1 2 Previous Next 15 Replies Latest reply on Oct 17, 2016 7:50 AM by Toby Erkson

    Is it possible to explain table calculations & LODs to your grandma?

    Siraj Samsudeen

      What was your reaction to the title? Did you laugh at the idea? Did you ask yourself "Explaining to my grandma, that too table calculations!"? Did you feel that it is a ludicrous idea and we should not waste our valuable time in preposterous pursuits like this? Or did you feel that it is a worthy goal to strive towards simplifying the presentation of these two complex areas?


      Whatever your reaction was, let me ask you to visualize this - Can you please close your eyes and bring back in your mind the first time you encountered Tableau? How would you describe that experience? What words come to your mind? "Incredible! So simple! So easy! Intuitive!...." . Will you say that you were in "flow" with the tool quickly? Will you say that there was no friction between you and the tool and the tool disappeared into the background? Did you need to go through manuals or training videos to get into such a flow?


      Now fast forward to the first time you had to do a calculation like YTD (year-to-date), YoY (year-over-year) Growth or just plain  '% of Total' and you realized that you had to use table calculations in Tableau? How would you describe that experience? What words come to your mind? "I am lost", "So confusing", "These terms are so unintuitive - addressing, compute using, scope, direction, etc.". Have you watched the training videos on the topic? Have you checked out the manual and the knowledge base? Have you tried to read blog posts to get a better handle? After doing one or more of these things, did you feel comfortable that you have understood the concepts well? Or did you come back even more confused?


      As part of my daily work, I have introduced Tableau to a lot of people and normally I see surprise and delight in their eyes. And when these users eventually start to use Tableau regularly and have to use table calculations, I often see confusion in their eyes and disappointment in their tone.


      You might wonder - what is my intention here? Am I just complaining about table calculations and LODs without spending the time & effort to master them? Hasn't the community produced so many articles and videos about these 2 topics? Isn't  Jonathan Drummey maintaining a list of links to follow for mastering table calculations? I agree - there are lot of such helpful articles. But most of them suffer from the Curse of Knowledge - You have to reach a certain level of expertise to understand them, but for most users who have not yet reached there, they don't know how to get there.


      I was in this situation 3 years back. I have spent a lot of time reading a lot of blog posts and watching a lot of videos on table calculations. After quite a bit of effort, I had the feeling that I "got it". But that feeling was transitory - in a few days, I will encounter another problem which will perplex me. By reaching out to the community in the forums and reading through Jonathan Drummey's blog and many other posts in the community, I developed a list of thumb rules on where and how to apply table calculations. But I always had an uneasy feeling in my stomach about table calculations. I was always comparing in my mind how Powerpivot's approach to solving these problems seemed to make much more intuitive sense to me. So, I had this nagging feeling that even simple calculations like % of Total are complex in Tableau, whereas other tools have figured out a way to do it easily.


      An unexpected event happened which gave me the first flash of insight about table calculations. I was staying in a hotel in Rheinfall (the town which houses the largest waterfall in Europe, near to Zurich in Swiss). The next day, I had to give a training to Unilever supply chain team on PowerPivot. After finishing up my preparation, I picked up a book on advanced excel as a way to relax and as a way to find more inspiration to connect with the Excel power users who would be my target audience. I was reading about some advanced options in regular Pivot tables in Excel. It is then I saw that menu which almost made me jump out of my bed!!! I fired up Tableau and went straight into the list of table calculations. I saw the striking similarity between the 2 menus - "Oh! This is what Tableau is trying to do in the name of table calculations. It is just another complicated term for such an intuitive thing.". That insight was the first in the series of insights I have received since then in the 2+ years since that fateful night.


      In these 2+ years, I have continued to read more and experiment more with table calculations. I was also using Tableau to solve more and more complex problems. I have to admit - some of these problems were out of my reach that I had to reach out to Joe Mako for help. Each time I worked with him, I got some new insight, a new way to think about some aspect of table calculations.


      In the meantime, I was also teaching a number of people how to master the table calculations. My aim was to give an intuitive framework that would help them to feel at ease. As I presented the framework each time, I felt satisfied about some aspects and unsatisfied about some aspects. I kept tinkering with it as I taught it to each new audience. Finally, 2 weeks back, I presented it to the local Tableau User Group (ChennaiTUG) to see whether I am able to explain my insights in a way that would benefit a larger audience.


      The session ran for about 3-4 hours and here is the outline of the session:


      1. There are 3 paradoxical problems in the reporting world - Table calculations are a fitting and elegant solution to these pervasive problems.
      2. We mapped each of the 11 Quick table calculations to these 3 paradoxical problems.
      3. To understand partitioning, we took "Running Total" and put on our hat as a product designer to see what options would be needed to create a running total calculation if we are designing it from scratch. Then we mapped these options to the terms Tableau used like Partitioning.
      4. To understand Addressing, we took a "Diff from Previous period" calculation and we ran a simulation in the class. One person took a role as the post master whose job is to deliver mails to everyone across the table. The table was a like street with houses on both sides. We played a few scenarios to understand how the order in which the postman will visit the houses is dependent on the street layout and his plan (how he has arranged these letters). We then played a few scenarios to understand how the visiting order is impacted by the 2 options. Then, we mapped these scenarios back to our "Diff from previous period" table calculation to understand the role of "Addressing" in Tableau and how we can use different options to specify different visiting order for Mr.Tableau to collect the values to do his calculation.


      Since it was such a serious topic, we have also had many diversions: We played 'find the 6 differences between 2 pictures' game and then tried to do something similar with the table calculations. We tried to connect the dots between Steve Jobs and table calculations. In the end, I had fun delivering the session. Judging by the feedback, I think the audience has enjoyed the fun approach to thinking about table calculations and also understood the topic well.


      Now I want to make this available to everyone in the Tableau community. I have benefitted so much from the community especially from Joe Mako in one-on-one sessions with him and from Jonathan Drummey in reading and reflecting on many of his long insightful posts on table calculations. I also really liked the breath of fresh air that Shawn Wallwork  has brought into the discussion on table calculations and LODs by his educational fun teaser - this was one of the ideas that inspired me to infuse some fun into teaching a complex topic.


      My intention is somehow find a way to translate what I have presented in the live session into articles/videos so that many more people can benefit from it. But it is a time consuming task and I am only a beginner with respect to video editing and I have not produced any animation in my life - I need to invest significant time and energy to recreating the simulations in the form of videos. Before I invest my time and effort, I want to check with the community whether it would be useful. Do you think that table calculations and LODs are still hard to master or do you think that there is enough material out there that fulfills the need?


      Here is my plan: In addition to creating videos to explain table calculations and LODs using an intuitive framework, I intend to create a list of 100 real-life business problems and then show how we can apply table calculations and LODs to solve them. I want to arrange these 100 problems in a curriculum-like fashion from simple to complex so that people at different levels can work on a path to master calculations in Tableau.


      Now what do I need from you?


      • If you are new to Tableau or still struggling to get a good handle on table calculations and LODs, then please be my audience. Please let me know what challenges you are facing in mastering these areas so that I can address them.
      • If you have already mastered these 2 topics, then please be my mentor/guide. It is not that I understood every nuance in these 2 areas and there are definitely scores of people in the community who know these 2 topics much better than I do. I would definitely benefit from reviews of the materials I would create and also I would like to understand your insights into these topics as well.


      If you are still wondering  whether it is possible to explain table calculations to your grandma, the answer is yes - I do have a simple dialogue that can capture the essence of the table calculations in such a way that you can comfortably discuss table calculations with your grandma at the dinner table. But the decision rests with you - you have to tell me whether you think it would make sense for your grandma.



      If you are wondering, who I am, here is my LinkedIn profile.

        • 1. Re: Is it possible to explain table calculations & LODs to your grandma?
          Ashish Chaudhari

          Hi Siraj,


          This sounds so good (Amazing Title). just like you even I still get stuck in few LOD and table calcs. I admit that I haven't mastered them but I somehow manage to them on my own. Its been less instances I have asked questions in community. The reason being I can't think of good questions or business case that can be implemented. Now number of tries that i take to reach output are less but I would like do it them in one try. I still sometime get stuck with addressing and Partitioning and its order. I come to know if I have done it correctly when I go out and start setting compute using and restart levels.


          For LOD I get stuck when you don't have to use a particular dimension but do the calculations using the same. Eg - Top 5 customer sales by region


          I have seen many videos where I understood application areas but I do get lost when I am trying to solve them. To get the exposure to real time problem and ideas to solve them is the one of the reason to be on the community. I will be happy if you can be the light at the end of tunnel to rescue people like me.


          I mostly use the input and output approach regardless of the product that I am using. Once I get the flow I start finding things which will help me in creating/assist. On complex solution we need to think it using the products perspective as each of the product has it's own way of functioning.


          I will be glad if you can take out precious time and create something which will help people like me. You can try that with a small case to see the response and feedback that you get. Reach will play the most important role in this process. Andy kriebel's creates amazing videos but not sure if those videos are reached to right target. Something needs to be thought on this part.


          Thanks and Regards,

          -Ashish Chaudhari

          • 2. Re: Is it possible to explain table calculations & LODs to your grandma?
            Toby Erkson

            100 use-cases is a lot.  Too many I think.  I would suggest a blog series of how you would actually explain it.


            Here's what I would do [if I actually knew LODs ]:

            Start with the basic explanation, like you were explaining it to one's grandmother, but after that get into the actual use-cases but from the viewpoint of a beginning Desktop user, so not necessarily one's grandmother at that point because knowledge of using Desktop is a basic necessity.  Videos are nice but take a lot of work to make them actually worthwhile.  Your written discourse is good so play to your strength.  Throw in plenty of pictures/screen shots -- maybe a simple .GIF here and there -- and you would have a great start.  Also, it would be a LOT easier to find with a search (e.g. Google or Bing) than a video would be (I've been using the internet since the '90s and I don't need yet another bookmark!).  Your blog could then become the script you use for creating videos if you still want to go that route.  You could also create a thread here in the forums that points to your specific instructional blog post lesson of the day (NOT to the blog site in general!) and also point people to that specific forum post in your blog so as to have people ask you questions in the forum instead of in the blog's comment section -- in fact, disable comments so people must use the Tableau forum.  This last bit is important so the conversation continues and gets plenty of feedback in the proper space, Tableau.

            • 3. Re: Is it possible to explain table calculations & LODs to your grandma?
              Jonathan Drummey

              Hi Siraj,


              I think the metaphors as you've described them so far are fantastic! In terms of building out the materials I'm with Toby, text is searchable and findable on the web in ways that videos still aren't. Also if you are able to teach the fundamental principles behind aggregation, addressing, and partitioning then users will be able to quickly build their own calculations and you won't need 100+ examples that are likely to be subject to increasing levels of terminology confusion.


              So write it out, then build videos from that. I'd be glad to review.



              • 4. Re: Is it possible to explain table calculations & LODs to your grandma?
                Ryan Eavey

                Hi, Siraj,


                This is a great post, thank you for sharing your thoughts in detail.


                I've been using Tableau for a couple years now and have gotten comfortable with using LOD calcs, less so with table calcs, for my own work.  However, when I try to explain either one to other people I am usually met with blank stares or confused faces.  I usually end up explaining my perception of how they work, which can be confusing to beginning and intermediate users, and then point them to the various online videos and blog posts for more detail.  It'd be great if there were a better resource available for beginner and intermediate level users to understand these powerful capabilities.  The more you use LOD and table calcs, the easier they become.  But getting started with either one is quite a challenge.


                I'd be happy to review and provide feedback on any content you develop if you'd like.


                Thank you,


                • 5. Re: Is it possible to explain table calculations & LODs to your grandma?
                  Michael Hesser

                  Wonderful title, Siraj Samsudeen-- though I thought immediately of my frustration when my grandmother tried to explain canasta to me  (a card game to which I will swear the rules are made up and regularly change without warning).

                  I look forward to hearing more (from you, rather than canasta!). The more Tableau becomes second nature, the more wonderful things we can accomplish with it!

                  • 6. Re: Is it possible to explain table calculations & LODs to your grandma?
                    Vladislav Grigorov

                    Hey Siraj,


                    I think you did a great post! Having been into consulting on Tableau for. Lille of years, I've seen many times the blank stares in the eyes of my trainees when e came to Table calcs or LODs. And I am speaking of audience from IT newbees to people who are already familiar with other BI tools, and have already used Tableau for a while. So I think your initiative is great and so pd also second Toby Erkson

                    and Jonathan Drummey into that as dries of blogposts wold be easier for you, searchable, and mor entertaining to read.


                    I Am nothing of the caliber of Joe Mako or Jonathan Drummey, but having tried to teach Tableau to university students made me realize what works and what not, and I always try to build on that to convey my understanding of the mechanism behind these two most complicated areas of our beloved tool.


                    Now that I'm not into consulting anymore, but use Tableau more as a customer, I would be delighted to help with reviewing what you create to provide feedback. I also believe it would be an opportunity to strengthen my own understanding in th se areas.





                    • 7. Re: Is it possible to explain table calculations & LODs to your grandma?
                      Siraj Samsudeen

                      Hi Ashish,


                      Thanks a lot for taking the time to share your difficulties. I fully empathize with you.


                      “I have seen many videos where I understood application areas but I do get lost when I am trying to solve them. To get the exposure to real time problem and ideas to solve them is the one of the reason to be on the community. I will be happy if you can be the light at the end of tunnel to rescue people like me. “


                      This is my aim with creating a list of real-life problems so that new users can get plenty of practice. But I do take the feedback of Jonathan and Toby that 100 is too many. I will work on building up a list with a smaller set of problems and see where we end up with. Your feedback would be very valuable to me in the process.

                      • 8. Re: Is it possible to explain table calculations & LODs to your grandma?
                        Siraj Samsudeen

                        Hi Toby, thanks a lot for taking the time to give me blunt feedback and also for giving me specific pointers as to how to take this forward – I see the value in text-based posts. I also for the first time understood the importance of turning off comments in the blog so that the discussion can happen here. Very valuable pointers. Once I am done with the first 1 or 2 articles,  I would reach out to you to see whether I have actually understood everything you said. Thanks again Toby.

                        • 9. Re: Is it possible to explain table calculations & LODs to your grandma?
                          Siraj Samsudeen

                          Hi Jonathan,


                          Thanks for your kind words. Sometimes the best appreciation a student gets is just a note of recognition from his teacher. With respect to table calcs, Joe Mako and you are my teachers and hearing encouraging feedback from you is really motivating. Thanks a lot Jonathan.


                          I will start addressing the foundational concepts starting from aggregation itself like you have suggested. Thanks for your willingness to review the work – once it is ready, I would get in touch with you.

                          • 10. Re: Is it possible to explain table calculations & LODs to your grandma?
                            Siraj Samsudeen

                            Hi Ryan, thanks for sharing your thoughts and thanks for your willingness to review my work. All these encouragements have now put pressure me to get the stuff out quickly !

                            • 11. Re: Is it possible to explain table calculations & LODs to your grandma?
                              Siraj Samsudeen

                              Hi Vladislav, I can relate your message - the blank stares! - yes, they are very common reaction to Table Calcs. I hope that the metaphors I use will make them easy to understand and easy to relate to for beginners. Once I get the first few articles/videos ready, I would post them here and I would be glad to get your review comments

                              • 12. Re: Is it possible to explain table calculations & LODs to your grandma?
                                Siraj Samsudeen

                                Hi All,


                                I have created the first video in the series. Originally, I was planning to create only videos as I want to recreate as much of the classroom environment as possible and doing that is easier in videos than in text. However, after reading the feedback from Toby and Jonathan, I decided to do a combo - I will record a video (as I get my flow just teaching without writing a detailed script) and then I will write something like a transcript that would serve as the text post. It has taken me a while to learn some of the fundamentals of video editing and I am happy now that I can produce videos easily.


                                Here is the introduction to series post where I have given a quick outline of what I intend to cover in the series:

                                A new series on Demystifying Table Calculations | TableauPro


                                And here is the first video in the series that talks about the first big insight that I was referring to in my first post here:

                                1.1 My first BIG insight about table calculations | TableauPro


                                Hi Toby Erkson, now that I have  created the first video/post, can you please give me more details on your suggestion to create a thread so that all the discussions can happen here?


                                Please give as much critical feedback as possible

                                • 13. Re: Is it possible to explain table calculations & LODs to your grandma?
                                  Toby Erkson

                                  Wow, looking good!

                                  The web page and video are nicely done and articulate.  I'm pleasantly impressed and looking forward to learning about these "paradoxical problems" of the reporting world


                                  Your epiphany is great and should be helpful to many people because many have used Excel for reporting.  Spot on!


                                  You're idea about a right-click menu on an item is good, why not actually submit it as an Idea?!

                                  1.1 New Tableau Menu for table calcs.png

                                  • 14. Re: Is it possible to explain table calculations & LODs to your grandma?
                                    Siraj Samsudeen

                                    Hi Toby,


                                    Thanks for your kind words. Sorry, I could not respond to you immediately and neither could I post the next video as other demands took over. Now I have posted the first paradoxical problem and I plan to post the next one on Thursday. Please watch and give feedback. For the 3rd paradoxical problem, I am trying my hand at creating some animation to illustrate a concept that many Tableau users find it difficult to fully appreciate! I have presented a 45-minute session in the Tableau Fringe Festival APAC edition last week where I have presented all these concepts and also presented a draft version of the grandma script - for the blog, I am trying to create a more easy-to-understand version of the concept that will connect with even the beginners. That is why it is taking a bit of time


                                    Regarding your suggestion to submit the menu idea as an idea in the community, I am thinking of doing it at a later point when I have collected all my thoughts together on this topic. I have a number of simplifications in mind to be done to the table calculations from naming to the way the options are presented, etc. and some of them are not yet fully formed in my mind even - as I flesh out all my ideas in the blog series, the ideas would be ready to post, I hope.

                                    1 2 Previous Next