A Developer's Guide to Tableau

Why Tableau?

Tableau gets its good reputation for being sleek, easy to use, and bolstering an impeccable UI/UX. It is by and large an industry leader due to its wide range of visualizations and ability to cohesively and narratively present data to end users. As a reliable, well established leader, it can easily integrate with many sources, has extensive online support, and does not require a high level of technical expertise for users to gain value.

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Performance for Developers

One of the easiest ways to ensure good performance with Tableau is to be mindful of how you import your data. Utilizing extracts rather than live data and performing joins or unions in your database reduces a lot of the processing that Tableau would otherwise have to do. While you can easily manipulate data without any coding, these capabilities reduce performance significantly; especially when dealing with large volumes of information. All data manipulation should be done in your database or data warehouse prior to adding it as a source. If that is not an option, Tableau offers a product called Tableau Prep which enables data manipulation and enhanced data governance capabilities.

Performance for Users

Dashboard performance for Users depends almost entirely on practices employed by developers when building out reports. Limiting the dataset to information required for the goals of the dashboard reduces the amount of data Tableau processes as well as the number of filters included for the front end users. Cleaning up the workbooks to reduce unnecessary visualizations will enhance front end performance as well. For more comprehensive tips around performance for users in BI tools check out this blog.

User Interface: Data Source

After connecting to your source, Tableau presents your data using the Data Source tab. This is a great place to check that your data was properly loaded and does not have any anomalies. Within this view of the data, you have the chance to add more sources and the capability to union and join tables together as well as filter the data to a specific selection and exclude rows that were brought in.

User Interface: Worksheet

The Worksheet tabs are where most of the magic happens. Each visualization that ends up on the dashboard will be developed in separate worksheets. This is where you will do most of the testing and tweaking as well as where you can create any filters, parameters or calculated fields.

User Interface: Dashboards

In the Dashboard Tab you bring together all of the individual visualizations you have created. The drag and drop UI allows you to use tiles predetermined by Tableau or float the objects to arrange them how you please. Filters can be applied to all of the visualizations to create a cohesive story, or to just a few to breakdown information specific to a chart or table. It additionally allows you to toggle between different device layouts to ensure end user satisfaction.

User Interface: Stories

One of the most unique Tableau features is its ‘Stories’ capability. Stories work great when you need to develop a series of reports that present a narrative to a business user. By adding captions and placing visualizations in succession, you can convey a message that speaks for itself.

Usability and Ease of Learning

The Tableau basics are relatively easy to learn due to the intuitive point-and-click UI and vast amount of educational resources such as their free training videos. Tableau additionally has a strong online community where answers to specific questions can be found either on the Help page or third party sites.

Creating an impressive variety of simple visualizations can be done without a hitch. This being said, there are a few things to watch out for:

  • Some  tricks and more niche capabilities can easily remain undiscovered.
  • Complex features such as table calculations may confuse new users.
  • The digestible UI can be deceiving — Visualizations often appear correct when the underlying data is not. One great way to check for accuracy is to right click on the visualization and select ‘View Data’.


Unlike PowerBI, Tableau does not allow users to create a complicated semantic layer within the tool. However, users can establish relationships between different data sources and across varied granularities through a method called data blending. One way to implement this method is by selecting the “Edit Relationships” option in the data drop down menu. Data blending additionally eliminates duplicates that may occur by using a function that returns a single value for the duplicate rows in the secondary source. Creating relationships between multiple sources in Tableau requires attention to detail as it can take some manipulation and may have unintended consequences or lead to mistakes that are difficult to spot.


The wide array of features offered by Tableau allows for highly customizable visualizations and reports. Implementing filter actions (which can apply to both worksheets and dashboards), parameters and calculated fields empowers developers to modify the source data so that it better fits the purpose of the report. Using workarounds for calculations not explicitly available in Tableau frequently leads to inaccuracy; however, this can be combated by viewing the underlying data. Aesthetic customizations such as importing external images, and the large variety of formatting capabilities additionally allow developers boundless creative expression.

Permissions and User Roles

The type of license assigned to a user determines their permissions and user roles. Site administrators can easily modify the site roles of users on the Tableau Server or Tableau Online based on the licenses they hold. The site role determines the most impactful action (read, share, edit, etc) a specific user can make on the visualizations. In addition to this, permissions range from viewing or editing to downloading various components of a workbook. The wide variety of permissions apply to various components within Tableau. A more detailed guide to permissions capabilities can be found here.

Ease of Dev Opp and Source Control

Dev Opp and Source Control improved greatly when Tableau implemented versioning of workbooks in 2016. This enables users to select the option to “Save a history of revisions” which saves a version of the workbook each time it is overwritten. This enables users to go back to previous versions of the workbook and access work that may have been lost. When accessing prior versions, keep in mind that if an extract is no longer compatible with the source, it’s data refresh will not work.

Set Up and Environment

With all of the necessary information on your sources, setup in Tableau is a breeze. It has built in connectors with a wide range of sources and presents your data to you upon connection. You additionally have a variety of options regarding data manipulation and utilizing live or static data (as mentioned above). Developers utilize the three Tableau environments based primarily on the level of interactions and security they desire.

  • Tableau Desktop: Full developer software in a silo, connect to databases or personal files and publish work for others to access.
  • Tableau Server: Secure environment accessed through a web browser to share visualizations across the organization. Each user needs a license.
  • Tableau Online:  Essentially the same as Tableau Server, but based in the cloud with a wider range of connectivity options.


Once your workbook is developed, select the server and make your work accessible for others either Online or on Tableau Server by selecting “publish”. During this process, you can determine the specific project you are publishing and where to make it available. There are additionally many other modifications that can be adjusted such as implementing editing permissions and scheduling refreshes of the data sources.

Summary and Key Points

Tableau empowers developers of all skill levels to create visually appealing and informative dashboards, reports, and storytelling experiences. As developers work, there is a wealth of customization options to tailor reports to their specific use case and draw boundless insights for end users. To ensure that Tableau gleans the best results for end users, keep these three notes in mind:

  1. Your underlying data must be trustworthy as Tableau does little to ensure data integrity. Triple check the numbers in your reports.
  2. Ensure that your development methods do not significantly damage performance for both developers and end users.
  3. Take advantage of the massive online community to uncover vital features and leverage the others’ knowledge when facing challenges.

If you have any questions on Tableau or need help getting better insights from your Tableau dashboards, contact us for an Analytics Assessment.

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