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The Tableau acceptance lifecycle

I’ve been speaking to a lot of new Tableau users in client organisations recently, and I hear a lot of feedback from first-time Tableau users along the lines of, “My boss needs this report by Friday, I don’t have time to learn a new tool”, or “This is for IT, I don’t understand this”, or “How quickly can I recreate my Excel report in this?” ….I could go on, but you get the picture.

This got me thinking about my experience working in previous companies, and watching people go through this Tableau adoption process and it’s really a journey, which I like to think travels through the following phases:

excel-report Stage 1 – “I don’t have time to learn some new tool, just give me an excel spreadsheet”

The first stage is utter dismissal, and it’s important to understand that a business user simply doesn’t see the value in learning all about some new tool which – they perceive – will only be as good as the one they’ve got now. If you’re the Tableau champion in your company, how do you get them over this hump? Demo, demo, demo! Demo until you’re blue in the face. They’ll soon see that it’s not overly complicated, and it’s really easy to get their data in there and build some simple charts and tables.



tableau-crosstabStage 2 – “Oh look, I can do what I do in Excel in Tableau, but it looks a bit nicer”

For experienced Tableau practitioners, this can be the most frustrating stage of seeing a new Tableau starter getting up to speed: they just want to replicate in Tableau exactly what they had in their legacy reporting solution. But wait, don’t facepalm and abandon them, this is when they need a Tableau expert most! Hand-holding them briefly through the initial stages of replicating their old report will give you an opportunity to make some small tweaks that will start to change their minds – turn that crosstab into a heatmap, throw in a quick filter etc. Make just a couple of small enhancements that will ignite the spark.


bar-chartStage 3 – “Tableau is the balls, I’m building all my Excel reports in this now”

By this point our savvy business user has decided to mostly bin off their old reporting solution completely (although they may still be a bit keen on the export data button, this will fade over time). It’s at this stage where the user sees the potential for data discovery in Tableau, and proactively creates lots of different types of views of their data, surfacing new insight along the way. This is when you steer them towards the Tableau forums (or your internal Tableau discussion forums if you have such a thing), Tableau meetups and user groups, Viz of the day links etc. This is when you stop hand-holding and start nudging them in the right direction and let them fly.



allthevizzesStage 4 – “Visualising data is cool – look at all the pretty pictures I made!”

Watch out, it’s a viz explosion! Suddenly every dashboard is a jungle of treemaps, sparklines… did someone say Sankey diagram? Hell yeah! It’s at this point that we remind everyone why the best Tableau experts in the world are called “Zen” masters, because it’s waay too easy to overdo it in Tableau, and one needs to exercise restraint, replacing illusion and complexity with simplicity and clarity.



tzmrock Stage 5 – “Tableau has totally changed my teams’ approach, other people need to be using this!”

At the final stage, the fully-fledged Tableau user is well on his way to mastering the finer points of Tableau and data visualisation in general. More importantly, like you, they have become another advocate for using the tool throughout your business. This is when you encourage them to become the Tableau champion in their department/region, and start spreading the love. This also closes the loop, since it’s this new Tableau champion who will go on to inspire another colleague in the same way.


Looking at it again, this ‘Tableau acceptance lifecycle’ mimics the stages of change: first dismissal and fear, then reluctant acceptance, right through to advocacy, so if you are the individual responsible for promoting Tableau in your business, it’s so important to get this crucial part of the puzzle right.

Jonathan MacDonald

London, UK

One thought on “The Tableau acceptance lifecycle

  1. Steps 1 and 2 are by far the most challenging, if the culture of the organisation is too have reports distributed in a data dump it’s difficult to manage the change to a new report style. It’s a case of winning hearts and minds, demonstrating how they still have access to all of the information they have in the data dump but now it’s much easier to access/draw conclusions/measure performance/etc. I’d also recommend building in additional useful information not available in their data dumps as you’re actually selling Tableau over data dump.

    In the ideal world senior management would be fully engaged and supportive as introducing Tableau is often a culture change – from having data delivered to the user actively going to get information when they want it.

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