6 Replies Latest reply on Oct 31, 2014 9:54 AM by Shawn Wallwork

    The work-around mentality...

    Shawn Wallwork

      We Tableau Forum Folks tend to be extremely clever (and independent); we can almost always come up with a 'work-around' for most every specific problem/question we are presented. In fact that's one thing we (as a group) excel at; maybe even take a bit of joy in.


      But my question is: Does the 'work-around' mentality serve us well overall; as a group?


      Do we want everyone joining our forums, looking to solve their particular issues. Or do we hope the software becomes so good a forum like this is completely obsolete? And is this vision even possible.




      PS: Eliminating the whole mentality of make: Tableau = Excel is ultimately what this post is all about.

        • 1. Re: The work-around mentality...
          Jonathan Drummey

          I'm thinking of "With great power (to come up with hacks) comes great responsibility."


          And I don't think there are too many absolutes here:


          - Some Tableau users have hard stop requirements to make something look like an Excel crosstab with conditional formatting. "hard stop" as in they lose their client, suffer at work, etc.


          - Some Tableau users don't know "better/easier" options.


          - Some Tableau users are possibly a bit "lazy" in the sense of it's easier to meet the "letter" as in the written requirement rather than meet the "spirit" and do the work to ask questions and figure out the underlying needs, and from that effort build a viz that flows with Tableau.


          - There are "Kelly Martin/Stephen Few style" (as in clean, minimally formatted, well-proportioned that have an appropriate mix of text and numbers) dashboards that are really hard to make in Tableau without resorting to some of these workarounds.


          - There are things that Tableau doesn't do out of the box that can improve legibility like a combo shape/color legend, or have full control over text alignment inside bar marks, that require hacks for layout.


          As for the software improving, I think at this point there are over 1K user-submitted ideas, never mind what's coming out of the fiendish minds at work in Seattle. Tableau has years of development ahead, I believe workarounds are going to be required for some time to come. (And we'll need new workarounds for new features).


          For me, the part I try to play is offering workarounds, and where I can offering suggestions on how to flow more with Tableau and have alternative visualizations.



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          • 2. Re: The work-around mentality...
            Toby Erkson

            I don't think there will ever be a final version of Tableau or any other software product where it no longer needs hacks or workarounds.  Some of the questions people ask make me scratch my head and wonder why they would need to do something that the software isn't meant to do but there's that need and it's up to us creative folks to find that solution if we can.  Or else throw up the Bat-signal and hope Russell can sprinkle some fairy dust to make it happen.


            Also, as a coder, I know there are typically many ways to solve a problem.  As the saying goes, give a problem to 10 coders and you'll get 10 different but correct solutions.  So maybe some of the workarounds are just another way of doing something.  Such workarounds can have positive and negative effects depending upon how they're used so I wouldn't necessarily consider them bad...so long as Tableau doesn't make a major change that breaks them.  Hacks, of course, I can find understandable.

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            • 3. Re: The work-around mentality...

              Does the 'work-around' mentality serve us well overall; as a group?

              Although workarounds are needed and appreciated, they can - when becoming habits - lead us to look at some limitations as normal, which leads us to accept them as normal, and thus ultimately forget that they are an issue. This blindness limits our thinking and planning.


              I think an example of this is sorting of quick filters, which is a FAQ, but seeminlgy not supported/requested as needed improvement. This provoked me to request  Improve sorting in quick filters.

              The Excel Workaround Syndrome (EWS)

              In past time, I suffered the Excel Workaround Syndrome, that is, became so used to make workarounds in underlying data warehouse in an effort making reporting possible in Excel that I in the end became desensitized (blind) to the real issue, namely that Excel is not a good tool for reporting of data beyond a certain number of records, and definitely also because count distinct wasn't supported.


              When waking up and angered by my EWS blindness, I went looking for another tool and found Tableau   The main attraction was its extracts, which I saw as a key to get out EWS.  That said, the ability to join extracts is much needed. Whoever agrees, please up-vote  Dimensionally Modeled Extracts  and  Ability to JOIN Data Extracts.


              The Tableau Workaround Syndrome (TWS)

              This is why I try not to be affected by TWS:


              1. and displeased when T. "demands" changes in underlying database to perform, that is, moving problems with Tableau to the database by creating views there, and thus hide the cost of using Tableau by "sending the bill" to a database developer, who gets the extra job of maintaining, documenting, and time thinking about how to workaround the views without destroying them when major changes should be done in the data warehouse. And not the least, getting the job of cleaning up  Technical debt  when workarounds are not needed any longer.

              2. so I don't get desensitized about needed improvements in Tableau
              • 4. Re: The work-around mentality...

                There are things that Tableau doesn't do out of the box that can improve legibility like a combo shape/color legend

                Ah, thanks for mentioning a pet "missing feature"  :-)

                Whoever misses combo shape/color legends, please consider up-voting:


                Combo Legends

                Combo Check Box & Color Legend

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                • 5. Re: The work-around mentality...
                  Matt Lutton

                  I will just say that my most successful Tableau-ing comes when the data I am working with is formatted in a way that makes building visualizations easy.  Obviously, that changes from goal to goal -- but I do think the most important thing I've learned about Tableau is that the underlying data matters. 


                  To me, that means if I can just understand the underlying data, and format it to get the output(s) I need, anything is possible.  The data prep dilemma is ultimately my biggest weakness, and my biggest challenge.


                  Not sure if that helps or adds to this discussion, but I do feel that learning more about prepping data would enable me to do far more with Tableau, without having to use the workaround mentality too often.

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                  • 6. Re: The work-around mentality...
                    Shawn Wallwork

                    Thanks for all the comments guys!


                    They helped me sharpen my thoughts about my recent frustrations/dissatisfaction with the forums. It seems that the vast majority of workbooks being posted are text tables, and present questions about text tables, and we fall into EWS (nice Johan!). The other day I opened up a workbook that needed to sum some averages (needed a table calc). I was so pleasantly surprised that the poster needed to do this for a line chart, not a text table, that I jumped right in and posted a solution. My reaction surprised me. I hadn't realized how demoralized I had become having to always work on text tables (here and for work).


                    Years ago we had that long thread on whether text tables are really data visualizations, no I don't want to rehash that one again. But it would be nice if we had a way to put text table questions over in some other area of the forums, like Dustin did with Community Canvas posts. And put a collection of all the resources that deal with text tables over there, like the Newcomers section has listed resources for them. I'm suggesting this because I believe most of the text table questions have already been answered, and rarely is a new wrinkle added to the mix. I believe text table questions are overwhelming most other areas of inquiry (no I have no data to support this, but the forum team does). I believe that by answering all these text table questions we are enabling text-table addicted members of our community.


                    I for one have decided to stop working on any text table questions. (Call me out when I slip up on this commitment!)


                    And for all those text table questioners, please consider breaking out of your Excel addiction. Thanks






                    PS: Johan I just checked, and I'm happy to report I had already voted for all those Ideas you linked to.

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