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  • Writer's pictureSimon Beaumont

Making the most of the community; team development in a Centre of Excellence

I recently found myself reflecting on the visualisations I created during May 2018 and how within the 7 visualisations, 3 of them contained chart types I had never previously attempted. It soon became clear to me there was a commonality across these 3 visualisations; they were all developed as part of Tableau or data visualisation community initiatives and they were all developed as part of ongoing, work based, personal development (if you are intrigued as to what the 3 visualisations were the links to them are below).

#MakeoverMonday Jump Plot |!/vizhome/MakeoverMonday-2018Week21EnglishPremierLeague1718predictionsvactualperformance/MakeoverMonday-2018Week21EnglishPremierLeague1718predictionsvactualperformance

#SWDChallenge waterfall chart|!/vizhome/StoryTellingWithDataChallenge-TheFalling100MetresWorldRecord/StoryTellingWithDataChallenge-TheFalling100MetresWorldRecord

#MakeoverMonday hexmaps |!/vizhome/MakeoverMonday-2018Week18VizForSocialGoodBeeColonyLosses/MakeoverMonday-2018Week18VizForSocialGoodBeeColonyLosses

Having been filled with a warm, fuzzy, feeling of satisfaction and love for the community and the opportunities it provides us all with, I found myself realising just how far my Tableau Centre of Excellence has come in terms of ongoing learning and personal development.

Prior to implementing Tableau, team development within my Centre of Excellence consisted of training relating to a new technical skill in Excel; an advanced functionality such as dynamic named ranges or using Visual Basic for Applications. Learning was built upon repetition and process as opposed to creativity. Development and personal learning was not embedded in our DNA; instead it was a 'task', which in itself makes it sound like a chore, limited by our team's financial training budget and when external training could be sourced.

Roll forward 3 years and personal development and learning is a given; it is something that happens naturally, often happens for free and occurs every week, regardless of workloads, and interestingly I never hear it referred to as 'training'.

How have we achieved this?

Our fundamental understanding of development and learning has changed. The light bulb moment first came during Tableau Conference on Tour in 2016. The team had been using Tableau for 12 months, having received 3 days of formal Tableau training prior to developing any visualisations. This training had given everyone a grounding in terms of their technical understanding of how to use Tableau, but it had not developed their approach to designing a visualisation. It was during a Bethany Lyons 'Artilize This' presentation that it dawned on me; to get the most out of Tableau it isn't just about understanding the tool, it is also about creative thinking and 'going beyond the marks card'; and so began our transformation from report producers to data visualisers.

As a team we now actively utilise the community initiatives to help personal learning and team development, and the great thing is each of the initiatives has a different benefit. Every week our analysts are given protected 'play time', allowing them to select the initiative best suited to their personal learning goals. I think it is really important learning is not imposed, but rather individuals are given the freedom to choose their own paths. The two main initiatives the team participate in on a weekly basis are:

Makeover Monday

Learning | Visualisation best practice and effective analysis and insight

Makeover Monday is a weekly initiative that provides you with an existing visualisation and data set and encourages you to 'makeover' the visualisation, building upon what works well whilst improving on the weaker aspects.

The weekly process is less about learning functionality and more about understanding visual best practice and how you can maximise insight obtained from the visualisation. You are able to benefit from the wisdom of 2 Tableau Zen Masters, Andy Kriebel and Eva Murray, during their weekly Makeover Monday Viz Review, in addition to the reflection and feedback of hundreds of community participants.

Andy and Eva do not look for the flashy, they strive for effective analysis and insight, exactly the objective of many visualisations within the workplace.

Workout Wednesday

Learning | New techniques

Workout Wednesday tasks can range from intriguing simplicity to fiendishly difficult but regardless of their complexity there is one common theme; challenging participants to extend their knowledge and understanding of Tableau. Every week a group of Tableau community experts (in 2018, Luke Stanke, Ann Jackson and Rody Zakovich, in 2017 Andy Kriebel and Emma Whyte) set a task based upon replicating a specified visualisation. Often the task requires completion using a set technique; ensuring people achieve a deeper understanding of Tableau as opposed to using hacks or workarounds.

The big advantage of participating in Workout Wednesday is often the final solutions are published to Tableau Public, allowing you to download the workbook and reverse engineer the solution; although obviously the preference of Luke, Ann and Rody is you find the solution yourself, without the need to reference published versions.

Within my Centre of Excellence we set aside time during our monthly team meeting to allow for one of our more technically minded analysts to share their favourite Workout Wednesday from the last month. The provides all of the team with an opportunity to increase their knowledge and understanding of Tableau without the pressure or expectation of having to personally complete the challenge.

Storytelling With Data Challenge

Learning | Communicating effective messages and visualisation best practice

My personal view is that team participation in the Storytelling With Data Challenge has achieved the biggest benefit to individuals. The initiative does not require the understanding of a data set or of a technical process. With the monthly tasks being based on relatively simple chart types, individuals are able to focus on one thing; visualisation best practice. Advice is often given to analysts to 'keep it simple' and not to over-complicate visualisations; with this in mind it makes perfect sense that the most powerful approaches to learning also follow the same philosophy.

As a team my analysts are asked to participate in each challenge and we use our monthly team meeting to review everyone's visualisation; completing group reflection on each creation. At the end of each month's reflection, what really stands out to me is how 15 analysts can develop such a diverse range of visualisations, all based around a simple task. Inevitable we all end up learning something new. In addition individuals can read the Storytelling With Data Challenge write up on Cole's website to gain access to all of the visualisations created across the wider community, maximising the learning potential.

I fully appreciate there will always be a need for formal training; individuals will always need to understand Tableau functionality, whether that be at a beginner level or advanced, however training does not need to be the only form of learning. There is such a wealth of learning opportunities across the community; I would encourage you not only to personally participate in them but also to use them as an opportunity for team development and learning. After all what organisation would ever turn down free, weekly, personal development?!

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