A thoughtful blog

Tell the Story, Not Just the Status

As your data moves through time, it may be difficult to capture point-in-time thoughts or commentary of why the data looked the way it did at certain points. For example, if you are looking at sales or some other measure on a line chart over time. You might have some obvious peaks or valleys during the time evaluated. Was there something going on in your business at that time worth noting? 


Highly graphical analysis tools like Tableau gives us the ability to add annotations to areas of our charting, but they can take up considerable screen real estate. Moreover, annotations may distort the effectiveness of your existing visualization if you need more than a couple of them.


A better solution may be to go beyond the typical dimension and fact data you see in relational databases and combine your qualitative inputs as well. Qualitative recaps and other commentary will typically be stored outside your transaction systems that you use for reporting. 


Thankfully, Tableau gives us powerful functionality called ‘blending’ that allows you to combine your quantitative and qualitative information. This is not facilitated by a SQL join between data sets. Instead, it is a useful method to combine two different data sources on a common field within a single view or dashboard.


The example I used on Tableau Public blends transactional sales data with a qualitative recap from accounting and finance. The ‘blend’ is on product category. While the view indicates profit and profit targets over 4 years, the qualitative information from finance is available in the tool tip when you mouse over each product category. 


A more granular blend could be on certain data points on a chart by using a date, measure value and category. This type of information can be extremely valuable as you collect more history and data over time. For example, line or operations managers can add information about certain data points before the dash is presented to senior leadership. This type of qualitative data intake could happen monthly, quarterly or annually.


Your transactional data may currently live in an enterprise database such as Oracle, SQL Server or a cloud location. However, you qualitative data you want to blend can simply live in M.S. Excel, Access or Google Sheets for example. Do not use SharePoint because there are issues with data refresh when using odata sources with Tableau. 


Lack of data governance you might say? I encourage you to engage your data governance teams if you have one and your architects to incorporate this useful feature. Other considerations may involve security. You may ask yourself if all the users already using the dash should also have access to this qualitative information. One important note is that you should be able to see the qualitative data right after it is entered and the user clicks the refresh button on the dash.


 Check out the demonstration video here:  Profit Dash Video


 Here is the live dash on Tableau Public:  Profit Dash


Blending quantitative and qualitative data for robust insights.

Blending quantitative and qualitative data for robust insights.