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My Biggest Tableau Desktop Headaches (and Probably Yours Too)

I love Tableau. It’s my hammer that makes everything look like a nail. No it’s not right for everything, but it can do a lot of things really well once you know how to use it. And because of this loving relationship, I also know exactly what I hate about it. Like an intimate relationship with a lover, the overall experience with Tableau is something you want to shout to the world. But also like an intimate relationship, Tableau has those small things about it that really grinds your gears. Kind of like when someone you love makes a little annoying noise after they drink a beverage. Technically it’s not wrong in any way, but you just want to take away every single beverage from them for all eternity so they can never make that noise again. Ok… maybe that was a little far. Anyways…

Tableau Desktop has been the data visualization tool of choice for me for the last 7 years. It has grown from a pretty good tool into an excellent platform. Tableau Desktop in 2020 takes care of so many of the gripes that existed a few years ago in previous versions. Things that were once nearly impossible are just a click of the button. Things like Set Controls and Relationships. Tableau has provided more tools for every step of the process, from simple data blending to completely managed server environments. That’s without even getting into extensions, APIs, etc.

I love Tableau and believe they will continue their track record of implementing user-desired features. Tableau has been one of the best companies I’ve interacted with, who truly takes user feedback to heart and continues to make their product more enjoyable to use. So while these are my current 7 biggest headaches, I can’t wait to see what the future holds for their platform.

My 7 Biggest Headaches

1. Being unable to modify the layout hierarchy from the dashboard layout tab

Tableau has a beautiful layout pane to select objects in the dashboard. You can adjust padding, margin, background color, etc. from here. But you cannot rearrange the objects using the hierarchy displayed in the layout pane.

It feels natural to be able to click and drag an object in the hierarchy and put it somewhere else. This is not the case though, you can only do it on the dashboard itself. If and when this feature comes out, it’ll cut down on dashboard building and reorganizing times and headaches significantly.

2. Not having a PROPER() function

We’ve got UPPER()… We’ve got LOWER()… We do not have PROPER() or TITLE(). Sometimes you can’t control your data source because you don’t have the right permissions. But you need to change a field that’s in all uppercase or all lowercase to something that has the first letter of each word capitalized.

This doesn’t exist in Tableau. It exists in some form in Excel, C#, Python, Java, and more languages. This fact paired with headache #3 makes title/proper cases in each workbook painful.

3. Related to number 2; not being able to define our own functions

Ever use the same calculated fields and functions over and over. Each and every workbook. You open it up and you create another calculated field that does the exact same thing in each workbook.Long calculated fields, like your own custom version of making the proper case from point number 2.

If custom user functions were possible, users wouldn’t have to ask for specific functions to be added. The flow for a user could be much more efficient too.

As a counterpoint from Tableau’s standpoint, allowing users to manage and implement their own customizations like this can do a few negative things. Things like new support requests claiming a bug because a user can’t figure out why their function doesn’t work as expected. Or that this type of functionality would drift the product from user configuration and light development to something more of a user development tool. This could potentially shift the target user for Tableau Desktop, and I doubt Tableau would want to drift from their current pinpointed target user. One last point is that allowing user defined functions could potentially open up security issues. It’s just a whole new bag of worms.

Still, the pros for usability outweigh the cons for me.

4. The limitations of organizing worksheet tabs in workbooks

Simply, we need a way to group and organize tabs differently. The colors are nice, the toggle to change the tab layout is nice, but scrolling left to right constantly for large workbooks is not nice. If you could group tabs into folders or hierarchies just like calculated fields, that’d be great.

5. Restrictions on bulk editing dashboard objects

As of 2020.2, users are able to only format the standard configurations of categories of objects in bulk. For example, you can format all parameters in the workbook by changing its font, color, borders, etc. What you can’t do is select 3 dashboard objects (like 3 worksheets) and adjust all of their padding or margins. Instead, you have to select each worksheet on the dashboard and edit its settings one-by-one.

My back of the napkin calculations estimate that bulk editing of dashboard objects would save me about 15 minutes for each dashboard I have ever created.

6. Lack of hierarchical filters

Hierarchies are a feature for building dashboards already. When you establish these hierarchies in the data pane, it allows users to expand axes to drill up and down hierarchies. A common request and question I get from end users is, “why can’t I drill down in filters?” Or something similar to that.

You can place all of the separate levels of hierarchies as their own individual filters, but cannot have a singular filter where you can select parents and children, or expand the hierarchy to drill down to other levels. From a user’s standpoint it makes sense. You would expect a relationship like a hierarchy to function as a hierarchy on the graph portion, and in the filters. Something like the below, taken from the Tibco Spotfire documentation:

7. Formatting in tooltips

There’s a workaround for this one, but it’s not incredibly customizable and has it’s own limitations. That workaround is creating embedded sheets in the tooltip so that you can do things like control the background color. But to create a custom sheet for every tooltip you wan’t to customize is exhausting and adds baggage to the workbook.

Being able to do some basic things like change tooltip background color and transparency would go a long way. Making the tooltip almost like a page builder or able to accept HTML would be spectacular. I won’t get my hopes up for that last one though, as it would be a huge undertaking for Tableau to develop and support.

Wrapping It Up

Tableau Desktop is a spectacular tool. Whipping up interactive and insightful visualizations for users is 1000x easier than what was around before Tableau, and it’s truly led to a democratization of data visualization and analysis. With that comes growing pains and millions of change/feature requests. These are 7 of mine and maybe some of yours. Selfishly I hope these are the next 7 features on Tableau’s product map.

I’ll soon be posting my favorite features of Tableau since version 2019, as well as my headaches/favorites of Tableau Server and Tableau Prep. So keep a look out for those.

P.S. I had to update the title to reflect that this is specifically about Tableau Desktop. Since Tableau has been expanding its platform which includes more advanced Tableau Server capabilities and an online visualization builder. These offer separate functionalities compared to what I’m talking about in this post with Tableau Desktop.

2 replies on “My Biggest Tableau Desktop Headaches (and Probably Yours Too)”

1&6 for me.
It’s great that they added the set to latest on opening option on date filters, however this needs to be enhanced to trigger whenever the dataset is refreshed, as well as when the workbook is opened.

1 and 6 really feel like basic functionality that should’ve been there from the start. Obviously I have no idea what the Tableau codebase looks like so who knows how difficult it would be to implement with their current design!

Agreed on the date filters. Does the new option to filter to latest date also apply to when a workbook is loaded on server? I’ve done this before with parameters but haven’t really played around with the new configuration on the “edit filter” menu.

Gimme your thoughts, leave a reply!