Being an analyst in a Centre of Excellence
An interactive tool summarising this blog post is available via Tableau Public page (https://public.tableau.com/profile/simon.beaumont#!/vizhome/TableauCentreofExcellence-Whatitmeansforananalyst/TableauCentreofExcellence-Whatitmeansforananalyst).
I recently shared at the London, North West and UK Healthcare User Groups my approach to implementing a Tableau Centre of Excellence within the workplace. Whilst the presentations were really well received the experience of talking about a Centre of Excellence took me back to my roots; being an analyst, analysing data to support an organisation to achieve its objective and be the best it possibly can be. With this in mind I wanted to expand upon my Centre of Excellence approach, focusing on what it means to be an analyst working within a Centre of Excellence and the different approaches you can take dependant on the budget you have available to you ($$ - Budget required, $ - Cost free).
You will receive the development you need to learn Tableau when first using it
When an organisation invests in Tableau and aims to become a Centre of Excellence it usually intends for Tableau to be the primary analysis and visualisation tool within that organisation. If this is the case I think it is important an organisation provides its analysts with training and development to allow them to become expert users in their new visualisation tool; providing them with the confidence to start using the tool.
$$: Tableau face to face training
Within my organisation we chose to invest in 3 days of face to face training for our analysts prior to building any visualisations. This was purchased through a Tableau partner in the UK; the primary aim of the training was to ensure the analysts understood the full functionality available within Tableau and gave them a strong foundation in terms of initial skills to start using the tool.
Whilst this initial training could have been completed at virtually no cost (see the next approach) for me it was important to invest in my analysts; Tableau was such a massive investment by the organisation that I wanted my analysts to feel they were part of that investment.
By investing in 3 days of face to face training this was ensuring my analysts had dedicated time away from the pressures of their day to day workload to learn the new tool that was being provided to them. My fear was, without this dedicated time, my analysts wouldn’t be able to commit to protecting the time to learn their new visualisation tool and this would result in a slow uptake of the product.
$: Tableau online training modules
Prior to implementing Tableau I was fortunate enough to speak with Paul Champkin from Unilever. Paul leads a Tableau environment of many thousands of desktop users and a server environment that I could only dream of (more cores than an apple orchard). Paul shared with me how his organisation rarely pays for anyone to receive face to face Tableau training. Instead they ask any new Tableau analyst to complete the Tableau online training modules.
These modules are incredibly rich in content and are very easy to use. They walk participants all the way from the basic steps of how to first use Tableau through to advanced functionality such as Level of Detail and Actions. Whilst all of my analysts have received face to face Tableau training, many of them still refer to the online training modules to brush up on their skills and I actively encourage them to do so.
You will be support to continuously learn and participate in play time
One of the things I massively underestimated when implementing Tableau was the need to continuously develop an analyst’s visualisation skills. It is so easy to initially fall into the trap of using Tableau to automate or replicate the functionality of Excel; producing interactive tables that, in reality, simply mimic the functionality of an advanced pivot table. Part of my role in leading the implementation of our Tableau Centre of Excellence was to emphasise to my analysts the art of the possible in Tableau, and, how with a bit of creative thinking they could easily go beyond the charts provided within the ‘Show Me’ menu.
$$: Visualisation courses and books
There are many visualisation courses available to analysts to attend; some specific to Tableau and others that are more generic and focus on visualisation best practice. Whilst, as a team, we haven’t participated in any of these courses we have purchased visualisation books to support us in following visual best practice when it comes to analysing data; some of the books we use include:
- The Big Book of Dashboards by @actogreave, @vizwizbiz and @HighVizAbility
- Storytelling With Data by @storywithdata
$: Tableau Public
https://public.tableau.com/profile/simon.beaumont#!/ (the link will take you to my profile page)
The online community in Tableau is fantastic and is an incredible source of inspiration and learning for an analyst. What other products could you go onto a website that contains thousands of visualisations and in many instances download the visualisation and be able to understand how it was constructed, allowing you to reverse engineer it and rebuild it yourself? I have actively encouraged my analysts to use Tableau Public as a ‘how to’ resource and also as a source of creative inspiration.
This concept is expanded upon in my next technique when I share how my analysts are encouraged to actively participate in the Tableau Online Community; utilising Tableau Public as a way to receive feedback on their visualisations and as such support continuous improvement.
$: #MakeoverMonday and #WorkoutWednesday
Makeover Monday is an online initiative developed by @acotgreave, @trimydata and @vizwizbi that provides participants with a data set and a visualisation to makeover on a weekly basis. The reason this is such a valuable learning resource for the team is that many of the people participating publish their visualisations on Tableau Public; on many weeks this means my analysts have access to over 150 different ways of visualising the same data set.
I actively encourage my team to participate in #MakeoverMonday and, when possible, we attempt to utilise our monthly team meeting to come together and complete that week’s makeover. There are many examples on Twitter of when teams come together to do #MakeoverMonday; in particular @EllaWorsdale and @Genetis are great examples of people to learn from if you wanted to replicate this in your organisation and they actively share the visualisations created on Twitter to promote the excellent work of their teams.
Workout Wednesday is a more targeted learning experience than Makeover Monday; every Wednesday @emmawhyte publishes a complex visualisation that you are encouraged to replicate, both in terms of functionality and look. One of my analysts, @ekomarcek , regularly participates in Workout Wednesday and has shared with the team how she has found the task orientated nature of the initiative to be helpful in supporting her to learn new Tableau techniques and approaches.
$: Tableau Conference on Demand
Much of the content from Tableau Conference and Conference on Tour is published online as recordings; this is often free to watch, simply requiring registration in order to view the content.
Regardless if you have attended the Conference or not the On Demand material is an incredible library of expert speakers, containing technical, visual and cultural best practice examples.
As a team we regularly dedicate time during team meetings to watch a recording from On Demand to ensure everyone benefits from the content available. In addition my analysts are encouraged to take time out of their regular workloads to view content that is personally of interest to them. This ensures we learn as a team and as individuals; when an individual finds content that has been particularly useful they are expected to share it with the team.
During the later part of 2017 a really intriguing and useful Tableau initiative started on Twitter thanks to @CharlieHTableau and @ChrisLuv. They encouraged people to share examples of real life Tableau business visualisations (with the data being anonymised, or ‘fudged’ as Charlie likes to call it). Many individuals have shared fantastic examples of how their organisations use Tableau and this has been an incredible resource for my team to refer to when approaching business analytics.
You will be encouraged to participate in the Tableau Community
The Tableau Community is incredible, not only is it a rich source of learning material but it is also welcoming to new Tableau enthusiasts and professionals. I actively encourage my analysts to participate in the Tableau Community, both virtually and in person; allowing them to benefit from a wider and more diverse professional network. This larger network allows them to benefit from different approaches and perspectives, broadening their knowledge and supporting the continuous improvement as analysts.
$$: Tableau Conference and Conference on Tour
I accept that it requires a reasonable investment to attend a Tableau Conference, whether that be in America or an On Tour event. Each year 4 of my team, including myself, attend Tableau Conference on Tour and the learning we acquire from the 3 days is immense. A conference is an opportunity to immerse yourself in all things Tableau for an extended period of time, but without the pressures of your everyday work as a distraction. It provides you with the opportunity to connect with other Tableau enthusiasts and often a ten minute, face to face, conversation can lead to greater learning and understanding than a string of Tweets or Emails.
Conferences are fantastic as they provide a mix of both technical and cultural learning. The content ranges from hands on workshops through to customers sharing their experiences and also visual best practice.
When my team attended 2 years ago we watched Bethany Lyon’s ‘Artilize This’ visual best practice session. The hour opened our eyes as to the art of the possible within Tableau, introducing us to visual techniques such lollipop and trellis charts. We actually took this learning and put it into practice back within the team; all of our organisation’s team benchmarking reports now use lollipop charts and this visual representation of complex data has been really well received by our nurses and has massively increased the engagement and use of these reports.
Importantly I do stress to any of my analysts fortunate enough to attend a Tableau Conference that they are expected to share any learning with the team as soon as they return to work; to enable this we dedicate time at the monthly team meeting immediately following Tableau Conference.
$: Tableau User Groups
Across the world there are hundreds of Tableau User Group meetings every year; with one likely to be held not too far away from where you work. The User Groups are an opportunity to learn from expert speakers and to increase your network of local Tableau enthusiasts and professionals. Often User Groups will have Community websites or pages that you can actively engage with between events and can act as a rich source of learning and support for analysts.
My analysts regularly attend Tableau User Groups; the UK Healthcare User Group and the London User Group. The benefits to my team have been numerous and long lasting; we have created strong connections with similar organisations to our own through the Healthcare User Group and the London User Group has opened up a world of expert, and often world renowned speakers from whom we have learnt many different visualisation techniques.
Only last month one of my analyst returned so enthused from the UK Healthcare User Group that he went about setting up his own internal user group for his customers, allowing them an opportunity to come together, on a regular basis, and share their experiences of using Tableau and be involved in how we develop it in the future.
$: Tableau Fringe Festival
The Tableau Fringe Festival is an online event, started by @emily1852, that provides participants with virtual access to a, free to attend, day conference during which numerous speakers share their Tableau expertise and experiences.
As a team we have actively attempted to watch as much of the content as we can, and when we haven’t been able to watch it live (there is an APAC, an American and a European TFF so times differ in terms of when its streamed live) we use the recordings to watch when it is convenient for us to do so. Similar to the Tableau Conference on Demand material, this web based resource provides many examples of technical, visual and cultural best practice and can be a great source of inspiration for an analyst.
You will be supported to achieve professional recognition
Having used Tableau, as a team, since April 2015 I have been determined to ensure my analysts are supported to achieve some professional recognition for their dedication over the last 2 years and the incredible skills they have acquired over this time.
$$: Tableau Qualifications
Tableau provides 2 levels of qualification for both Desktop and Server; Qualified Associate and Certified Professional. This year I supported my analysts by funding 10 of them to complete the Qualified Associate Desktop 10 exam. When allowing my analysts to complete their exam I was openly challenged by a small number of colleagues from other organisations; they felt that by completing the qualification my analysts would be more likely to leave and pursue more lucrative positions outside of my organisation.
I absolutely disagree with this viewpoint. For me this was about rewarding my analysts and recognising their expertise; they had supported the organisation for 2 years and helped make Tableau the success it is today, I wanted to give them something back and something that would benefit both the organisation and them as individuals.
There are many benefits in completing the Tableau Qualified Associate exam, my top ones are shared below and are also expanded upon in one of my previous blog posts (https://community.tableau.com/people/simon.beaumont.0/blog/2017/09/10/five-reasons-why-you-should-take-a-tableau-exam):
- Expanding your knowledge
- Continuous improvement
- Reward and recognition
- Pride and achievement
- Making the most of the community
$: #VizForSocialGood and #DataForACause
Another good way of getting professional recognition is to participate in community, social, initiatives that involve sharing your visualisations; 2 such examples that my team have participated in are #VizForSocialGood run by @DataChloe and #DataForACause run by @OlgaTsubiks. By sharing your completed visualisations you are able to receive positive and constructive feedback from other members of the Tableau Community and it is also a great way to get your work recognised and promoted amongst other Tableau enthusiasts.
If you need to refer back to the content shared within this blog post, an interactive tool has been developed via my Tableau Public page to allow you to view all the themes and techniques used within our Tableau Centre of Excellence (https://public.tableau.com/profile/simon.beaumont#!/).