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2017

Data quality is an important part of any visualisation; when analysing data we want our analysis to be based upon robust and reliable information, resulting in confidence in actions taken. Poor data quality can undermine this confidence and as such reduce the potential benefits any analysis can bring to your organisation. This blog post looks at some of the causes of poor data quality and some of the techniques you can use within Tableau to support sustained improvements in data quality.

 

What can cause poor data quality?

Data Quality Teams

It drives me mad when I see organisations having 'Data Quality teams'; employing staff whose sole responsibility is raising the awareness of data quality. In my opinion this creates a parent child culture where by staff perceive that the Data Quality Team will either fix their data quality errors for them or will prompt them when they have data quality errors to correct. If Business Intelligence software, such as Tableau, is implemented effectively it can support staff to receive automated data quality reports and as such empower individuals to take personal accountability for correcting their own errors.

 

Disconnected reporting - The black box syndrome

If I had a pound for every time a member of staff has said to me 'that number cannot be right' I would be a very rich data geek! In the past you would have imagined I had a magical black box under my desk that would randomly generate performance figures. In reality the only reason someone states 'that number cannot be right' is because they do not understand how the performance has been calculated and as such they have little confidence in the accuracy of reporting. Often the underlying reason for this mistrust is due to data quality reporting and performance reporting being separate within an organisation. An individual would access their performance in one report and then would access their data quality validation lists within another report. By creating this artificial disconnect between performance and data quality you are immediately allowing individuals the 'get out of jail free card' of doubting the construction of the report rather than them acting upon what the report is telling them.

 

Reports are refreshed inconsistently

Many organisations have performance reports released or refreshed on a different schedule to that of data quality reports. For example your data quality reports may be refreshed daily but your performance reports may be updated weekly or monthly. By having inconsistent refresh schedules you will be encouraging confusion, doubt and mistrust. If an individual wants to validate a performance figure they will be unable to do so if the validation lists are based on more recent data than the performance reports are based upon.

 

There is a negative perception of data and reporting

When my organisation first implemented Tableau I sent out a questionnaire to our staff asking for their views on how data was used, at the time, within the organisation. The overwhelming feedback was one of negativity and fear. Data was perceived to be the realm of managers, with managers receiving reports and using this position of power to judge people; criticising mistakes and basing statements and actions on aggregated data. When asked about data quality staff stated they only ever received feedback about the quality of their data entry through their manager and, in the majority of cases, this feedback criticised errors and rarely celebrated success. This sparked a light bulb moment for me when planning our implementation of Tableau, how can we expect people to correct errors when we aren't giving them direct access to data that will enable them to act in a proactive fashion. It is the equivalent of expecting someone to avoid going into debt without having any access to a bank statement or summary of their balance. This negative perception of data fails to empower individuals, it doesn't encourage proactive validation of data and as such is it any surprise that for some people data validation is a long way down their list of priorities.

 

What techniques can be taken to support improvements in data quality?

Do not despair! There are techniques you can take to support improvements in data quality, and not only improvements but sustained improvements:

 

Refresh your data sources as frequently as possible

Most of our visualisations update daily, based upon an overnight refresh of our internal Data Warehouse. By ensuring data is updated overnight you are allowing your users to monitor the effectiveness of any actions they have taken the previous day to correct data quality errors. This has really empowered our end users and given them an ever increasing sense of pride; allowing them to monitor improvements and ensure the actions they have taken have had the desired results on their data.

 

Combine performance and data quality into single workbooks

Where possible try to combine your performance and data quality into a single visualisation; allowing users to understand their performance and then immediately reconcile this performance through the data quality validation list. This will empower individuals to not only act upon data quality errors but also to have confidence in how performance figures are calculated. Why not take this one step further and use Tableau actions to enable a user to interact with their performance analysis and update their data quality validation lists based upon what they have clicked. For example the visualisation below analyses patient waiting times. It is possible for a user to click on the performance bar chart, that summarises the number of patients waiting for each week band, and the validation list will automatically update to filter patients relating to the week band the user has clicked upon.

Combined.png

An additional advantage of providing data quality validation lists on screen, alongside performance data, is that users can then subscribe to this view and receive the data in their corporate email account every day, week or month (in my opinion the more frequent the better).

 

There is one other method for providing users with access to their data quality validation lists alongside their performance data; using the Tableau 'view data' functionality. This method works perfectly well, allowing a user to click on a performance figure and to view the underlying data, however, in my opinion, there are some limitations:

 

- A user cannot subscribe to data quality lists if the data isn't displayed on screen, yes a user can click on the visualisation and 'view data' but this is adding additional steps for the end user to act upon the data quality validation list and also requires them to have network access to interact with Tableau.

- You cannot order the fields in the 'view data' pop up. As such a user may have to scroll through multiple data fields in order to find the information they require to act upon their data quality errors.

 

View data.png

 

 

Utilise subscriptions

If you are fortunate enough to have Tableau Sever within your organisation, make sure you make the most of it! By utilising subscriptions you are enable individuals to effectively self-manage and self-serve their data quality requirements. When combined with the previous approach of embedding data quality validation lists within your performance reports you will be enabling individuals to receive personalised data quality lists in their corporate email account on a frequency of their choosing. I was amazed at how empowered this made our end users feel; all of a sudden they were in control, they were receiving their own data and they were choosing to act upon it. To put this into some perspective, at present we have 4,500 active subscriptions across our user base of 3,400 users. The moment we implemented subscriptions was the moment we went from being perceived as an IT service, supplying people with data, to a support service, working in partnership with individuals to make their working lives easier.

 

Make it easy for individuals to correct errors; using Tableau actions to 'click through to source systems'

If your source system is web based it may be possible to utilise Tableau actions to allow a user to click through from Tableau to the source system, allowing them to instantly act upon data quality validation lists; I learnt this technique from colleagues at Berkshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust and our users absolutely love it!

 

In a dashboard ensure your worksheet you wish to apply the action to has the required field within the detail of the worksheet. For example when applying actions we want to apply the action using the field 'Patient RIO ID' to parse this field from Tableau into the web link of our source electronic patient system (RiO). Click Dashboard, Actions and then Add a URL action. In the URL action pop up window click on the sheet the action is applied to and then select Menu from the 'run action on' list of options. In the URL section of the action screen enter the URL of where you want to take the end user to within your source system. In the example below I have embedded the Tableau field 'Patient RIO ID' into the URL; this is where the magic starts! When a user clicks on the record of an individual patient within the validation list of the Tableau report they will now be able to take the ID of this patient and parse it through to the source system, not only loading the source system within a new internet window but loading the actual record relating to that patient!

 

Again it's about making it as easy as possible for users to act upon the data quality information you are providing them with. To ensure our users can easily identify when a click through is available in our Tableau reports we have branded this functionality 'Click and Correct' and created a logo that is visible within the report.

 

Actions 1.png     Actions 2.png

Actions 3.png

 

Add value to data quality validation lists by including additional information within the lists

By adding value to data quality validation lists you will be increasing the usefulness of these lists to your end users and as such achieving a greater engagement with the process. Work with your end users to understand what additional information would be useful in supporting them to validate their data quality lists and embed these additional fields within your visualisation. For example we provide end users with lists of patients who have yet to receive a first appointment and as such are waiting for their treatment to commence. In addition to providing a list of all the patients waiting for a first appointment we also include the following additional fields within the visualisation: Date of any future booked appointment, date of any previously non attended appointment. This additional information allows the services to gain the maximum possible intelligence from the data quality validation list and as such the process becomes easier for them to complete. The easier you can make a process the more likely you are to achieve your desired end result.

 

Support individuals to understand how to correct errors by including links to training material within the report

Your users are human and mistakes happen; often mistakes happen due to a lack of understanding of how data should be entered into system or what the consequences of poor data quality are. By embedding training material within your reports you are supporting them to understand the action they need to take to correct the error, but more importantly, embedding knowledge within the individual to support them in avoiding errors re-occurring in the future. Within my organisation we have done this through an initiative referred to as 'Link and learn'; embedding a hyperlink within our Tableau workbooks that directs the user through to online support material that provides a step by step guide describing what an individual needs to do to correct data quality errors.

Link and learn.png

 

Look forward as well as looking historically

It is a given that the ultimate aim of providing people with information regarding their data quality is for them to retrospectively correct the errors and as such improve the quality of your data; however from an end user point of view one of the most useful approaches you can take is to provide information on forthcoming potential performance breaches, in addition to retrospective data quality errors. Whilst providing information on forthcoming potential breaches will not resolve any historical data quality errors, it will help your users plan for future events and as such deliver a more proactive service to your customers or service users. By having a forward view embedded into your data quality visualisations you will be encouraging users to view the report and as such increasing user engagement with data quality reports.

Forward Backwards.png

 

Celebrate success

Change people's perceptions of data by celebrating success within your visualisations; rewarding positive performance and encouraging learning across teams; a concept known as 'positive deviance'. Within my organisation we have achieved this through an initiative known as 'Fabulous Friday'; a dedicated visualisation that is incorporated into our dashboards and lists all fully compliant teams for an individual metric. On a Friday I then select one metric and share the 'Fabulous Friday' visualisation as a PDF with all of our Tableau users. This has created a user community that now associates Tableau with celebrating success and as such has helped increase engagement and ultimately support a culture where by individuals now actively want to correct data quality errors so they are included as part of the weekly celebration.

Fab Friday.png

For further information on positive deviance refer to Positive deviance - Wikipedia

 

What difference does it make?

A massive difference! The chart below shows one of the Key Performance Indicators (KPI) for my organisation. We have always been compliant in terms of performance for this KPI, however, historically we have always struggled to achieve a near 100% compliance rate, primarily due to poor data quality. Prior to Tableau, we always took the approach of 'managerial nagging' to resolve data quality issues; managers reacting to performance deterioration and asking staff to validate their performance. Within two months of implementing Tableau subscriptions for individual staff, performance improved to 99% and this high level of compliance has been sustained for the last 18 months; this was achieved with no additional managerial resource, it was achieved thanks to staff acting upon the personalised visualisations they were receiving through Tableau.

CPA 12 month review example.png

 

In summary

To achieve sustained improvements in data quality within your organisation do all you can to make it as easy as possible for individuals to gain direct access to timely and clear data quality reports, do all you can to allow them to act upon this data, and do all you can to celebrate when improvements are achieved. Tableau is a fantastic tool to support you to achieve all of these goals however it is only when the technology of Tableau is combined with positive culture and behaviours that the real benefits can be maximised and embedded into the DNA of your organisation.

This week I had the pleasure of listening to paul.chapman at the London TUG and he spoke about how, in a previous role, he pioneered the creation of corporate branding at EasyJet; creating style and analytical guidance for his analysts that supported the development of a common look and feel to all of the workbooks they created.

 

At the same time I also had a great email conversation with Rafi Zelikowsky from Tableau about her forthcoming TC17 session 'Designing for adoption: Implementing a corporate standard'. She is sharing advice on how to create a unified look and theme across dashboards in Tableau Desktop and Server, something I am particularly passionate about. When I implemented Tableau Server at Southern Health some of the best advice I received related to the risks of analysts creating 101 different designs to their Tableau workbooks and how this can undermine consistency and have a negative impact on an end user's experience of interacting with multiple Tableau workbooks when they all look differently.

 

For me corporate branding isn't just about creating a common look; it is also about increasing an end user's confidence in their use of your workbooks. By ensuring workbooks have a common design you allow an end user to become familiar with how a workbook is designed and as such they quickly become comfortable in how to use them, and comfort quickly can lead to confidence. paul.chapman said this best in his London TUG and forthcoming TC17 presentation when he described it as, and I apologise for probably misquoting, people learn through muscle repetition. By ensuring your published workbooks have a common look and feel, for example your filters in a common place, or a common colour palette, an end user can become familiar and as such confident in your Tableau published content, because they are repeating the same tasks every time.

 

Inspired by Paul's presentation and my conversation with Rafi I wanted to share with people the style guidance that I have created for my own organisation; it isn't on the same level as Paul's cutting edge approach when he was at EasyJet but it has helped implement a corporate branding within our Tableau environment (consisting of 20 Desktop licenses and an 8 core Server license). 2 years since first going live with Server, we now have over 250 workbooks and one of the common pieces of positive feedback we receive is that they all look professional and consistent and users appreciate this when interacting with so many workbooks.

 

I hope you find the attached style guidance useful, if you wanted to take a copy and amend it for use in your own organisation you are most welcome to do so.

 

If this is a subject matter that is of interest to you and you are going to TC17 in Las Vegas I would strongly recommend attending the individual sessions that Paul and Rafi are presenting, the links are below:

 

Rafi : https://tc17.tableau.com/learn/sessions/29783

Paul : https://tc17.tableau.com/learn/speakers/11148

 

Simon (@simonbeaumont04)

Tableau new skills this week.png

 

I've been using Tableau for two and a half years now and even now I am constantly learning new skills; whether that be through recently passing my Tableau 10 Desktop Qualified Associate exam or though the amazing blog posts, tweets and Tableau Public workbooks that people share across the Tableau Community every week.

 

Inspired by this continuous learning and the way the positive way the Tableau Community responded to my Tableau Top Tips, I have decided to start a new weekly initiative; 'The best new skill I've learnt in Tableau this week'. Every week I will be posting the best new skill I have learnt this week; over time, building up an informative and helpful set of Tableau guides that people can reference and, hopefully, learn one or two new Tableau skills along the way.

 

This week, and for my first new skill blog post, I share how I realised that when applying actions across a dashboard that has multiple worksheets you don't need to select or de-select each worksheet that you want the action to apply to. Tableau ticks every worksheet in a dashboard when creating a new action and it can be time consuming selecting only those worksheets you want the action to apply to. An easy and time saving way to get around this is to 'lasso' all of the worksheets; Tableau will then highlight the worksheets you have 'lassoed' and you can then tick one of the worksheets highlighted to un-select or select all of them at once.

 

This may not be an innovative new skill but it will certainly save me a lot of time in the future when building new dashboards.

 

It would be great to hear what is the best new skill you have learnt in Tableau this week so why not tweet your learning using the #BestNewTableauSkill

 

If you wanted to use my word document to share your Tableau new skill please do not hesitate to open it and replace the content with your new skill.

 

Simon

Following on from my earlier blog post that shared material to help users maximise their experience of Tableau Server, and inspired by the positive feedback provided by Hope Stiles, I thought I should share the next set of Tableau Top Tip guides that we have developed.

 

Attached are a few one to two page Tableau Top Tip guides that have been designed to help consumers of Tableau Server complete simple Tableau Server tasks:

 

- Exporting to PDF

How to export a workbook or view to PDF so a user can share the content externally without needing a live connection to Tableau Server.

 

- Favourite reports and tags

Describing two ways you can personalise your Tableau content; either through making a workbook or view a favourite or through using tags to filter the content displayed to you (personally this is my preferred way of doing it as you ensure any new content is available to you, where as limiting to favourites means you may risk only seeing those workbooks you have previously set as a favourite and not any new content).

 

- Resetting filters

Previously I shared for to save custom views or filters so that Tableau can remember your filter settings every time you load the workbook or view; however sometimes you may need to change your saved filters (for example you may have moved team or the organisation structure may have changed). This Top Tip walks you through how to reset a saved filter, allowing you to clear your previously saved settings and replace them with new ones.

 

As always, if you would like to re-use any of the material within your own organisation, please feel free to do so, all I ask is for a mention on Tableau or Twitter (@simonbeaumont04) acknowledging the work!

 

Happy viz'ing

 

Simon

I lead an analytics department within a healthcare provider in England and I was recently having a Tableau catch up with one of my peers from another organisation and we got onto the subject of staff development. I spoke of my passion about developing a local Tableau Centre of Excellence and how one of the ways we were doing this within my organisation was through allowing all of my Tableau analysts to complete the Desktop Qualified Associate Exam. I was completely shocked and surprised when the person responded by asking "why would you want to do that?! Surely you are just increasing the likelihood they will leave to be paid more working with Tableau in another organisation."

 

It got me thinking, if he is thinking like that, how many other people do not appreciate the benefits of supporting their staff to participate in Tableau qualifications? So, having both sponsored my staff to complete a Tableau qualification and also having recently completed the Desktop Qualified Associate (DQA) exam myself, here are my top five reasons as to why completing a Tableau qualification is a good idea:

 

1. Expanding your knowledge

Let's face it, if you use Tableau within your workplace the chances are you will have a common way of doing things and as such there may be elements of Tableau that you use less than others or are even completely unaware of. Having completed the DQA exam I can personally vouch for the benefit of having to learn a common syllabus; for example within my organisation 99% of our data sources come either direct from our SQL Data Warehouse or from published Tableau Extracts. There is little need in my day to day workload to cleanse Excel files for use with Tableau, this means I was unaware of the Data Interpreter functionality; well not any more having completed the DQA exam! It is fair to say the DQA exam could never cover every single aspect of Tableau Desktop and nor does it pretend to, but what it does do is cover the core Tableau Desktop functionality, challenging you to expand your base knowledge of Tableau and through this process you will no doubt learn one or two new things or, at very least, brush up on knowledge that you may not use every day.

 

2. Continuous improvement

Tableau as a brand isn't just about a product, it is also about a sense of continuous improvement and helping people connect with their data, whether this be the amazing content available through Tableau Public, the issuing of free licenses to students or the work done to support social positive impacts, as recently recognised by Fortune.Com (https://t.co/89MZJpFJr7). A Tableau Exam is a great way of encouraging personal continuous improvement; allowing individuals to have a tangible asset at the end of their learning that they can benefit from for many years after taking their exam. What I have found is that the exam has helped ignite something inside many of my analysts so that their learning isn't just restricted to the process of preparing for their exam. Many of them have actively chosen to carry on participating in learning after their exam; meaning my organisation continues to reap benefits that far exceed the cost of the relatively small financial investment required to fund each of the exams.

 

3. Staff reward and recognition

As a Head of Department working within a publicly funded organisation there isn't much flexibility in giving my staff financial reward to recognise their excellent performance and what they have all achieved in our first two years of using Tableau Desktop and Server; however reward and recognition doesn't have to be all about money. Yes of course completing a Tableau exam costs money, but this is a small, one off investment, compared to salary increases that can be annually recurring.

 

When implementing Tableau we didn't employ any additional staff; all of our 260+ Server Workbooks have been developed by our substantive Analysts and all of them have put in many additional worked hours to learn new Tableau skills and participate in community events such as user groups or webinars. One of the small ways I could recognise this commitment and ever expanding expertise was to offer them the opportunity to complete a formal Tableau Qualification. After a year of using Tableau, every one of my Analysts spoke of their pride and enjoyment in using a market leading Business Intelligence Tool (previously they had to put up with Microsoft Excel and SQL); if they enjoy using the product so much, to me, it was the natural next step to allow them all to achieve some formal recognition of their new found skills.

 

4. A sense of pride and achievement

As individuals we all want to be the best we can be; I see my analysts turning up to work and doing an amazing job, day in day out. Yet sometimes individuals can get 'bogged down' in the pressures of day to day work and forget to celebrate the day to day achievements that are achieved, no matter how large or small they may be. By allowing my analysts to complete the DQA exam I saw them actively taking pride in the skills they were learning and there was a tangible sense of achievement when they passed their exam, something that quickly spread as more and more of the team completed their exam. This positive atmosphere is something I am determined not to waste; it has to become the 'norm', where by my analysts can continuously celebrate the positive impact they make to the delivery of patient care and the contribution they make to help the organisation be the best it possibly can be.

 

5. Making the most of the community

I refer to the community in two ways;

 

- Internal team community I was overwhelmed by the way having ten of my analysts complete the DQA exam created a real sense of teamwork and an internal support network for each of the individuals taking the exam. The analysts would hold open drop in sessions during which any one of them could pop into a room during lunch and ask each other questions ahead of their exam, or review many of the online exam preparation blogs and guides. Following each one of the team completing their exam, there was a desire for that person to actively help the next person; sharing their experience of the exam and adding to an internal top tips document that had been created. Of course there was a small element of competition, with everyone wanting to get the best possible exam score, but what was far stronger was a desire to celebrate each others achievement and to share the good news every time one of the team passed their exam.

 

- The Tableau community The team have always made the most of the amazing content available through the Tableau community, whether that be Tableau.Com, blogs, YouTube, webinars or Twitter; however completing the DQA exam really encouraged the Team to not only watch and read content available through the Community but also actively learn from it and put it into practice. For example just a week before five of my analysts were due to take their DQA exam, The Information Lab Data School published an online video sharing some top tips on what to expect from the exam and how best to prepare for it (Tips for Preparing for the Tableau QA Exam - YouTube ).

 

So in summary my advice to any individual or organisation considering completing a Tableau Exam would be to do it! The benefits are not just a formal Tableau qualification but also, and more importantly, the reinforcement of what makes Tableau great; continuous improvement and sharing your knowledge and expertise with others. Individuals do not leave organisations due to gaining an exam qualification, they leave due to personal choices and personal ambitions; indeed through investing in Tableau Server and funding DQA qualifications my organisation has seen Analyst turnover decrease by two thirds over the last two years.