• James Goodall

Introducing Tableau Bitesize

For those that grew up in the UK in the 1990s, you’d be excused for conjuring up some nostalgic memories of a strange orange fish, Henry VIII and The Merchant of Venice, however what I’ll be talking about in this blog post isn’t nearly as exciting (although hopefully captures the same principle), and that is ‘Tableau Bitesize’.

This is a series that I started running approximately a year ago for our internal data community in Surrey. The basic principle was that I wanted to start sharing knowledge in the use of Tableau, including tips & tricks, specific charts types and functionality, including new functionality that appears following upgrades, but without the resource behind me to arrange classroom training, or regular 1-2-1 workshops with our Desktop users. Now I’m obviously not going to continue without recognising that there are plenty of activities already out already that do cater for this kind of approach, the obvious contenders being Makeover Monday, Tableau Tip Tuesday, Workout Wednesday, Iron Quest, Iron Viz (and the list goes on), however, in my previous experience of pushing these opportunities out to colleagues, I was regularly hit with the ‘Public Sector Problem’. The PSP (as it shall be known from hereon, trademark & copyright battle pending) is that the datasets we work with are so niche and so unlike those that many other people deal with on a regular basis (what do sales or profits mean to someone who’s trying to track available bed capacity within care homes, or the numbers of looked after children?). Now I know, I know, a truly skilled analyst should be able to pick up a dataset regardless of its content or structure and be able to search out patterns, identify stories and communicate analysis, however what this way of thinking assumes is that 1) everyone who enters the analytical field is already a skilled analyst and 2) people regularly get opportunities to work with data that’s not directly within their remit. And this can’t possibly be the case, how could you ever start out if so?!

I therefore needed an approach that would combine the various benefits that the existing community activities have, focus them a little more to public sector workers, while still being able to pass on the learning aspects to people at all stages of their Tableau journey, and so I needed to start scraping the internet for publicly available, public-sector-oriented (for the most part) data.

Now a lot of people may stop me here and bring up the fact that classroom training exists… I do believe that classroom training has a part to play when learning Tableau, especially in the early stages as it gives a great overview of the product and the functionality (and we’ve had some brilliant experiences with The Information Lab who deliver our classroom based training), however I do believe it can be very limiting. Everyone has a unique (or at least categorised) learning style, and for some, I do concede that classroom training will be more beneficial, but in my, and many colleagues experience, the only real way to properly learn an application is through doing. And it helps if what you are doing, is at least in some way related to your job, or is on a subject you can form a connection with (note I didn’t always stick to this formula – I think I used satellite launch data for one of them – hey I think it’s cool at least).

The other side of the PSP coin is, of course, time. People (thanks in part to certain media outlets with specific agendas) have an idea of public sector workers that they sit around getting fat on taxpayers money, otherwise living a life of luxury, and let me tell you – after 10 years of pay freezes, budget cuts and reorganisations, the state of most local authorities is that they are barely surviving with the absolute minimum number of staff they can to achieve what they are legislatively required to do, working long hours on often thankless tasks.

So the solution I needed was to help people up-skill themselves, while being able to relate their learning at least in some way to their job, and for it not to take them away from said job for too long, and the solution to this was Tableau Bitesize. The intention is for these small challenges to be completed whenever someone has a 10, 15 or 20 minute window spare, to dive in to a particular piece of functionality or type of chart. Obviously from time to time, this would vary (some of them being much longer), but the essence remains the same – this should be doable without taking you significantly away from your day to day activities.

With this in mind, I planned to start releasing these ‘challenges’ on a Monday. I would publish the viz to our internal Tableau Jive pages and ‘challenge’ the community to recreate these. As such, I disabled the ability to download the workbooks – they were on their own (for now) but could comment and engage via the forums. I would then post up a how-to step by step guide on the Friday (sometimes the following Friday if it was a slightly trickier challenge) and re-enable the download functionality. We then built up a repository of all of the challenges so staff could use them either for their own development, as and when they had time, or to direct new starters to so they could get their heads round some of the possibilities of Tableau.

Having continued this for nearly the past year (taking breaks every now and then as my schedule allowed), I’ve decided that I shouldn’t restrict the availability of this to just my colleagues within Surrey, it’s time to start sharing these with the wider global community, and so that’s the point of this post.

I will likely not post all the challenges, as some have become superseded due to new developments in subsequent releases of Tableau Desktop (spoiler - parameter actions changed my life), but I’m hoping there will be bits and pieces that might help! It’s also unlikely I will be posting them in the same ‘challenge’ format, and will instead publish a series of ‘how-to’ blogs. I hope you enjoy the first instalment which will be looking at Set Actions!


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