The Dos and Don’ts of Designing Efficient Tableau Dashboards

This following is a guest post contributed by Perceptive Analytics.

A dashboard is to a user what an assistant is to a boss. While an assistant helps manage multiple tasks for a boss, a dashboard helps manage multiple data sources for a user. Insights are only as good as the underlying data and dashboards are an excellent medium to provide those insights.

Dashboards provide “at-a-glance” views of key metrics which are relevant for business users to perform their tasks effectively. In other words, dashboards are an interactive form of reporting which provides users with consolidated views of different metrics to make impactful, data-driven decisions. A dashboard should speak on the creator’s behalf, acting as an expert providing actionable insights to its users. The dashboard should be self-sufficient when it comes to answering the question, “what can my data tell me?”

There are a plethora of tools available in the market for creating dashboards. However, a badly designed dashboard or incompatible (or wrong) tool can lead to hundreds of thousands of dollars in investment losses when accounting for inefficient time and effort spent by development and analysis teams. It becomes imperative for an organization to choose the right tool and have a step by step approach for dashboard development.

Currently, one of the top business intelligence tools available in the market is Tableau. It is used to create interactive dashboards for users. Tableau has been named a ‘Leader’ in the Gartner Magic Quadrant for six straight years in a row (Source – Tableau.com).

In this post, we will highlight a few best practices that you should follow when developing your Tableau dashboard. We will also talk about some of the pitfalls you should avoid while creating a Tableau dashboard.

We’ll divide the best practices into three different stages of dashboard development.

  1. Pre-Development: Ideation and Conceptualization
  2. Development
  3. Post Development: Maintenance

Ideation and Conceptualization

During the conceptualization and ideation stage, there are a few aspects that one should consider before starting to develop a dashboard.

1. Goal

Understand clearly why you are creating the dashboard in the first place. What is the end objective that you want to achieve via this dashboard? Is it automating a reporting process at month-end? Is it providing a better visualization to a complex calculation created in another platform?

Having a clear understanding of your dashboarding goal or objective keeps you focused and on the right track.

2. Audience

Keep in mind that your audience is a key part of creating a purposeful, impactful dashboard. The dashboard used by the CEO or other members of the C-suite will be very different from the dashboard used by business unit heads, which in turn will be very different from the dashboards used by branch managers. Thus, you need to consider who will use your dashboard and how will it be used?

For instance, a CEO is interested in key metrics at an overall organizational level like the overall financial and operational heath of the company. On the other hand, a procurement manager would be interested in the amount of material being procured from different vendors and their respective procurement costs. Having a GOAL in mind before development is essential because it helps identify the end user of the dashboard.

3. Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)

After thoroughly understanding the various stakeholder requirements, it is important to develop a list of KPIs for each user and/or department. Having the stakeholders sign-off on dashboard KPIs substantially reduces development and re-work time.

4. Data Sources

After achieving sign-off on KPIs, inventory the various data sources that are required for development. This step is important because each data source can potentially increase complexity and computing costs required to calculate the KPIs. It’s always better to only connect those data sources which contain relevant data.

5. Infrastructure

Storage and computation requirements should be taken into consideration commensurate with the dashboard’s degree of data volume and complexity. Having a right-sized backend infrastructure will improve dashboard performance considerably. Also, it is essential to understand the dashboard’s update frequency. Will the data be refreshed once a day? Is it going to be real-time? Having the answer to these questions will help generate infrastructure requirements that will prevent performance issues down the road.

Development

Once you have identified what needs to be presented on the dashboard and set up the infrastructure, it’s time to move to the second phase of dashboard development.

The following items should be considered during the development phase.

6. Design

Design is an important part of overall dashboard development. You should be very selective with the colors, fonts and font sizes that you employ. There is no rule book that establishes the right color or the right font for dashboard design; in our opinion, one should design with the company’s coloring scheme in mind.

This is a safe bet as it keeps the company’s brand identity intact, especially if the dashboard is accessible to external parties. Fonts should not be very light in color and the charts should not be very bright. Having a subtle color scheme that incorporates the brand’s identity resonates well with internal and external parties.

7. Visualization Impact

Identify the right type of visualization to create an impactful first glance for the users. Certain types of data points are better represented by certain types of visualizations. For instance, time trend analysis is usually represented on a line graph. A comparison of the same metric across different business lines are presented well via a heat map. Consider a sales dashboard where revenue and cost numbers for the current year should be presented as standalone numbers with a larger font size, while the historical trend analysis should be placed below.

8. Captions and Comments

Tableau provides users’ with the functionality to add captions and comments to visualizations. Bear in mind that you won’t be around all the time to explain what the different charts in the dashboard represent. Therefore, add relevant descriptions, comments and/or captions wherever it can be useful for the viewer.

Post Development: Maintenance

Once you have created the dashboard, there are additional aspects you should consider for effective and smooth dashboard operation.

9. Robust Testing

After creating the dashboard, conduct robust testing of the entire platform. Testing helps identify any bugs and deployment errors which if not rectified can lead to system failure or erratic results at a later stage.

10. Maintenance

This is the most ignored phase in the dashboard development lifecycle but it is a crucial phase. Once you have created a dashboard, proper maintenance should be conducted in terms of software updates, connections to databases and infrastructure requirements. If the volume of data increases at a fast pace, you will need to upgrade the storage and computing infrastructure accordingly so that the system doesn’t crash or become prohibitively slow.

Avoid the Following

Up to this point we have highlighted some of the best practices to consider while creating a dashboard. Now, let’s broach the aspects you should avoid while creating a dashboard.

1. Starting with a Complex Dashboard

Remember that creating a dashboard is a phased approach. Trying to develop an overly complicated dashboard in one phase may complicate things and led to project failure. The ideal approach is to inventory and prioritize all requirements and proceed with a phased approach. Start development with the highest priority requirements or KPIs and gradually move to the lower priority KPIs in subsequent phases.

2. Placing Too Many KPIs on a Single Chart

Although Tableau has the capability to handle multiple measures and dimensions in a single chart, you should be judicious while choosing the dimensions and measures you want to present in a single graph. For instance, placing revenue, expenses and profit margins in a single chart may be of value; while placing revenue and vendor details in the same chart may not be as valuable.

3. Allocating Too Little Time to Deployment and Maintenance

The appropriate amount of time, budget and resources should be allocated to each constituent phase of the deployment cycle (i.e., KPI identification, dashboard development, testing and maintenance).

We are sure that after reading this post, you have a better idea regarding what practices should be considered while developing a Tableau dashboard. The principles offered here are from a high level perspective. There may be other project nuances to consider in your specific endeavors. We would be happy to hear your thoughts and the best practices that you follow while creating a Tableau dashboard.

Author Bio

This article was contributed by Perceptive Analytics. Prudhvi Sai Ram, Saneesh Veetil and Chaitanya Sagar contributed to this article.

Perceptive Analytics provides Tableau Consulting, data analytics, business intelligence and reporting services to e-commerce, retail, healthcare and pharmaceutical industries. Our client roster includes Fortune 500 and NYSE listed companies in the USA and India.

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Yet Another Market Basket Analysis in Tableau

This video represents part two in my Market Basket Analysis series.

The steps in the post were inspired by the book Tableau Unlimited written by former co-worker of mine, Chandraish Sinha. I wasn’t planning to construct another market basket analysis video but when I saw the approach outlined in his book, I felt like it warranted sharing with my readers and followers.

In this version we’ll use default Tableau Superstore data to show the relationship between sub-categories on an Order; all without using a self table join. The visualization and analysis is driven by a user selection parameter.

Once the user selects a sub-category, the bar chart visualization updates to reflect the number of associated sub-category items on the same order.

Sample Superstore Data 2

Watch the video and as always get out there and do some great things with your data!

Feel free to also check out Part 1 here where we create a simpler correlation matrix version that shows all the sub-category relationships in one visual.

 

 

 

Market Basket Analysis in Tableau

 

A favored analysis technique employed by retailers to help them understand the purchase behavior of their customers is the market basket analysis. When you log on to Amazon, most likely you’ve noticed the “Frequently Bought Together” section where Jeff Bezos and company would like to cross-sell you additional products based upon the purchase history of other people who have purchased the same item.

Market Basket Analysis influences how retailers institute sales promotions, loyalty programs, cross-selling/up-selling and even store layouts.

If a retailer observes that most people who purchase Coca-Cola also purchase a package of Doritos (I know they’re competing companies), then it may not make sense to discount both items at once as the consumer might have purchased the associated item at full price anyhow. Understanding the correlation between products is powerful information.

In this video, we’ll use Tableau Superstore data to perform a simple market basket analysis.

Sample Superstore Data 2

Feel free to interact with this market basket analysis on Tableau Public and then download and dissect the workbook.

Watch the video and as always get out there and do some great things with your data.

Feel free to also check out Part 2 here where we’ll create an analysis driven by a user selection parameter.

When Corporate Layoffs Don’t Work

“When downsizing is a knee-jerk reaction, it has long-term costs. Employees and labor costs are rarely the true source of the problems facing an organization. Workers are more likely to be the source of innovation and renewal.” [1]

Case in Point: Circuit City Laid Off Employees for Over-performance

There were a combination of factors that lead to the demise of former electronics retailer Circuit City. A number of these reasons were self-inflicted wounds. The company located its stores in subprime locations, stopped selling appliances to cut warehouse storage and distribution costs and underinvested in its web presence at a time when consumer preferences were beginning to shift online.

However, the company’s biggest blunder was its decision to layoff its most experienced and knowledgeable sales persons while trying to compete in the competitive electronics retail marketplace. In March of 2007, Circuit City announced a scheme to layoff 3,400 hourly workers (roughly 8% of its workforce), while offering a severance package with the ability to reapply to former jobs at a reduced salary. Any reapplications had to occur after a mandatory 10 week cooling off period. Circuit City practiced genteelism by branding its cost cutting and de-skilling scheme a “wage management initiative”.

Management decided to staff its stores with fewer people, with fewer skills, making less money and expected this combination to yield long term positive results. As a result of the layoffs, Circuit City placed knowledgeable, experienced sales staff on a platter and served them to its main competitor, Best Buy. Additionally, where did Circuit City expect to find quality people who would work for a company that did not value loyalty, experience and wage increases?

“From a strategy perspective, customer-facing sales personnel would appear to be a core resource and potential differentiator for a consumer products retailer,” he [Kevin Clark, an assistant professor of management at Villanova School of Business] says. “Especially in an era of rapidly changing and more complex consumer electronics, knowledgeable sales personnel who are perceived by customers as ‘experts’ can be a source of competitive advantage.” [2]

Reportedly, “employees who were paid more than 51 cents above a set pay range for their departments were fired.” [3] However, solidifying the trope of senior executives reaping the gains without the pains, the CEO and Chairman of Circuit City received almost $10 million in various kinds of compensation for steering the company to its imperiled state. [4]

In under two years (i.e., November 2008), Circuit City announced it was going out of business. By laying off its highest paid hourly workers and replacing them with cheaper less skilled workers, in-store customer service levels plummeted which negatively impacted customer perception and sales.

Southwest Airlines Gets it Right

Waving flag of Southwest Airlines editorial 3D rendering

Treating employees as mere cogs and judging employees by costs and not by the overall value they create is self-defeating.

Some companies don’t understand that making workers happy leads to elevated productivity and higher retention levels. High employee morale should be table-stakes, instead it is a strategic key differentiator. Southwest Airlines has never had a layoff in its 47 plus years of existence. That’s laudable when you consider that airlines endured the fallout from 9/11 and the Great Recession (when oil prices spiked over $100 a barrel). As a well deserved consequence, Southwest Airlines routinely leads domestic airlines in customer satisfaction.

Consider this example of how Southwest Airlines treated its recruiting team during the global financial crisis:

“At one point, however, Southwest Airlines was staring at a tough time financially and it did ‘corporate redeployment’. It had 82 employees in the recruiting team. When the company put [in] a hiring freeze, it also wondered what to do with 82 of its employees in this particular team. The company utilised them for customer service. The result: Customer satisfaction went up as a result of this team’s enhanced skill set. When the economy recovered, the team went back to its original job; only this time, they had an additional skill set, which helped the company and the customers alike.” [1]

If you were in the airline industry would you rather work for Southwest Airlines or another domestic competitor (that I mercifully will not name) which embodies layoffs, labor strife and toxic mismanagement of employees?

The Negative Impact of Layoffs

There is a time and place for layoffs. However, more often than not, companies layoff employees during down times in the business cycle to simply lessen the impact on profits, not to avoid a collapse of the business. Against their own best interests, companies also announce layoffs during times of rising profits which causes their best people to head for greener pastures. Any expected cost savings are negated by lower productivity (when the best performers leave), lower innovation and a remaining demoralized workforce subjected to the negative effects of survivor syndrome (i.e., the feeling of guilt after seeing longtime co-workers discarded).

Additionally companies are impacted by “Brand equity costs—damage to the company’s brand as an employer of choice.” [1]. Sites like Glassdoor offer unfairly laid off employees the opportunity to share their sense of betrayal online which can significantly impact a company’s reputation.

Shortsighted management typically operates under the assumption that layoffs will positively impact shareholders. While financial analysts may cheer downsizing efforts, research indicates that layoffs have negative effects on share prices.

“A recent analysis of 41 studies covering 15,000 layoff announcements in more than a dozen countries over 31 years concluded that layoff announcements have an overall negative effect on stock-market prices. This remains true whatever the country, period of time or type of firm considered.”[1]

It should come as no surprise that Circuit City’s stock price fell 4% the day after the company pulled the plug on its most experienced employees. [5]

References:

[1] Employment Downsizing and its Alternatives. Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/foundation/ourwork/initiatives/resources-from-past-initiatives/Documents/Employment%20Downsizing.pdf

[2] Circuit City plan: Bold strategy or black eye? NBC News. April 2, 2007. Retrieved from http://www.nbcnews.com/id/17857697/ns/business-careers/t/circuit-city-plan-bold-strategy-or-black-eye/

[3] Circuit City Cuts 3,400 ‘Overpaid’ Workers: Washington Post. March 29, 2007. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/03/28/AR2007032802185.html

[4] Thousands Are Laid Off at Circuit City. What’s New?. New York Times. April 2, 2007 https://www.nytimes.com/2007/04/02/business/media/02carr.html

[5] It’s the Workforce, Stupid! The New Yorker. April 30, 2007. Retrieved from https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2007/04/30/its-the-workforce-stupid

Circuit City Image Copyright : nazdravie