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So, you’ve just got access to Tableau… now what?

This is a blog post for all ‘normal’ people, who don’t naturally take to technology, who cannot write SQL and can count the number of Excel formulas you know on one hand and to whom Tableau may be a little intimidating…

Tableau is a fantastically powerful tool, it is the racing car of data tools. Similarly to racing cars however, relatively few people (with the exception of racing car drivers), i.e. experts can use the tool anywhere close to its potential limitations. What this means is that the ‘average Joe’ of anyone working in any company, anywhere in the world can still use this car. They just may not drive it on a racing track for a 24 hours race but instead use it to pop to the shops, drop the kids at school or drive to a new holiday destination.

Just like the examples above, Tableau can also be used for everyday tasks and to be clear, this still presents a HUGE advantage to all users. Imagine if instead of having to drive to the shops each time, you drive the journey once and then just hit ‘refresh’ for your shopping to magically appear in your Fridge (I think this is called Ocado?!). Or what about that journey to Cornwall or the Lake District… imagine if there was a tool that allowed every journey’s drive time to be reduced by 75% or more… you wouldn’t hesitate for a second to purchase it (if the price point is right!) – I certainly wouldn’t!

With the above said, the advantages of learning to drive a car as a starting point are obvious. You can physically see the freedom that comes from countless hours of driving lessons, the cost of those lessons, the practice of not-so 3 point turns and learning the Highway Code. With Tableau however, the lessons may be less obvious, data cannot be seen or touched and somehow seems more ethereal having always been something that ‘techies’ worked with. It’s harder to see when you’re going wrong with Tableau whereas driving on an icy road taught me very quickly about the dangers of cold weather driving back in days of my 5-speed VW Beetle called ‘Betsy’.

So, with this said I had a great time working for Tableau and now am having an increasingly enjoyable time working for The Information Lab, whose sole focus as a company is helping people de-mystify Tableau and thus, demystify working with data as a regular human working in any company, with any type of data.

We help people stop being reliant on ‘someone else technical’ to build reports, generate insights and report findings, and instead allow those people to architect a responsive Tableau server, build an insightful suite of ‘core’ business dashboards, publish clean and intuitive datasources and push into using some of Tableau’s more advanced more quickly. For the rest of us though, here’s where I would start..

Suggestion 1:
Attend a Tableau training course. There are free and paid versions available via The Information Lab and Tableau directly, check out til.bi/talkdata and look for ‘Tableau Desktop Essentials‘ as a start. There is no better way to learn Tableau than in-person when you have dedicated time set aside. These courses cover the basics and offer a structure to help you move from saying ‘I don’t know what I don’t know’ to ‘I know a bit, but also now know what I don’t know and where to find the answers!’ (A bit of a mouthful, I know!)

Suggestion 2:
Use Superstore data (a sample dataset included with Tableau desktop) and try and re-create views. If you have a ‘Tableau Explorer’ licence, please ask your server admin to publish ‘Superstore’ as a dataset to Tableau Server. Basic views such as a highlight tableau, a bullet chart, a line chart and maps can get you rather a long way…

By re-building other views using a sample dataset, you will focus on learning the tool and building familiarity with how to navigate some of the functions available in Tableau. We have 15 example views we can share with customers to get started on this. Please ask your account manager for this.

Suggestion 3:
Write down some questions you want to get answers for. Most people want fairly tactical, specific answers to questions. If this is all you are looking for then a tactical and specific approach will be helpful.

Once you have your questions, work out which datasources are available on your Tableau server to help you answer the question (*if you’re not sure then ask other Tableau users internally or your Tableau server admin) and connect to the datasource.

You can start to drag in dimensions and measures using your selected datasource to help answer specific questions whilst working in the browser.

Suggestion 4:
Find other Tableau users in your business. You may not have ever seen enthusiasm like when a colleague gets totally enthused about Tableau and you’ll typically find that other Tableau users are keen to share hints and tips, articles and training content that may have helped them when they started. As Tableau starts to give you back value, it will be useful to know where to go to continue to advance your knowledge.

Suggestion 5:
Remember ‘why’ you are using Tableau. Tableau is there to help you answer questions. For some Tableau users, it may be their role to help build dashboards for other users. That’s not the case for the vast majority of us though. If you find yourself in the more competent camp then great, Tableau will be powerful and fun and you’ll pick it up quickly, but for the rest of us it will remain valuable for as long as it allows us to get answers to questions more quickly, accurately and/or at all in some cases. A focus on building confidence with the basics (which you can gain control of in the first few days) will set you off in a great new direction of being independent when working with data moving forwards and Tableau’s relentless focus on building a product to ‘help people see and understand their data’ seems like a safe bet of where to invest effort in learning a new tool that will be around for many years to come.

Happy exploring!

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