I Wish #Tableau Would Give Us A Way To Document Our Figures!


For me, Tableau is not just about whiz-bang dashboards and an awesome user experience. I use Tableau for a lot more than just its intended purpose of interactively exploring data.

I use Tableau to create tables and graphics for reports and presentations just about every day. I have lost count of the tables and figures I have created using Tableau (it is in the thousands!). These tables and figures have been created from well over 1500 individual Tableau workbooks over the past 7 years.

Not only are there individual worksheet-based figures, there are dashboard figures. There are figures with actual client data and then there are intentionally-obfuscated figures. There are iterations of figures used to find the right digital projection settings and there are draft figures and final figures. There are Tableau figures galore in my recent past!

As I look back in time, I wish that I would have been able to document the original sources for all these figures (and tables).

The Problem

Although I have been able to maintain a good memory with respect to my work through the years, it is not possible for me to instantly recall the Tableau workbook from which a particular graphic originated. As time passes, it becomes even more difficult to trace the figures back to their original Tableau workbooks. This problem is an ongoing issue for me as I try to revisit work completed in the distant and not-so-distant past.

The Solution

Tableau simply needs to implement an automated way for us to tag figures with important information such as time, date, file name, file path, author, data source, etc, as shown in the example documentation block in Figure 1. In this example, an annotation block has been added to the figure to aid in the identification of workbook, worksheet, author and date of publication.

Figure 1 -

Figure 1 – An example documentation block (lower right corner) that could be implemented as an automatically generated type of annotation block.

Tableau just needs to implement something like Excel uses to stamp headers or footers, or simply to implement an automatically generated documentation block like the one shown in Figure 1. Alternately, Tableau could choose to add these documentation features to the caption. There just has to be a way given to us to connect the figures back to their sources. At this time, this is a glaring weakness of the software but it is an option that could easily be added. Of course all of this is just my opinion, but these thoughts are based on a huge amount of experience in trying to find original workbooks based on looking at a figure!

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2 thoughts on “I Wish #Tableau Would Give Us A Way To Document Our Figures!

  1. Hi Ken- definitely would be a nice to have feature. For those of us, like myself, that have been using Tableau since the beginning (when there was only the desktop version!), know it caught on because it gave “power analysts” the ability to work free from IT-constraints that governed traditional BI tools. While we could do all sorts of cool things, it’s hard to scale the model since all the dashboards usually relied on the expertise of a single person

    Now that Tableau has grown up, and become wildly popular, maybe we’ll start to see them add features that give a bit more governance to organizations that now have more than a handful of “Tableau Jedis” working with the tool. Your suggestion is a great one. Another idea would be a “Describe Dashboard” or “Describe Workbook” function similar to the “Describe Worksheet” function that would generate all the metadata about the file (data sources, calculated fields, etc.) that affords the level of documentation most major organizations require as part of a controlled environment.

    • Jason,

      Great comment! Thanks for your thoughts and expanding upon the concept. When I wrote this, I felt like I was griping about a small issue. However, your comment puts this “lack of documentation issue” into a bigger framework that Tableau needs to consider improving.


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