Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Visualizing Dashboards and Worksheets, with Visibility Management

This post was motivated by a discussion on the Tableau Ideas forum created by Johnathan Drummey concerning the desirability of being able to unhide Worksheets from the Dashboard Worksheet window. see it here

Hiding and unhiding Worksheets in Tableau is a pain. Tableau provides very little guidance in helping surface the information about which Worksheets are related to which Dashboards, and whether the Worksheets are visible or invisible. (the question of visibility gets pretty tricky since a Worksheet that's visible when a Workbook is closed may not be visible when it gets opened the next time)

Addressing this problem was one of the motivations for building TWIS, and it does a good job of teasing this information from your Workbooks and making it available as data so that you can see the individual Worksheets' visibility status, and it creates diagrams that show the linkages between Dashboards and the Dashboards they contain.

This is all nice and good, but the complexity of the relationship network between a Workbook's component parts is very hard to model in a way that makes it simply accessible with Tableau. Tableau simply isn't capable of handling rich data relationships (I know that miracles can be worked with custom SQL, but that's the type of technical expertise that Tableau's supposed to insulate us from).

Tableau really needs an integrated mechanism for presenting the Dashboards-Worksheets relationships that provides the opportunities to effectively surface and manage their salient characteristics. Tableau has made some strides in Tv8 with additional functionality, e.g. with the Dashboard component tree in the Dashboard window, but it's not a coherent approach, nor will it scale, nor is it applicable for the general case of modeling and managing all the different types of complex relationships inside Workbook. Solving this problem is essential for Tableau if it's going to take the next step forward, away from accessing simple flat data, into the modern post-SQL world.

With this in mind, I took the SVG diagram TWIS created for the Tableau sample Sales Workbook and modified it (not much) to see if I could get something that might be useful. The results are below. Just a sketch, it shows one way to represent a Workbook's Dashboards and Worksheets and manage the Worksheet's visibility. The model has these useful properties:

  • It clearly lays out the linkages between the Dashboards and Worksheets, making it easy to see:
    • All of the Dashboards, or a filtered subset of them.
    • All of the Worksheets, or a filtered subset of them.
    • The Worksheets each Dashboard contains.
    • The Dashboards each Worksheet appears in.
  • It provides a filter for selecting those Dashboards and Worksheets that contain the user-entered text in their name.
    Ideally this would be the native behavior for search, as people expect from the Google model, and is increasingly found in modern analytical tools, but this might be too big a departure from Tableau's per-field filtering model.
    Filtering also needs to be extended to handle sophisticated properties, e.g.: only those Dashboards that contain no, some, or a specific number of Worksheets; Dashboards that contain only those Worksheets that access certain data sources; Worksheets that appear in Dashboards with some identifiable properties; and so on, but I don't expect this soon. (I'm planning a post on this topic)
  • It provides a mechanism for configuring a set of selected Worksheets to be either visible—"Show", or hidden—Hide.
    This assumes a multi-select operational mode wherein the User can select multiple Worksheets for configuration. This is standard object-action user interaction, which Tableau already employs, although not universally.
    Another model would be direct controls on the Worksheets that could directly toggle their visibility on and off, reducing the click count – this function could exist in tandem with the multi-select configure-many model. This is the type of thing that real usability design and testing is needed for.

image/svg+xml Credits 1 TWIS TWB map, generated: 2013/08/13 19:12:51 Credits 4 Sales Forecast 2013 Annual sales growth Text units Dynamic statistical forecasting Text Table Source 2 Sales forecast bar line Text Table Source 1 Sales Commission Model NEW OTE Credits 2 Sales Planning Sales [sheet] 2013 annual sales growth by country and category 2013 Annual sales growth (2) 2013 annual sales growth by Dept & Cat. Credits 3 WM Line Growth of Walmart WM Treemap WM Map Dashboard Worksheet Filter: Dashboards Worksheets Both ? Show/Hide Worksheets Show ? Hide Select one or more Worksheets atleft and then select an option toHide or Show them. tooltip Enter text and press Enter.Search will find Dashboards and/or Worksheets containing the text. tooltip

This model is only that—a model. In the real world there is a lot of additional polish that would be needed for it to work as well as it should, e.g. the ability to select multiple Worksheets directly; auto-selecting all the worksheets when a Dashboard is selected; using thumbnails effectively to support the visible identification of Dashboards and Worksheets, either inline, which has space considerations, or in tooltips, which imposes a temporal cognitive load; and so on. It would be a very interesting exercise to see what it would be like as an mini-app that could actively manage a Workbook's Worksheets' visibility without the bells and whistles. The core functionality is already part of TWIS, and some of it's been published in my previous post: "Unhide that Worksheet!". The challenge would be building a good enough user interface, and I'm not likely to have the time to devote to it. But if anyone with the UI creating skills wants to collaborate on it, drop me a line.

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