#data19 – Tableau Conference (Las Vegas – Nov 2019)

It’s been a seriously crazy month!!!

On 29th October I had a catch up call with Amanda Boyle from Tableau and Simon Beaumont (Zen Master and Tableau Ambassador), they told me that I had been awarded the Tableau Community Founders Award! They went on to explain that this meant that I would be given an all-expenses paid trip to the Tableau Conference in Las Vegas!! After briefly stunned into silence, followed by a series of shock responses. Wow…seriously…wow….OMG….you are joking….etc etc.. I then had to check that they meant the conference that was 2 weeks away!?!

Obviously I was absolutely over the moon; working in the public sector of the NHS in the UK doesn’t generally come with the opportunity to attend conferences in America!! To win this award means so much to me, and truly humbling. Discovering Tableau 5 years ago and then discovering the Tableau community a couple of years later has definitely changed my life! I love being part of the Tableau community, and love running two user groups in the UK.  It may take a little effort to fit this in alongside work and family life, but I get so much out of running them that it is genuinely worth it and never feels like a chore. It was so amazing to be recognised for what I do.


So after the phone call on the 29th October I had less than 2 weeks to sort out how I was going to make this happen! Fortunately I have an amazingly supportive family who were almost as excited as me. My partner thought it would be great if he could tag along (he’d never been to the US before), and my mum said she would be more than happy to have the kids recognising what an amazing opportunity this would be. What an absolute star she is, we are so lucky to have her in our lives! Work was also equally supportive, and thrilled for me. With both these things sorted, I quickly booked flights and accommodations and started to juggle my diary so that I could take an unexpected week out of my work schedule.

I have attended the Tableau conference in Europe for the last 5 years, but have always had to watch the US conference from afar. Always wondering what it would be like to attend!

Once my travel plans were arranged I immediately downloaded the conference app and started to plan my conference! Still feeling unreal! In fact now I am back and writing this it still feels a little bit like a dream, but I am absolutely buzzing from the experience and it’s currently never far from my thoughts!

My #Data19 highlights

On arrival at the Luxor (our hotel of choice for the conference) we immediately started spotting the very distinctive conference lanyards. My partner couldn’t believe that everywhere he looked there were data people, but I was immediately in my element and was super excited to get myself into the data village!

The welcome party was my first view of the colossal data village! This was my opportunity to catch up with the Tableau community, those I already know plus I got the chance to meet loads of the #datafam that I had only ever admired and talked to through social media! Amazing to meet so many new people!! Plus who knew my photo would be hanging in a tree in the centre of the Tableau community area of the data village alongside some of my data heroes!

The first notable moment of the conference was getting a high five from one of the Tableau people on the way into the keynote! People generally don’t really high five in the UK especially not at a conference! Loved it!!

Keynote sessions:

The keynote sessions of Tableau conferences are always one of the biggest highlights for me. Data19 keynotes didn’t let me down! The size of the arena for the keynote blew me away….seating 8000 people it felt more like a concert than a conference.

In the opening keynote we met the CEO of Salesforce, Mark Benioff, interesting guy and whilst the presentation about the data culture at Nissan was really interesting and gave me some ideas, I couldn’t get over the fact that I have obviously been saying it wrong for years.  Who knew it was pronounced ‘Neeess on’ – I thought it was ‘Niss An’ (please read in your best impression of a Manchester accent). The highlight of the keynote being the story about the American women code breakers of the World War 2 and a standing ovation for Liza Mundy who wrote Code Girls who was sitting in the front row.

The first day ended with IronViz! It couldn’t end in a better way. This time it did actually feel like a concert, we were given lightsabres to wave around as the lights dimmed to welcome on stage the 3 contestants. I was in absolute awe of the contestants and their final food vizzes after 20 minutes their work was incredible. It was so difficult to pick a winner! It’s hard to explain how exciting the IronViz is even to the most passionate data people I know, but if you are going to only watch one thing from the conference then this is definitely worth checking out!

The conference just kept on giving! Day two kicked off with Devs on Stage. My absolute favourite part of Tableau conference. This bit started with a ‘tune’ made especially for me…I mean the conference!!! Now I was in my absolute element……’we are data people’! 10 days on I have still got this going round my head, it’s more catchy than ‘Baby Shark’!! Seriously – could the conference get any better!?! Everyone was loving it, people were on their feet dancing at the front!!

So as well as the ‘tune’! the Devs on stage killed it! The Devs share the updates about Tableau in such an entertaining way. I love hearing about the new features despite being on a much older version of Tableau. It always sparks ideas in my head! Can’t wait for PDF subscriptions, animations and dynamic parameters!!!!

Breakout sessions

As I was a bit late to the ‘party’ loads of the sessions I would have loved to attend were fully booked up so I am busy trying to catch up on the ones I would have attended since I got back. I still managed to attend a few really useful sessions though. Tableau blueprint and updating our data strategy, interesting session around extensions and workforce analytics but my favourite had to be Collaborative Vizzes by Tableau Ambassadors Kevin Flerlage and Lindsay Betzendahl. I love hearing about people working together in such a collaborative way. I am now inspired to build a collaborative viz, and already have a conversation with a colleague about doing this.

I also got to attend the live Workout Wednesday session. This was my first ever Workout Wednesday so I was a bit daunted by vizzing under pressure. It didn’t help when my computer didn’t work! But luckily Lorna Eden was on hand to lend me hers, I didn’t get very far but I enjoyed taking part and enjoyed meeting another workout Wednesday newbie who was sitting on my table! And my new mantra…I must do more Workout Wednesdays! Such a great way of testing out your Tableau skills and pushing yourself to learn more.


Braindates – What an amazing idea! This was such a brilliant opportunity to connect with people in a different way. Basically you could post a topic and people could join a group Braindate if they were also interested to talk about the said topic. Alternatively you could create one to one Braindates again on a subject that you were interested to share your ideas on. I had 5 Braindates which were all really useful! Simon Beaumont encouraged me to share my experience of Agile project management so that I set this up and got the chance to have 3 Braindates with others interested in sharing ideas around implementing Agile which was fab. I agreed to keep in touch with all of them to continue to share ideas and see how they are getting on. I had one Braindate around board reporting and one around mental health outcomes with Stephanie Augustine from Orange County, California. I really enjoyed the braindates concept, it gave me chance to meet new people with similar interests and challenges. Fingers crossed they run these at the European conference next year! Such a great way of meeting new people and expanding my network!

In between braindating, breakout sessions and the keynotes I managed to make sure I got my fill of the data village. Checked out the vendors (got some freebies for the kids!), had a quick look in the Tableau store and chatted to lots of different people in the data village. Always on a mission to share ideas to take back to the office. Oh and I might have tried out the slide into the ball pit!

My conference ended with the Data Night out on the Thursday as we had to get back early for the kids. Probably couldn’t be a better way to end my time in Las Vegas. The party was pretty amazing; with a massive neon sign shining above the Palm Casino telling Vegas the data people were in town! And the night ended with the new data anthem ‘We are Data People…we are data people…’!

It has been really hard to write this blog, and in fact it’s less of a blog and more the ramblings of someone who can’t believe they were in Vegas two weeks ago attending the mother of all conferences! It wasn’t hard because I had nothing to say, it’s because I had too much to say and struggled to put into words how much attending the Tableau conference meant to me. I am so touched to be nominated for the community founders award let alone win it. I have had such a good year and this has been the icing on the cake. It doesn’t go without saying that I recognise how lucky I am to be given this opportunity. Thank you #datafam.

Big shout out to Simon Beaumont for his continued support, and to Amanda Boyle and Jordan Scott for making sure I got to Vegas and always taking great care of the Tableau community!

If you made it to the end my blog post, thank you for reading my ramblings!

Northwest Tableau User Group – 30th Sept 2019

Bit of a write up about our user group in September! #NWTUG

2 weeks on from our 6th official Tableau Northwest User Group and I am still buzzing from the fact that we had just over 100 #tableau enthusiasts in attendance! What’s probably more impressive is that we had 148 people register their interest to attend, the northwest community is certainly growing!

I have already written a blog about how much I love running the user groups so I will try not to repeat myself. But I can’t write this blog without saying how much I love these events. It’s great to get the opportunity to set these up with Lorna and Colin. My biggest love is bringing people together; watching people, with similar interests and views, connect is just brilliant.

We alternate between evening groups and day time groups in order to suit everyone’s preferences, we understand that not everyone can make the evening ones and we can fit so much more into a full day session. The user group on the 30th was no exception to this, we had a rammed pack agenda. Despite some unexpected changes in the line up a few days before the event Lorna (#absolutelegend) managed to work her magic and fill a couple of spots with some great people.

So after squeezing everyone into the room in the Tech Incubator (great venue!) on Oxford Road in Manchester we introduced ourselves and the day. First up we had Carl Allchin (@datajedininja) from the Information Lab talking about Tableau Prep, great to hear this new (ish) Tableau functionality explained so well. Did you know there is a Tableau prep weekly challenge run by Carl and Jonathan Allenby, which is really useful for honing your prep skills? Check it out; the site has challenges and blogs to help you: www.preppindata.blogspot.com

After Carl we welcomed Lucy Tiffany (@lucytiffany) who I am proud to say is one of my amazing colleagues from Pennine Care NHS Foundation Trust. This was Lucy’s first time presenting at a user group, and she absolutely smashed it, demonstrating some really useful top tips for beginners and beyond. Lucy has had loads of great feedback from the attendees, so reckon you will be seeing her at other user groups soon! Lucy has published her top tips to her Tableau public site: https://public.tableau.com/profile/lucy.tiffany#!/vizhome/TopTipsforBeginners-NWTUG30092019/Dashboard1

Carl Slifer from Interworks was up next talking about user experience, which I think sometimes does get overlooked when us data people are busy concentrating on the data visualisation. He talked about making sure that you make the Tableau Server work to help our data consumers navigate and view the data they want. It is really key to keeping them engaged! Lots of food for the thought from Carl.

After some real practical Tableau talks we next heard from Amy Rider of Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) presenting on JLR’s Tableau journey and how she is helping to grow their data driven culture. Amy talked about the challenges that seem to be common in all sectors and businesses, so easy to relate to wherever you are from. Amy also talked about using the server admin stats to really understand her data consumers, and make sure they are delivering what people want and need! It is always brilliant to have a mixture of presentations to play to the different preferences of our attendees. I love this type of presentation as someone who is leading on the data culture for Pennine Care, so got some great ideas from Amy’s talk to take back to work! Thanks Amy!!

After 4 presentations it was definitely time for lunch! As more people turned up than we quite expected (not that we thought no one would turn up to the party but we will always be anxious about this!) we didn’t quite order enough food, but luckily Caroline Yam from Tableau was on hand to sort this out and stock us up!! Thanks Caroline – you are an absolute star…nothing worse than hungry data people!!

I kicked off the afternoon with my second favourite thing to Tableau a Kahoot quiz! We had two rounds, a data themed quiz and then because we were in Manchester I designed a Manchester quiz (who knew that Manchester was the birth place of Vegetarianism!). This gave us opportunity to give away some Tableau swag to the lucky quiz winners. Who knew that a data cap would be so sought after!!

Craig Bloodworth (@craigbloodworth) from the Information Lab then led a session on the new features of Tableau. He kicked off his presentation by finding out what version of Tableau everyone was on! He got everyone standing up, and only let them sit down when he said their current Tableau version. I am afraid to say that myself and Lorna and a few others were left standing when he got to 10.4! Oh how we dream of the later versions!! Amongst other things Craig used York Housing prices to demonstrate the new spacial features in Tableau. So impressive! And interesting to find out that Craig’s number one criteria for choosing a new house is that it must be within a mile of his favourite restaurant! Craig also mentioned the new tagging functionality in Tableau Public to allow users to tag who inspired them and include # so that when people are searching for specific initiatives or themes they can easily find them! Craig’s session was rammed packed with loads of useful information about the new features, which was excellent.

I think the highlight of the day has to be our final session from the dataviz legend Andy Kirk (@visualisingdata)! So whilst the attendees had been nicely watching from their seats all day (apart from a little finger exercise doing Kahoot), Andy wasn’t going to let them get away with not taking part in the day. Andy’s session definitely woke everyone up. His session was about thinking about thinking. Andy picked teams with help from his lovely assistant Lorna to take on a number of challenges including getting teams to analyse a receipt (who knew there was so much to look at, and that Andy’s favourite chocolate bar is a Mars bar?!). His mission was to get people really thinking about the things they need to consider when truly analysing data. After 3 challenges we had the finalists! The final teams had to come up with ways to classify Randoms (yes the soft and chewy yummy sweets!). The most unusual classification would win! The competitors took this very seriously, huddling over the sweets debating all the things they could about the sweets! Genius activity!!

The winning team won because they came up with a classification of whether the sweet was something they could drive in?! Yes its ‘random’! What a brilliant way to end a brilliant day!

Oh it would be wrong of me not to promote Andy’s new book – available I am sure in all good book retailers! www.visualisingdata.com

After a swift post TUG drink with a few of the hard core attendees, I headed home buzzing about another amazing TUG, thinking about how we can make the next one even better! Myself, Lorna and Colin are now busy planning the next one, likely to be an evening event at end of November! Watch this space!!

If you fancy speaking at a future group then please let one of us know! It can be any Tableau/data related topic that you think others may find useful. We would love to hear your data story!!

Hope you enjoyed my blog and hopefully we’ll see you at a future TUG!

Learning through teaching

I am not sure ‘teach’ is the right word, probably it should be skills sharing but anyway let’s call it teaching for ease. I was keen to talk about how teaching others has helped to improve my own skills and understanding.  Since I discovered the magic of Tableau and then went on to implement Tableau in my organisation, part of the journey was getting my team trained.

After purchasing my first Tableau desktop license I had a little bit of training to get me started but then went on to teach myself. I then built the first dashboards for our pilot site which all worked and did the job they were intended to do so I felt pretty confident I could teach my team how to use Tableau desktop. Despite coming from a family of educators I wouldn’t say I am a natural teacher but I did my best to get everyone going with Tableau.

I created a small syllabus of things that the team needed to get them started and we blocked out Wednesday mornings for sessions. The team quickly picked up the skills they needed, and started to teach themselves, helping each other learn new tricks and use Google for the rest. Just after implementing Tableau I went off on maternity leave for 8 months so left them to it! On my return Tableau was firmly embedded in the team and their skills had rocketed, leaving me to catch up. We then all topped up our Tableau skills with some formal training through Interworks which really helped us to push further on with our dashboard developments for the organisation. 

The internal introduction to Tableau followed up by formal training once people have got to grips with the basics seems to work well, so we have continued in this way for the last few years. I have continued to teach my new staff and colleagues the basics of Tableau ever since. I passed my Tableau Desktop Associate Certification last September and although I had been using Tableau for a few years I had to do a lot of revision to get me through it. There was lots of functionality in Tableau that I simply hadn’t ever used, and I was also doing things in Tableau but didn’t necessarily know why.  I am definitely no Tableau Zen master by any stretch of the imagination and actually through training some of my team again I realised I was still doing stuff in Tableau with results but couldn’t explain why! So I have been trying to make sure I do understand what I am doing so that when I show others I can explain why, and encourage them to understand why certain actions result in certain outputs. Therefore learning through teaching!

I have implemented a Tableau competency framework within our organisation for people who are responsible for building dashboards. This framework is based on Fi Gordon’s Tableau Quest (thanks Fi – https://www.vizchic.com/tableauquest/). I have named one of the challenges ‘train the dragon’ which basically requires them to present/train a specific Tableau functionality to others. On a mission currently to encourage my team to take on this element of the framework so their skills continue to grow.

I have also started running workshops on Agile project management this year, and so far have run two workshops with another couple planned in September and October. Again I am no Agile project management expert, and I have no certificates to back up my skills. But what I do have is a few years under my belt using Agile project management within my team and seeing my team use it with good results. The external courses some of my team have attended recently had been poor (all theory and no practical!) so I thought I would try do this myself with help from my colleague Lucy based on our experience and knowledge. The workshops have gone pretty well, with positive feedback and people putting their learning into practice since; which is great! As I said I am no Agile project management guru, but by having to teach some of the theory it has forced me to really understand the theories and methodologies that underpin Agile. After each workshop we have run I have come away more confident about using Agile within the organisation and our team, simply by actually understanding it more through teaching others.

I would encourage everyone to ‘teach’! It will make you more confident in your own ability; you know more than you think you do! You will learn why, because when you share your skills with others they will ask ‘why?’, and you need to know the answer or be able to find out (even if it’s together!). It doesn’t matter how big or small, it doesn’t need to be a whole workshop or a full training session just start sharing what you do know!

Hope you enjoyed reading my blog!

Dude, where’s my dashboard?!

One of the most useful things we have ever implemented in our Information Team is unique identifiers for our ad-hoc data requests, routine reports and statutory returns. I can’t take the credit for this. An Analyst who joined my team about ten years ago (and has since moved on) brought this from his previous job. It was so obvious when he suggested it!

It helps so much when people are talking about a certain report. We can make sure we are all talking about the same report. It makes our ad-hoc reporting process easier too. If someone wants a refresh of an ad-hoc that has been requested 6 months earlier we will ask them for the ad-hoc ID and we can quickly find the report they are referring to plus the query that had been written to support it. This has massively streamlined the ad-hoc process, and reduced the need to recreate something from scratch. We have different prefixes depending on the type of report (ad-hoc, statutory report etc), and it made our folder structure more organised too.

Over the last decade pretty much everything we do has been given a unique reference identifier; datasets, data warehouse fact and dimension tables, key performance indicators, procedures etc. It make things so much easier to find, and ensures that we are always talking about the same thing!

Moving forward to the implementation of Tableau in 2016, although we have a Tableau report log which allocates each workbook with a unique reference identifier (TABxxxx) I wasn’t keen to put these IDs on the Tableau server for our consumers to see. I wanted it to seem less formal for our dashboard consumers, and I never thought there would be that many dashboards in each area that would mean we would get confused about what dashboards we were referring to! During the implementation a few of my team disagreed with me, and kept pushing for IDs being published in the names of our dashboards. I finally lost this battle which was made easier to lose as I was soon off on maternity leave and had other things to worry about!

3 years on and I still get reminded of my bad decision by at least one of my team! I will admit that I was wrong (and this is rare occasion for anyone who knows me…). There are now over a 1000 dashboards across our Tableau server site, and most of the dashboards have their unique ID in the title of the workbook. The ones that don’t are generally the ones that I published during implementation (sorry!). We will definitely be fixing these in our next upgrade.

Like everything else we did prior to this, the IDs make it so much easier to support our Tableau consumers. When someone contacts us with issues or changes to a dashboard we can simply ask them to tell us the ID, and we can make sure we respond to their request quickly and effectively. For those that don’t have IDs we have to ask for a link, or try and find it, which isn’t as effective especially if the request has been emailed over. Plus it is then not as easy to record the info about the issue on our Information request database for someone to action later. We don’t use Tags on Tableau (though it is something we are thinking about), but the search area of Tableau works really well with the IDs.

I have learnt my lesson about IDs, and recently created some new committee reports which contained a lot of key performance indicators (40+). Whilst creating these I decided to add an ID next to each indicator, and page number on each tab of the report so that when the committee were talking about a certain key performance indicator they could reference the page and ID allowing everyone to turn to that indicator quickly. It went down well, and will really help when changes are needed too.

So if you are just about to implement Tableau server (or re-looking at the way you navigate around Tableau or in fact navigating anything similar) I would absolutely recommend adding unique reference identifiers to each of your workbooks. It makes life so much easier – it’s a real no brainer!

Hope you enjoyed reading my blog!