Thursday, September 20, 2012

Warts on a toad.

Are you still reading this?

Why? Most people don't care about warts on a toad. And why should they? Toads are warty; it's their natural state, normal and expected. If, when handling a toad, one encounters a wart, it's no surprise. If a toad grows another wart, nobody really cares; after all, what's another wart on a creature already festooned with them?

(I know that toads' skin lumps aren't really warts; I'm invoking poetic license)

An Ode to Warts


A Fractured BI Fairy Tale

The traditional BI products are warty. Toady. Awkward, even unpleasant to handle, they're difficult to use, putting lots and lots of crufty operational controls, gadgets, layers, and other lumpy stuff on top of your data, making it very difficult to get at, and even harder to make sense of.

And yet, in a world populated only by toads, the population of people seeking to understand their data thought that toadiness was an essential characteristic of their BI tools—all the tools were like that, so it must be good, eh? They even came to embrace their essential wartiness, even to the point or proclaiming that wartiness/toadiness was a desirable characteristic of BI tools. In advanced cases some kool-aid drinking souls grew to love their tools' toady wartiness and declared it a virtue without which BI could not exist, much less flourish.

Wart-Free BI


Enter Tableau

When Tableau came upon the BI scene it was revolutionary. Designed from the outset to make it as easy as possible to connect to, organize, and quantitatively visualize data, it was virtually wart-free. Devoid of the usual lumpiness and bumpiness, it provided a smooth unblemished palette upon which data could be painted in a dynamic model that encouraged and fostered exploration of the data.

Close but not quite.


Why Tableau's warts are so irksome.

Tableau has its warts. Very few compared to it's enterprise BI brethren, but there are some. This blog is in one sense an inventory of the warts I encounter that vex me enough to keep track of.

Because Tableau is so remarkably unwarty those that it does have stand out like, well a wart on the tip of someone's nose. They're prominent because of their rarity, sometimes disproportionally so in relationship to their real effect.

Encountering a Tableau wart is jarring. It interrupts the normally fluid user-Tableau interaction and imposes upon the user the cognitive cost of recognizing and interpreting it, and the effort to adjust and accommodate the wart and its effect.

Why we need to worry about warts.


Removing warts is important.

There are two aspects to addressing Tableau's warts: guarding against the introduction of new warts should be a primary principle of designing and implementing Tableau's new features, and existing warts must be aggressively hunted down and eliminated.

Evolving a commercial software product takes a lot of time, energy and attention. Adding new features, expanding the breadth and depth of functionality are the whole point. When adding the new features it's critical to be constantly on the lookout for new warts and ruthlessly eliminate them. As Tableau has evolved it appears that this principle hasn't always been given the attention it needs.

Guarding against the introduction of new warts isn't enough. It's even more important to relentlessly focus on hunting down and removing the existing warts. Doing this will continue to improve the product in a different dimension than adding new features, but one that's arguably more important to the overall product quality. Releasing a new version that consists only of wart removal is good and valuable, and sends a clear signal to the product's users that their investment in the product is well made and worth continuing.

Evolving a software product by only considering the new features and functionality, and not also considering fixing existing problems—removing existing warts, is shortsighted and inevitably leads to an increasingly warty product. Eventually, the product evolves into a toad.

Tableau's future.


Tableau's future?

As Tableau continues to evolve it's becoming increasingly warty.

If the trend continues Tableau will become a toad. If this happens Tableau will have become one of the products it successfully competed against by being simple, easy, and transparent in use, and with enough depth and breadth of functionality to let people achieve their data analysis goals with a minimum of friction. At this point Tableau will be vulnerable to new products that provide the same basic functionality without Tableau's warts. Tableau the disruptive BI tool will become itself displaced by newer, less warty competitors.

A request for Tableau Software.

Don't let Tableau become a toad.


  1. Chris, we are reading this blog. We also pay close attention to the Ideas section of the community. I do not think we do as good a job as possible at communicating to the community which warts we are trying to fix. We have a small team whose job is to fix the warts. As an ex customer and long time user, I also agree the warts are particularly frustrating. there is debate internally about this issue. While I could not promise we can fix every issue, we are trying. I would love to continue this conversation at the customer conference.

  2. Ps,i love the fact that you are writing this blog, it is very useful to have a public debate about the challenges tableau faces as it morphs from a young upstart into surly teenager.

    1. Hi Andy, thanks for the encouragement.
      Sometimes I feel like the grumpy old grump standing around, well, grumping to little effect except to brand myself an unappreciative complainer.

  3. There's nothing wrong with being grumpy - keeping us honest is great. Keeping it constructive is exactly the right way to do it.

  4. As Andy says, we are reading your blog and others very carefully... My name is Thierry D'Hers and I run the program management team for Tableau. And yes we are trying very hard to fix the warts. As a matter of fact we have a dedicated sets of poeple both for Desktop and Server that are focused on this full time. SO we do not just focused on responsing to new features and scenario demand from customers and prospects but we are also trying to improve our existing experience in parallel. We have done tons of it for 8.0 and as Andy said, I hope we will have a chance to discuss it with you at San Diego.
    The most important things for us is to be able to most accurately assess which warts needs the most urgent attention, which new capabilities are the most needed and will have the most profound positive impact on the largest possible set of customers. Please help us. Your blog is great when it describes with example some of the warts you mention above. It is very valuable and has been looked at by all the relevant poeple in the team. So it gives us the what to fix, it doesn't give us the which one to fix first, next... For this I can only encourage you and your readers to go to the idea site and vote for ideas.
    It really help us figure out where to focus our attention in priority.
    As a matter of fact during my session at TCC,I will discuss how we use the idea site and other customer feedback channel to influence product direction and which features were implemented in the product. SO I am looking forward to meeting you and as many of your readers as possible at TCC in sunny San Diego next month :)