Chapter 2. Shaping Data

Before you open Tableau Desktop, it’s important to know that an optimal “shape,” or layout, of data rows and columns can help you get the most out of the software. In fact, failing to prepare a data source for use with Tableau is what I view as the single biggest barrier to its adoption. I’ve seen this play out several times in my career as a consultant, but it also happens to be part of my own personal story, so I will share it from my perspective.

I’ll never forget the day I was introduced to Tableau. My boss at the time walked into the office where our company’s three analysts worked and said, “I’ve heard of this tool, Tableau; can the three of you take a shot at migrating our existing reports to the new software?” Like most companies, we were doing our data reporting almost exclusively in Microsoft Excel.

We opened Tableau Desktop, and lucky for us, the very first type of file that Tableau offers to connect to (as you will see in the next chapter) is Microsoft Excel. So we connected to our existing Excel reports, thinking the process would work great and maybe we could even head to happy hour early. Unfortunately, Tableau misclassified all the fields, we didn’t know how to drag and drop anything to create meaningful visualizations, everything seemed broken, and before long many of us reverted to the familiarity of Excel.

Common Data Layout

Consider the layout shown in Table 2-1, which may look like an existing Excel report created at your office.

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