To Give You Some Context

It’s been a while, but we are back with some tabbyleau ❤

We’ve been avid Tableau users for over 6 months now. It’s been an interesting journey to explore its capabilities and limitations, but more importantly in context to our media industry.

One of the first things that intrigued us was the use of context filters. Our initial expectation for the application of these was to use them when there was a need to display top X metrics based on a selected dimension or measure. If you remember reading the post on parameter changes — it is a calculation we use most frequently to vizualize various aspects of our data in a simplified manner — that is where we wanted to apply context filters to filter relevant values for the selected metric and display only those in the viz.

Spoiler alert — that is NOT how context filters work. To make it clearer, say the selected metric is country and we want to see top 10 revenue generating countries. So we set a Revenue filter to top 10 values. Even if you add that to context, flipping your parameter over to Channel will not filter and display he top 10 revenue generating channels. (Yea we know it sucks, so please vote here!)

So does that mean there is no value for us in using these context filters? Well, don’t write them off too soon. Almost every Tableau expert we have spoken to has recommended use of context filters to improve the performance of your viz.

Finally, a few months of experimenting later, we now understand what that could mean. I’ll do my best to explain it in simple language, because for one, that’s how we finally made sense of it.

When you use filters and take actions on your dashboard, each action runs the query through the entirety of your datasource. For example say you have a date filterand you are using the relative date to display this month’s data. When you take an action on your viz, even though the filter is set to this month, the query is run through all your data. This means if you have data in there since 2014, the query is run through all the years of this data, which means more time consuming.

Now, if you add your date filter to context, what this will do is, when you perform an action on your dashboard now, it will only query back to the first day of this month and execute it. So much less effort and time right!

Another thing we realized while implementing this was that, ideally all the filters that you use in your viz should be added to context; if you have a campaign filter, add it to context to run queries only on the selected campaigns; if you have a channel filter, add it to context to run actions only on the selected channel data.

Pro Tip: Most of us make the sheets on our dashboards filterable to make the dashboard experience more interactive. Interesting thing here is, you can add these to context too! When you make a sheet filterable, you are technically adding a dashboard action. What you need to do to add this to context is, once to take the action, go to each sheet on the dashboard and add the action filter to context as well!

This is what your filters area would look like by adding filters and actions to context..

We are currently in the process of going through all our dashboards and making these changes to add some context! It is definitely an additional step for us, but the results make it worth it. And here we are sharing this post, in the hope that you come across it before building your dashboards so you can improve their usage experience.

One thing we have learned from our media agency-life experience is that people need to be given a mind-blowing dashboard experience for them to be open to using it for its purpose. And since time = money, one slight delay in load time makes them turn back to their trusted friend, Excel.

One can hope that this is one step in getting people on board to better reporting and analysis. All you can do is add a little more context!:)

I’m sure you all missed our beloved Tabby so here you go! But before that, we would love any feedback, tips, recommendations and we hope you enjoyed the read.