Tableau Parameters

Filed under: data

There’s a feature in Tableau called parameters that is fantastic for use with calculated fields when building a custom dashboard. In the past week I’ve been playing around with this feature while building a dashboard and have come to appreciate it greatly.

“Parameters are dynamic values that can replace constant values in calculations, filters, and reference lines.” (link)

It was a feature that initially lacked intuitiveness in how it might be utilized. The official definition above from Tableau says that it provides dynamic values, but still leaves out the information on what to fill it in with. Once you get it, it’s easy. The bridge between not knowing and understanding for me was wrapping my mind around the possibilities to be able to pick useful values.

This past week I got to use the parameter feature in multiple ways, each iteration a little more complex than the last. It had taken several weeks of ramping up from no experience to achieve fluency in the lingo and workflow for Tableau thinking. It helped to understand the datasets also.

The first phase of learning Tableau was trying to figure out where to drag and drop fields in various combinations. How does it react when I drop a field into columns vs rows? How about when I add multiple fields to the interface? From there it took some time to understand the differences between dimension vs attribute/measure as well as discrete vs continuous. In retrospect, it would have benefited from spending solid time reading up properly the differences of these.. Good thing I have reading material to study now.

Then the next phase was getting to understand the sense of the role each chart plays and letting that be the guiding factor to the usability of a chart. It’s like picking a scene for a storyboard, how do you tell the good story? Devil is in the details surely, but the person reading your charts, if they any influence in their organization, will wonder “so what?” That is what your chart should answer, and a “workbook” of charts would make an impact when it can tell the whole story.

Back to the parameters feature, sometimes you may want to feature detail along a certain dimension, with varying levels of hierarchy. This helps you craft a story that can be tailored to a wider audience, this ability is enabled by parameters + calculated fields. Calculated fields is the part that responds to the selected inputs!

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