In our work configuring Tableau, creating extensions and building dashboards for clients, we’ve found that the most forward-thinking organizations see investing in a Tableau license as just the start. They realize that customizing your Tableau deployment to your unique use cases is the key to making the most of the platform, and one way to do this is to streamline the communication and write-back processes to optimize workflows.
Here are 10 practical tips — five readily applicable in basic Tableau, five relying on write-back extensions — that will help you identify and create opportunities to make collaborative insight discovery easier and more rewarding. We hope you will use them as jumping-off points to come up with solutions to tailor Tableau to your team’s needs.
USING CORE TABLEAU FEATURES
Let’s start with a couple things you can natively do in Tableau to facilitate communication about dashboard content.
1. Comment on Views
Commenting on a view is the simplest way to start a conversation about — and inside — a dashboard. A core Tableau feature since version 10.4, it enables users in your active directory to discuss views and tag and notify each other to make sure messages relevant to specific team members don’t get lost or ignored. Although the Comments pane is limited in its focus to a complete view and doesn’t give you the option to directly annotate specific data points, you can still share interactive snapshots of data in the discussion — already a big step towards cutting down on the time spent hopping in and out of Tableau to collaborate on dashboard content.
2. Subscribe to Reports
Tableau natively allows you to set up Subscriptions for yourself and others. Subscribers receive the desired report as a PDF or PNG file — static formats, sure, but the real value here is the automated mechanism that ensures that the appropriate people see what they need to see when they need to see it. Set a schedule to, for example, start every Monday with a fresh report, or have Tableau update you whenever relevant data refreshes. Either way, you’re eliminating a manual task and a potential source of error.
3. Use Alerts and Headlines to Keep All Eyes on Important Metrics
This tip involves two separate features, but they both serve roughly the same purpose: they reduce the reliance on vigilant colleagues to remind teams of important milestones and thresholds. With Alerts, you can assign conditions to any continuous measure axis to trigger automated emails to selected users from your active directory. This feature makes it easier to monitor quotas, baselines or keep overdue items from piling up and offers decent flexibility for alert frequency and stakeholder visibility.
Meanwhile, Metrics — a Tableau feature since 2020 — gives you the option to create high-level KPIs for a given dashboard view. Select a data point you want to track, name it and provide a description –each data point you set up this way will appear in your project folder to provide a clear, mobile-friendly “headline” so analysts can quickly get up to speed on the details most important to their work.
4. Promote Understanding with Info Icons and Overlays
The unique logic of an organization’s reporting processes can make it difficult to remember every relevant detail, especially when analysts need to work on multiple dashboards or when a new user is still in going through onboarding. Sure, you can refer them to documentation and maintain a working environment where they feel comfortable asking more experienced colleagues for help — but we’re here to make things quick and easy.
So why not include the necessary details inside the dashboards, neatly tucked away but readily accessible next to the data they’re related to? One option is to use Custom Shapes to create an info icon with a dummy metric anywhere on the dashboard and add a tooltip to provide users with essential background on the data they’re looking at. Alternatively, you can use the Show/Hide Container feature to create an optional overlay — essentially a custom image with sections that correspond to dashboard elements — that helps users make sense of their data.
Take a look:
5. Create a Single Source of Truth
An essential part of collaborating on data is ensuring that everyone working with the same data is indeed working with the same data. In Tableau Server, you can use the drop-down Server menu and the Publish Data Source option to create and share a data source, and when you upload this to Tableau Server, it will serve as a single source of truth. By doing this, you can guarantee the consistency of data consistent across your entire team.
USING TABLEAU EXTENSIONS
The above techniques should already get you closer to a more streamlined teamwork experience in Tableau — but let’s see what you can do with advanced, extended features.
While built-in Tableau capabilities can help us make it easier to access, read and understand information, it’s through specialized write-back extensions that you can open possibilities to modify and extend data to more fully integrate your communication about data into the Tableau experience. Some write-back extensions even act as platforms and enable custom development. In contrast to less capable write-back solutions, these fuller-featured solutions transform your Tableau dashboards into advanced collaboration hubs optimized to your specific needs and workflows.
The examples below use standard features in Elements for Tableau, Starschema’s enterprise-grade write-back and annotation extension — because, well, we built it and it’s what what we know best — but there are a number of other high-quality options out there. We encourage you to explore them all in depth and get demos from the developers to see which one best fits your needs.
6. Write-Back to Data Points
Changing an inaccurate or outdated data point in a dashboard often involves communicating across teams to put in a request with the owner of the source data. This can result in multiple rounds of messaging before the updated data shows up on the dashboard to unblock the analytical process. A common use for write-back extensions is to enable authorized users to manually change the value of data points on the dashboard. The data point will update immediately, and you can provide an explanation for the change in the form of a tooltip to drastically reduce downtime while still keeping teammates in the loop.
7. Discuss Data Points Separately
While Tableau’s stock Comments pane is already an improvement over having to exit dashboards to discuss data, extensions give you the option to conduct multiple, compartmentalized discussions in the same dashboard. Simply click on a value to create a comments section inside the dashboard, dedicated to and appearing directly at a specific value. Yes, you can make questions and ongoing discussions accessible via tooltips, but a good extension will give you a wide range of options to display annotations and notify teammates about them.
Another major advantage of this feature over Tableau’s built-in Comments pane is that you can make the specific comments appear only with a specific filter is engaged to ensure that users only see annotations that are relevant to them.
8. Streamline Approval Processes
Building an oversight mechanism into dashboards can automate many of the manual tasks involved in requesting and granting (or denying) approvals for certain processes. For example, you can set up a system where an analyst-requested change to a sensitive data point doesn’t appear in a dashboard until the appropriate supervisor allows it.
You can use your trusty in-dashboard tooltips to provide a justification for the change request, send automated messages over the channel of your choice and open a ticket to notify one or more approvers, who will see the request in the dashboard’s Approvals tab or the web UI of your extension and decide whether or not to approve it. If they approve the change, it immediately goes live in the dashboard — and nobody had to write an email to get there.
9. Facilitate Decisions with At-a-Glance Progress Tracking
When you have a high-level dashboard user who relies on others to complete certain lower-level processes, a quick and clear way to track progress can greatly improve the speed and quality of their decisions. Since write-back extensions can be highly flexible, here you also have multiple options to communicate relevant changes.
Let’s say a decision-maker needs analysts to regularly validate key data points. For a use case like this, you can take advantage of the extension-enabled ability to modify individual values: assign a color highlight to a data point to clearly communicate that it has been validated and create a tooltip (using a custom form with a checkbox for easy repeatability) to display additional detail, such as who checked the data and when.
10. Form-alize Communication
As mentioned in the previous example, equipping your dashboards with forms dedicated to specific processes can make recurring communication steps a breeze. Your write-back extension like has a full-featured form builder — use it to take the most common details that your team regularly needs to communicate and make them available as checkboard options, drop-down items or, for example, degrees on a slider. By standardizing options, you eliminate arbitrariness and ensure that those on the receiving end get all the information they need in a clear and concise shape — all in the same dashboard.
Want to dig deeper into these concepts? We have an on-demand webinar for you where we demonstrate these tips — and much more — to get you thinking about productivity in Tableau on another level — watch the video here:
On-demand webinar: Tableau Dashboard Collaboration Tips and Strategies
Communicating about Tableau dashboards doesn't have to be a roundabout process. In addition to extensions that enable…
And if you feel that we can help you get more value from Tableau by building, fine-tuning and applying solutions like the ones discussed in this article, drop us a line — we’d love to hear from you.
About the authors:
Tamás Varga is a data visualization expert and data storyteller at Starschema, with years of experience building practical dashboards with sharp designs for global enterprises and major nonprofit organizations. In addition to his professional interest in data visualization, he’s also an active member of Tableau’s international dataviz community as a former Tableau Featured Author. Follow him on Twitter: @Imperativusz.
Soma Osvay is a lead software architect at Starschema and a master of Tableau APIs, extensions, customizations and undocumented features. Drawing on his deep expertise in Tableau Server-related solutions, Soma has created numerous applications that tightly integrate with Tableau. Soma’s passion extends beyond software development to IT security and has frequently helped improve Tableau features by auditing the security of sandboxed extensions and reporting security bugs to Tableau.
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