Tips and Tricks to Make Tableau a Success in your Company

Ross Ryan
3 Dec 2018

So, your company has seen the power of a reporting tool such as Tableau. It has provided budget for Tableau to become the future of BI within your data analytics domain and now the gloves are off for you and your team to make something amazing.

Perhaps you have been on training courses, or to Tableau’s Conference on Tour and have seen some of the best viz experts in the world create pieces of art on the screen in front of you. You were probably as blown away as I was by the beauty of a Sankey or maybe one of the classic Tableau art pieces such as the ‘Price of Oil and Gold’. This has inspired you to make something equally as beautiful for your company.

This process is all too similar for many analysts and BI experts dipping their toes in the pool for the first time with a tool like Tableau. We are commonly sold the most beautiful thing it can do, rather than practically, what we should be doing on the software in the years to come.

This is not to say that Tableau Viz’s can’t and shouldn’t be beautiful. But consider this an intervention I’m having with you now. It will save the disappointment in the office in the months to come, when the pieces of art you create, will most likely get dumped for the old Ex… the Excel Report.

Know Your Customer

Tableau, despite being on the market for over a decade now, is still relatively new as a concept to many organisations. Take any average company out there and it is in the high majority that some, if not all of the reporting for MI and BI are serviced by a traditional tool such as Microsoft Excel or Crystal Reports. This is to say, tabular data. Worksheets of tables, with perhaps the occasional graph eye candy (but ultimately supported by a table of data)

Your first task, whether you realise it yet, will be to sell Tableau internally to your stakeholders. It’s vitally important that we as creators, put ourselves in the shoes of who is going to digest the visualisations we create.

Let’s take Sally, our imaginary Chief Financial Officer. She’s now in her mid-50’s and she learned her trade as a Payroll Officer for 20 years. Until she reached her senior role, she had been up to her ears in spreadsheets and tables for her entire career.

Sally, like many senior stakeholders, is very much indoctrinated in one way of being presented data. Tableau to her, will at first, be like the enemy. It is a natural resistance to change. If we change too much, too soon, we take the risk that Tableau will be rejected by the individuals we need most to support it. Any dashboard or visualisation we create, needs to be with Sally in mind. How can we make her life easier when she views this report?

We really want Sally to be our champion. Telling other people in the business just how great her new reports are.

For this reason. I have shared several steps below that from experience, I find to be the most beneficial for getting Tableau into your organisation and more importantly, making it successful.

Bridge Your Reports and Techniques

In Tableau, you will be very tempted to create a dashboard, full of new visualisations. Perhaps you will remove a great deal of clutter that you would normally find on a traditional report such as headings and axes on graphs. I’m sure it looks awesome and the functionality is amazing.

My advice is to create a ‘bridge’ between old and new, at least for your first iterations of a dashboard. You should create a new visualisation of the data, but I suggest creating a table of data, like the old report and aligning it in the dashboard with your new Viz.

This way, the average user of the report, can see what they are used to seeing, but also are introduced to a new way of digesting their data. If the new viz you have created is informative and easy to understand, you will hopefully get to have the wonderful conversation where they will say ‘I really don’t need that table of data…it’s just saying the same thing as this here’.

Tooltips Are Your Friend

The Tableau tooltip is potentially one of the most powerful tools in your arsenal. So be sure to use it effectively. Any new visualisation you create, use the tooltip as the water wings for your new Tableau swimmers. Make sure to be as descriptive as possible in a tooltip to explain what you are showing, how you create the numbers (if necessary) and possibly, even where to go next to look in more detail (via hyperlink).

Since the introduction of viz in tooltip, it’s now even more powerful. You can likely hide useful information such as a breakdown of gender or age within the tooltip, typically needing another worksheet.

The more you add in the beginning, the better in my experience. Users will become accustomed to hovering over items to find out more. This is the behaviour we wish to create.

The Rule of 6

Ask any individuals within the BI world and everyone has a slightly different take on this. However, my personal preference and suggestion is to limit a dashboard to no more than 6 key visualisations or focal points of data.

This isn’t to say that greater or fewer is illegal. But consider just how much you take in when you look at the dashboard in your car? It’s probably quite common that you don’t even look at the rev counter or the temperature gauge on a day to day basis.

I think it’s important to differentiate between the ‘I need this to run my business’ and ‘this is great to know’

The ‘Run my Business’ parts are those which I would locate within the 6 key areas of the dashboard. The ‘Great to Knows’ I would either include on a supporting dashboard or perhaps within viz in tooltip.

Don’t Change Too Much Too Soon

Think back to when smartphones came to the market.

All of them had this big home button in the bottom centre of the device. It was a large and clickable button and it remained this way for several years.

After half a decade, this button started to disappear, being replaced with either one on screen, or a touch sensitive pad. Most importantly, no one stopped being able to use their smart phone. The reason was because we had all become so used to where the button was, what it looked like and what to expect from it, that a small change such as this would not affect us.

This is true of anything we wish to introduce in Tableau.

My best advice is once you introduce something new, make small changes to it. Unless what you create doesn’t have the functionality it needs, I would advise against making drastic changes within a dashboard, from one report to the next.

Once your users are accustomed to how your dashboards work, you can begin testing the ‘home button’ example – perhaps removing the words ‘Back’ on the navigation buttons. If no one complains about usability, then you’ve done a good job.

Finally…

In closing, Tableau is such a powerful tool and has a massive role to play in shaping the future of BI.

It is however our job, as the creators and custodians of this new world, to ensure the decades spent with spreadsheets as our primary tool are not simply brushed aside.

We are responsible for ensuring that the transition takes place in the right way, and it brings everyone along for the ride… especially Sally.

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