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Chris Gerrard – Exploring the world of Better Business Intelligence

Mapping Tableau Workbooks

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Map of the Tableau Finance sample workbook

Map of the Tableau Finance sample workbook

As Tableau workbooks grow it becomes difficult to keep track of their various elements—e.g. Dashboards, Worksheets, and Data Sources—and the relationships between them.

I’ve found that mapping out these elements is helpful in identifying and understanding them, particularly with workbooks that I didn’t create. Benefits include understanding complex relationships that aren’t surfaced well in the Tableau UI, such as the connections between worksheets and data sources, including the scope of global filters; spotting hidden worksheets; and identifying anomalies like unused data sources, dashboards that reference no worksheets, even orphaned worksheets.

When I began working with Tableau five years ago I started out hand-drawing maps as I worked in the workbooks, recording the parts as I encountered them.

The discovery that Tableau workbooks are XML(ish) was a big step forward, making it possible to use straightforward text handling techniques to identify the parts, and some of the obvious relationships between them. It was straightforward to use grep and awk, sometimes a dash or perl, to help tease out the information. Changing a workbook’s file extension to xml and viewing it in an XML-aware tool was really helpful-Firefox is very useful for this.

Still, there were difficulties. Some of the relationships are not straightforward, and require deeper inspection and interpretation.

So I built the map-making ability into TWIS, the app I wrote to inventory Tableau workbooks, and the results are pretty satisfying. The map of the Tableau Finance sample workbook is shown rendered in PNG; clicking on it will display the PDF rendering, with much better resolution and suitable for printing. I’ve also posted links to a wide variety of Tableau workbook maps here. For more information on TWIS, its home page is here.

Orphaned Worksheets

This link is to the PDF of the Tableau Sample Workbook Science.twb (v6.0). Interestingly, it shows the existence of several worksheets that can’t be found using Tableau. Orphaned worksheets, like these, were at one time included in a Dashboard, and left stranded when the last Dashboard that referenced them was deleted. As far as I know, this is the only presentation of orphaned worksheets. As of v6.1 Tableau identifies this last-Dashboard-reference to a worksheet when deleting the last Dashboard and asks whether or not it should proceed, making the ongoing orphaning of worksheets much less likely. As of this writing it’s unclear whether or how legacy orphaned worksheets will be handled in Tableau v6.1 and beyond, but at least there’s now a way to identify them.

I’ll be posting the results of a more thorough investigation into orphaned workbooks soon.


Written by Chris Gerrard

November 14, 2011 at 10:36 am

Posted in Tableau, TWIS

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