Open Letter to the Wall of Data


Here you'll find an example to build upon when writing to those who insist on using Tableau to build "giant walls of tabular data".


Dear person who insists on giant cross-tabs of data in Tableau:

It was a pleasure to speak this morning! As we’ve discussed last week, the difficulties you face stem from the fact that you are attempting to do with Tableau what is specifically not recommended.

Tableau is a data *visualization tool*. It is not a spreadsheet, not a “tabular report builder”.

After looking at your challenges in more detail, it would seem that you must speak with your stakeholders and soon decide between one of two broad categories of alternatives:

Choice #1: continue to use spreadsheets and "giant walls of raw numbers with conditional formatting" to make business decisions

  • Here, your best decision may likely be to avoid Tableau

Choice #2: leverage the visual display of quantitative information to enhance cognition and reach better business conclusions faster!

  • Here, continue with Tableau and render your data visually

In support of the above conclusion, please find below a collection of reading materials.

What is Tableau not really good for?

What is Tableau not really good for?

"We suggest you consider revisiting your requirements or consider another approach if: …

.. You need highly complex, crosstab-style documents that perhaps mirror existing spreadsheet reports with complex sub-totalling, cross-referencing, etc."

How NOT to use Tableau

“1. To Replicate a report or chart designed in another tool"

An inconvenient truth : Tableau is not a swiss army knife

"Tableau is a data viz tool, thats all it is. It's not an ETL tool. It's not a spread sheet. It's not a project planning tool. Sure you can do some of that stuff in it, with a lot of work. But really is that the best use of your time?"

Moreover, here in the center of excellence, we strongly espouse the notion that "There is *no such thing* as a Tableau Developer.”


"Development is the technical implementation of someone else’s ideas.”4


"The idea that satisfying business information needs is an activity that ends up with someone developing something, that someone else thought up, in response to someone else's concept of what yet another person needs, in the traditional SDLC paradigm, is just flat wrong." 5


"Tableau provides the opportunity for one to work at the creative intersection of cognitive, intellectual, and experiential factors that, when working in harmony, can synthesize the information needs of the person seeking to understand the data and the immediacy of direct data analysis. This mode of Tableau use can eliminate the lags and friction involved when there are multiple people between the person who needs to understand the data and the person who creates the vehicle for delivering the information from which insights are gleaned." 6

In this way, by playing to the strengths of the tool, we find the ideal approach is for the business analyst to use Tableau directly.

When building production scale data solutions, such as the one you are building, then the ideal approach is for the technical specialists to embed directly into the same room, together with the business users, working iteratively to marry together the business needs with the technical solution, visually.

As an example of how this approach has already produced huge success within our organization, here attached is the case study from the most recent win that we discussed last week and again this morning.

And to this end, a proven methodology exists, that we can follow, to scale self-service visual analytics.

The Tableau Drive Manual

Finally, as reference material, to convince your stakeholders:

6 Powerful Reasons Why Your Business Should Visualize Data

  1. Visuals are processed faster by the brain
  2. Visuals are committed to long-term memory easier than text
  3. Visuals can tell stories
  4. Visuals can reveal patterns, trends, changes, and correlations
  5. Visuals can help simplify complex information
  6. Visuals can often be more effective than words at changing people’s minds

Thank you!

Word Count: 660


  1. "Best Practices for Designing Efficient Tableau Workbooks", Third Edition, Alan Eldridge, Tableau Software, July 12, 2015
  2. "How NOT to use Tableau", Robin Kennedy, The Information Lab, August 27, 2013
  3. "An inconvenient truth : Tableau is not a swiss army knife", Matt Francis, Wannabe Data Rockstar, November, 2014
  4. "Tableau Wasted?", Chris Gerrard, Tableau Friction, May, 2015
  5. "Dear Mr. or Ms. Recruiter", Chris Gerrard, Tableau Friction, April, 2015
  6. "Tableau Wasted?", Chris Gerrard, Tableau Friction, May, 2015
  7. "The Tableau Drive Manual", A practical roadmap for scaling
    your analytic culture, Tableau Software, September, 2014
  8. "6 Powerful Reasons Why Your Business Should Visualize Data", Maptive, October 6, 2015