Data gets a 10 out of 10,” Neely remarked. “From a best practice standpoint, that was solid.” 

The color choice in Team #2’s Most Popular Games by Gender visualization was also appreciated. Judges liked the red and blue, noting that in addition to matching the Mario Kart game, red and blue are also traditional colors for player 1 and player 2 in online games. 

Commenting about the Tableau results in general, Rivera said, “I love whatever tool you used to create both of these dashboards. I was impressed by how you were able to streamline the data and make it understandable.”

The victors

When it was time for the judges to announce a winner [drumroll please] their verdict was — a tie! To break the tie, the PTERADACTYL facilitators turned to meeting attendees to vote on The People’s Choice.

A pop-up online survey was provided for all to complete. Even then, the vote was close, but Team #2 slid into first place with their Top Video Games dashboard receiving winning votes from 55% of survey respondents.  

Congratulations to Team #2’s Beth Plotts and Gillian Mayman, the PTERADACTYL Iron Viz champions for 2022! 

*PTERADACTYL (People of the Extraordinarily Roundaboutedly Acronymed Data Analytics Club That You Love) is a community of practice (CoP) for data analysts across Michigan Medicine. The group, which currently averages about 60-70 attendees, meets regularly to share ideas and best practices surrounding data and analytics. PTERADACTYL has been active for more than five years. 

To be added to the CoP’s meeting invite and email list, please email