Tableau Dashboard Requirements – How to Guide

As much as we’d all love to just play in Tableau-land all day long, it’s important to understand the “Why” behind what we’re creating and its true purpose. You could spend weeks designing and building out an amazing dashboard, but if it’s not actually something users can use to answer their questions, everyone is back at square one. The requirements phase is absolutely essential and will serve as the foundation for what we’ll soon be developing for our client. So let’s make sure we actually understand what our audience is looking for, and not attempt to read their minds.

So let’s break down how to best focus our efforts during the requirements gathering phase and also review some sample interview questions which will help get the conversation started. Time to walk through the Goal, User, Measures, Data, Branding/Security and how they all play a part in our Tableau dashboard requirements.

What is the Goal of the dashboard?

This is the part where you really get to understand why someone is looking to leverage Tableau to solve a business need. The questions you ask here are going to help in defining the acceptance criteria for the deliverable.

  • “If you could wave a magic wand and have the perfect dashboard, what would it look like?”
  • “What questions should this dashboard be able to answer for you?”
  • “How will this dashboard change the way you work?”

Who are the Users of the dashboard?

We’ll need to map out how they do their job, and weave in those factors to make sure we’re designing something that will optimize the end users experience. You’ll want to give the user enough freedom to explore their data, without getting hung up on row-level information.

  • “Who are the end users of this dashboard? Organizational roles? Level of technical expertise?”
  • “Is the dashboard going to immediately inform you to take action or will it be used for exploratory purposes?”
  • “What is the lowest level of data you’d need (not like) to see? Row level?”
  • “Must all of that data always be visible, or are you open to tooltips and detail tabs?”

What exactly are we Measuring with this dashboard?

When we have a good understanding of the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and how they’re calculated, we’ll have a much easier time mapping out which Tableau visualizations and designs best align with the client’s vision.

  • “You talked about your goal of this dashboard. What specific metrics/measures will help you get there?”
  • “How will you view this data? By department? Location? Over time?”
  • “How do you calculate each of these metrics and are the required fields available?”
  • “How do you slice these metrics to better realize their importance on your decision making?”

Where does the Data reside that will support these dashboard requirements?

Often times business users will have requirements that simply are not possible to satisfy given the level of data you’ll have access to. Work with the data warehousing team to better understand their backend architecture, field availability, and any documentation they may have around how the data is related. It’s extremely important to get all of your data at the same granularity to avoid inconsistent and inaccurate reporting. If your data sucks, so will your dashboard.

  • “We talked about the things you’d like to calculate and measure in your dashboard. Do you know if these data fields are currently accessible and in a reportable format?”
  • “How large is your dataset? Are there any filters we should be applying to reduce the overall scope and size?”
  • “Any nuances with the data we should know about?”
  • “How is the data quality? Has a team already cleansed the dataset?”
  • “Will this dashboard be displaying historical data? If so, how far back is required? Issues with data freshness?”

Anything else to factor into the overall design? Security or access restrictions? Any other dashboard requirements?

Most companies have standard branding colors that you should be including into your design. This allows for you to provide a seamless view into a companies data without them feeling too far removed from their own organization. Work with the design & branding team to pull the latest logos and color palettes into Tableau. It’s also important to understand the sensitivity of the data you’ll be working with and whether certain security measures need to be baked into the dashboard.

  • “Is there a need to implement any security measures to ensure data is only visible by certain teams or individuals?”
  • “Would you be able to connect me with the branding team to ensure we’re adhering to the corporate style guide?”

So now that you have a good grasp on the dashboard’s requirements, it’s the perfect time to hit the whiteboard and start creating a wireframe to design and bring the dashboard to life! …To Be Continued

Salesforce just bought Tableau

June 10th 2019, I was driving my daughter to daycare and was completely caught off guard by a colleagues text message, “Salesforce just bought Tableau”.  My initial reaction was anger and resentment of Tableau for selling out. Why would a company whose sole purpose of helping the world see and understand their data be interested in plugging an analytics hole for the Salesforce behemoth? Tableau have always been a bit of an underdog. They went up against the big guys and in my opinion, completely crushed them by writing a superior software that made analytics accessible, beautiful, and FUN for everyone. 

Not everything was rainbows and unicorns. Tableau absolutely had growing pains when it came to making their suite an enterprise reporting tool.  Most of the Fortune 500 are still struggling to figure out how to roll out Tableau enterprise wide. Tableau’s Server offering is cumbersome and requires administration from both a technical and content management lens. They seemed to have slowed on the innovation front as well. Formatting in Tableau is still one of the most painful aspects of using the tool.  Anyone can create a dashboard in Tableau, but if you want to create something that looks professional, you’re going to need years of experience under your belt on how to maneuver all of the software’s nuances.  Shameless plug, check out my latest course where I’ll show you how to create beautiful enterprise ready dashboards in a just a few hours.

As a Tableau consultant, I know Salesforce has a VERY long road ahead in their Tableau integration efforts.  I wish them the well in pulling the best of what Tableau has to offer and packaging that into their solution. As Tableau will soon be under the Salesforce umbrella, I absolutely see innovation stalling and the investment in bringing non-Salesforce data sources into the tool dropping off as well. 

I truly hope I’m wrong and that Salesforce provides Tableau with autonomy while offering lessons learned on making the tool more “Enterprise Ready” regardless of whether or not a client is a Salesforce customer. We shall see.

What are your thoughts on the acquisition? Do you think Tableau will continue to grow, or will Salesforce ultimately halt Tableau’s product innovation?

Tableau Motion Chart

Animating Time Series data with a Tableau Motion Chart

Animating Time Series data with a Tableau Motion Chart

One of my favorite things to do in Tableau is to animate data using the pages shelf.  When you leverage the Tableau pages shelf, you have the ability to step through your  Tableau time series data much like you would visualize a flip book.  Tableau permits paging through your data much like a movie is played out frame by frame.  What we’re creating with this feature is a Tableau Motion Chart.  

I’ve put together a short demo on how you can quickly set up a motion chart in Tableau.  Let us know in the comments how you’re using the Tableau Pages Shelf to animate your data!

Tableau Motion Chart

Creating a Tableau Motion Chart

Tableau Server Alternative Approach

Is there a Tableau Server Alternative?

You don’t need thousands of licenses and a massive Tableau Server installed in order to share your visualizations across an organization.  There is a Tableau Server alternative available.  Please keep in mind that this solution may not work for everyone as once Tableau Packaged Workbooks have been distributed, there is no way of blocking access to the workbook or recalling it. It’s the same concept as sharing a PDF or Powerpoint file. Once it’s been emailed or saved on someone’s computer, it’s available for potentially unauthorized consumption and distribution.

“Tableau Server is too expensive.  I have a tight budget and need to do more with less.”

Tableau Server is almost always the optimal choice for enterprising your Tableau workbooks.   If your budget is thinly stretched, odds are you won’t unable to afford Tableau Server Licensing fees.  Don’t let that get you down, there’s a practical solution.  You have the ability to mirror a similar architecture of Tableau Server, to house your workbooks in a series of shared network directories.

Let’s take a look at how Tableau Server stores your workbooks

Here is an example of what the traditional Tableau Server hierarchy looks like:

Tableau Server Alternative Architecture


At the top of the hierarchy we have our Tableau Site.  The site is a top-level folder and generally is how departments across an organization will separate from each other.   For example, your organization’s Finance and Human Resources departments will more than likely have separate Tableau sites as they analyze very different data sets and wish to keep their dashboards private.

The next level down is called a Tableau Project.  Think of a Project as a folder that will house your Tableau workbooks. There is no other directory required to store workbooks and dashboards as they’re already packed into the workbook file.

Every workbook that’s published on a Tableau Server must reside in a Tableau Project.  Again, a project is just a folder that can hold one or many workbooks.  

Traditionally, when we publish our Tableau Workbooks to server we must first sign onto a Tableau server:

Tableau Server Alternative - Tableau Server Sign On


Once you’re signed into your Tableau Server, you’ll need to select which site you’d like to publish to (you’ll only see sites you have access to).  Now that we know which site we’d like to publish to, we have to select the final resting place for our workbook, a specific Tableau Project for the workbook to live in

Prior to the final publishing you’ll need to:

Tableau Server Alternative - Tableau Publish Workbook Screen

  • Select a particular Project from the dropdown
  • Name your workbook by either selecting from the dropdown an existing workbook to overwrite or upload a brand new workbook
  • Select the views (dashboards) you’d like to make visible on server
  • Choose which groups/users can view the workbook
  • Publish!

So in the above example we published one Tableau Workbook which consisted of two dashboards into the default project folder on the Finance site.


Now we understand Tableau Server workbook storage, let’s discover an alternative!  

Take a look at this non-Tableau server hierarchy:

Tableau Server Alternative - Shared Network


At the top level, we have our pseudo site which is just a folder named Finance.  Inside of the Finance folder we have two additional folders, one for Project A and another for Project B.  Within each Project folder we can store our exported Tableau Packaged Workbooks.

What does this mean in terms of necessary licensing and resourcing to establish this alternative model?

In a perfect world, you’d only require one Tableau Developer using a licensed version of Tableau Desktop @ $1999 year ($399/year thereafter).  This developer would be responsible for manually refreshing data and overwriting the existing Tableau Workbooks within the Project folders. It’s a monotonous task, however if these workbooks only really need to be a few times a year, the level of effort involved in minimal.  Once the workbooks are in their packaged format (.twbx), then can be opened up by anyone with access to the folder that contains the workbook using Tableau Reader.

If you require more frequent data refreshes, I’d recommend automating the refresh process by using a tool like Alteryx. Using Alteryx, you can define a regularly scheduled workflow that executes a refresh of data, packages up the workbook, and spits it out into your directory of choice.  Alteryx is definitely not cheap @ $5,000 year per license.

Why use Tableau Server when there is a much cheaper Alternative?

If you really want a hardened server appliance where all of your data, workbooks, permissions, and security rules reside, go for Tableau Server.  If you’re a smaller shop or just want to test out sharing your workbooks before diving into the huge expense of acquiring Tableau server, try a more localized Tableau Packaged Workbook and Tableau Reader approach on a network share drive.  In time, if you need more power and automation, opt for Tableau Server.

Date Differences in Tableau

Calculating Date Differences in Tableau

One of my favorite functions in Tableau is the DATEDIFF function.  When DATEDIFF is used within a calculated field, you can quickly start calculating date differences in tableau using two dates fields.  The resulting calculated field will generate a brand new value on the fly.  All you need to do is specify a start, and end date.   Along with which piece or part of the date you wish to calculate by.  The following table contains a comprehensive list of the functions date_part values:


date_part Values
'year' Four-digit year
'quarter' 1-4
'month' 1-12 or “January”, “February”, and so on
'dayofyear' Day of the year; Jan 1 is 1, Feb 1 is 32, and so on
'day' 1-31
'weekday' 1-7 or “Sunday”, “Monday”, and so on
'week' 1-52
'hour' 0-23
'minute' 0-59
'second' 0-60

The syntax you’ll need to use is as follows:

Let’s say in this example that we have a start date of July 1st 2016 and an end date of July 2nd 2016.  We decide to figure out the number of days between the two fields by specifying that value in the first part of our DATEDIFF formula.  Our calculation would yield 1 as the two dates are one day apart.  If we were to swap out ‘day’ with ‘week’ our calculation would yield 0 as there is less than 1 week difference between the two dates.

Feel free to try out the DATEDIFF function on one of your own Tableau workbooks that contains multiple date fields to practice how the function works and begin calculating date differences in Tableau.  Check out the video I’ve created below detailing how this function works when comparing the date a product was ordered to when it was actually shipped out to the customer.  We can use this new calculated time to ship field to further analyze our various dimensions to see potential snags in our shipping process and get a better grasp on the product categories which need the most attention to get back on track.

Please remember that this function only works on date fields so if your date is still in string format (the little ABC icon on the data fields pane) you’ll need to first convert it to a date field data type.

Higher Ed