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How-To's It Depends Tableau Techniques

It Depends: KPI Swapping with BAN Selectors

Welcome to another installment of “It Depends”. In this post we’re going to look at two different ways to use BAN’s to swap KPI’s in your dashboard. If you’re not familiar with the term “BANs”, we’re talking about the large summarized numbers, or Big Ass Numbers, that are common in business dashboards.

When I build a KPI dashboard, I like to give my users the ability to dig into each and every one of their key metrics, and the techniques we cover in this post are a great way to provide that kind of flexibility. Here is a really simple example of what we’re talking about.

A gif demonstrating how the measures change when each BAN is selected

In the dashboard above, we have 4 BAN’s across the top; Sales, Quantity, Profit, and Profit Ratio. Below that, we have a bar chart by Sub-Category, and a Line Chart showing the current vs previous year. When a user clicks on any of the BANs in the upper section, the bar chart and the line chart will both update to display that metric. A couple of other things that change along with the metric are the dashboard title, the chart titles, and the formatting on all of the labels.

We’re going to cover two different methods for building this type of flexible KPI dashboard. A lot of what we cover is going to be the same, regardless of which method you choose, but there are some pretty big differences in how both the BANs and the Dashboard Actions are constructed in each method.

For this exercise we’re going to use Superstore Data, so you can connect to that source directly in Tableau Desktop. If you would like to follow along in the Sample Workbook, you can download that here.

The Two Methods

Measure Names/Values – In the first method we’re going to use Measure Names and Measure Values to build our BANs. When a user clicks on one of the Measure Values, we will have a dashboard action that passes the Measure Name to a parameter.

Individual BANs – In the second method, we’re going to use separate worksheets for each of one of our BANs. When a user clicks on one of the BANs, we’ll pass a static value that identifies that metric (similar to the Measure Name) to a parameter. With this method, we’ll need a separate dashboard action for each of our BANs.

Method Comparison

So at this point you may be wondering, why would you waste time building out separate worksheets and separate dashboard actions when it can all be done with a single sheet and a single action. Fair question. As you’re probably aware, Measure Names and Measure Values cannot be used in calculated fields, so with the Measure Names/Values method, you are going to be pretty limited in what you can do with your BANs. Let’s take another look at the BANs in the example dashboard from earlier.

An image of BANs with growth indicators and color applied

Numbers alone aren’t always very helpful. It’s important to have context, something to compare those numbers to. Anytime I put a BAN on a dashboard, I like to add some kind of indicator, like percent to a goal, or growth versus previous periods. Another thing I like to do is to use color to make it very obvious which metric is selected and being displayed in the rest of the dashboard. Neither of these are possible with the first method as they both require calculated fields that reference either the selected measure or the value of that measure.

Unlike some of our other “It Depends” posts, the decision here is pretty easy.

A decision tree for which method to use. If you want to add anything other than the measure to your BAN, or want to apply color to show the selection, use Method 2, otherwise you can use Method 1

Method 2 does take a little more time to set up, but in my opinion, it’s usually the way to go. Beyond the two decision points above, the second method also provides a lot more flexibility when it comes to formatting. But if you’re looking for something quick and these other considerations aren’t all that important to you or your users, by all means, go with the first one.

Methods in Practice

This section is going to focus only on building the BANs and setting up the dashboard actions. We’ll walk through how to do that with both of the methods first, and then we’ll move onto setting up the rest of the dashboard, since those steps will be the same for both methods.

Before we get started, let’s build out just a couple of quick calculations that we’ll be using in one or both methods.

First, let’s calculate the most recent date in our data source. Often, in real world scenarios, you’ll be able to use TODAY() instead of the most recent date, but since this Superstore Data only goes through the end of 2021, we’re going to calculate the latest date.

Max Date: {FIXED : MAX([Order Date])}

Now, let’s calculate the Relative Year for each date in our data source. So everything in the most recent year will have a value of 0, everything in the previous year will have a value of -1, and so on.

Relative Year: DATEDIFF(“year”,[Max Date],[Order Date])

And lastly, we’re working with full years of data here, but that’s usually not the case. In my BANs, I want to be able to show a Growth Indicator, but in a real world scenario, that growth should be based on the value of that metric at the same point in time during the previous year. So let’s build a Year to Date Filter.

Year to Date Filter: DATEDIFF(“day”,DATETRUNC(“year”,[Order Date]),[Order Date])<=DATEDIFF(“day”,DATETRUNC(“year”,[Max Date]),[Max Date])

And that calculation is basically just calculating the day of the year for each order (by comparing the order date to the start of that year), and then comparing it to the day of the year for the most recent order. Again, in a real world scenario, you would probably use TODAY() instead of the [Max Date] calculation.

And finally, we just need one parameter that will store our selection when we click on any of the BANs. For this, just create a parameter, call it “Selected Metric”, set the Data Type to “String”, and set the Current Value to “Sales”.

An image showing what the Parameter settings should look like

Ok, that’s enough for now, let’s start building.

Measure Names/Values

Follow the steps below to build your BANs using the Measure Names/Values method. I’m going to provide the steps on how the ones in the sample dashboard were built, but feel free to format however you would like.

Building

  • Right click on [Relative Year] and select “Convert to Dimension”
  • Drag [Relative Year] to filter shelf and filter on 0 (for current year)
  • Drag Measure Names to Columns
  • Drag Measure Values to Text
  • Drag Measure Names to Filter and select Sales, Quantity, Profit, and Profit Ratio
  • Right click on Measure Names on the Column Shelf and de-select “Show Header”
  • Drag Measure Names to “Text” on the Marks Card

Formatting

  • Change Fit to “Entire View”
  • Click on “Text” on the Marks Card and change the Horizontal Alignment to Center
  • Click on “Text” on the Marks Card, click on the ellipses next to “Text” and format
    • Position Measure Names above Measure Values and set font size to 12
    • Change font size of Measure Values to 28
    • Set desired color
  • On the Measure Values Shelf, below the Marks Card, right click on each Measure and format appropriately (Currency, Percentage, etc.)
  • Go to Format > Borders and add Column Dividers (increase Level to get dividers between BANs)
  • Click on Tooltip on the Marks Card and de-select all checkboxes to “turn off”

When you’re done building and formatting your BANs, your worksheet should look something like this

An image showing what the BANs worksheet should look like with Method 1

Now we just need to add this to our dashboard, and then add a a Parameter Action that will pass the Measure Name from our BANs worksheet to our [Selected Metric] parameter.

  • Go to Dashboard > Actions and click “Add Action”
  • Select “Change Parameter” when prompted
  • Give your Parameter Action a descriptive Name
  • Under Source Sheets, select the BANs worksheet that you created in the previous steps
  • Under Target Parameter, select the “Selected Metric” parameter we created earlier
  • Under Source Field, select “Measure Names”
  • Under Aggregation, select “None”
  • Under Run Action on, choose “Select”
  • Under Clearing the Selection Will, select “Keep Current Value”

The Parameter Action should look something like this.

An image showing what the Parameter Action settings should look like

One last formatting recommendation that I would make is to use one of the methods described in this post, to remove the blue box highlight when you click on one of the BANs. Use either the Filter Technique, or the Transparent Technique.

So that’s it for this method…for now. We’re going to switch over to setting up the BANs and dashboard actions for Method 2 first, and then we’ll regroup and walk through the rest of the dashboard setup. If you plan on using Method 1, please skip ahead to the “Setting up the Dashboard” section below.

Individual BANs

Follow the steps below to build your BANs using the Individual BANs method. I’m going to walk through how to build one of the BANs, and then you’ll need to repeat that process for each one in your dashboard. A couple of other things we’ll do in these BANs include adding growth indicators vs the previous year, and adding color to show when that BAN’s measure is selected/not selected. And as I mentioned in the previous example, I’m going to cover how I formatted these BANs in the sample workbook, but feel free to format however you see fit.

Let’s start by building our “Sales” BAN.

Building

  • Right click on [Relative Year] and select “Convert to Dimension”
  • Drag [Relative Year] to filter shelf and filter on 0 and -1 (for current and prior year)
  • Drag [Year to Date Filter] to filter shelf and filter on True
  • Drag Relative Year to Columns and make sure that 0 is to the right of -1
  • Drag your Measure (Sales) to Text on the Marks Card
  • Add Growth Indicator
    • Drag your Measure (Sales) to Detail
    • Right click and select “Add Table Calculation”
    • Under Calculation Type, select “Percent Difference From”
    • Next to “Relative To”, make sure that “Previous” is selected
    • Drag the Measure with the Table Calculation from Detail onto Text on the Marks Card
  • Right click on the “-1” in the Header and select “Hide”
  • Right click on Relative Year on the Column Shelf and de-select “Show Header”

Formatting

  • Change Fit to “Entire View”
  • Click on “Text” on the Marks Card and change the Horizontal Alignment to Center
  • Click on “Text” on the Marks Card, click on the ellipses next to “Text” and format
    • Insert a line above your Measure and add a label for it (ex. “Sales”). Set font size to 12.
    • Change font size of the measure (ex. SUM(Sales)) to 28
    • Change font size of growth indicator (ex. % Difference in SUM(Sales)) to 14
  • Right click on your measure on the Marks Card and format appropriately (for Sales, set to Currency)
  • Right click on your growth measure on the Marks Card, select Format, select Custom, and then paste in the string below
    • ▲ 0.0%;▼ 0.0%; 0%
    • When the growth is positive, this will display an upward facing triangle, along with a percentage set to 1 decimal point
    • When the growth is negative, this will display a downward facing triangle, along with a percentage set to 1 decimal point
    • When there is 0 growth, this will display 0% with no indicator
  • Click on Tooltip on the Marks Card and de-select all checkboxes to “turn off”

When you’re done building and formatting your Sales BAN, it should look something like this.

An image showing what the Sales BAN worksheet should look like

There are a couple more additional steps before we move on to the dashboard actions. First, we need a field that we can pass from this BAN to our parameter. For this, just create a calculated field called “Par Value – Sales”, and in the calculation, just type the word “Sales” (with quotes).

An example of the Par Value calculation

Par Value Sales: “Sales”

And then drag the [Par Value – Sales] field to Detail on your Sales BAN worksheet.

Just a quick note here. If I was building this for a client, I would probably use a numeric parameter, and pass a number from this BAN instead of a text value. It’s a little cleaner and better for performance, but for simplicity and continuity, we’ll use the same parameter we used in Method 1. Ok, back to it.

Now, we need one more calculated field to test if this measure is the currently selected one. This is just a simple boolean calc, and we’ll call it “Metric Selected – Sales”.

Metric Selected – Sales: [Selected Metric]=”Sales”

Now drag that field to Color on your Sales BAN worksheet. Set the [Selected Metric] Parameter to “Sales” (so the result of the calculation is True) and assign a Color. Now, set the [Selected Metric] Parameter to anything else (so the result of the calculation is False) and assign a color.

Now our Sales BAN is built, we just need to add it to our dashboard and then add a Parameter Action that will pass our [Par Value – Sales] field to our [Selected Metric] parameter when a user clicks on the Sales Ban.

  • Go to Dashboard > Actions and click “Add Action”
  • Select “Change Parameter” when prompted
  • Give your Parameter Action a descriptive Name
  • Under Source Sheets, select the Sales BAN worksheet that you created in the previous steps
  • Under Target Parameter, select the “Selected Metric” parameter we created earlier
  • Under Source Field, select [Par Value – Sales]
  • Under Aggregation, select “None”
  • Under Run Action on, choose “Select”
  • Under Clearing the Selection Will, select “Keep Current Value”

The Parameter Action should look something like this.

An image showing what the parameter action settings should look like

And just like with Method 1, I would recommend using one of the methods described in this post, to remove the blue box highlight when you click on the Sales BAN. You could use either the Transparent or the Filter Technique, but with this method, I would really recommend using the Filter Technique.

Now, repeat every step from the “Individual BANs” header above to this step, for each of your BANs. I warned you it would take a little longer to set up, but it’s totally worth it. And once you’re comfortable with this technique, it moves very quickly. To save some time, you can probably duplicate your Sales BAN worksheet and swap out some of the metrics and calculations, but be careful you don’t miss anything.

Setting up the Dashboard

Now our BANs are built and our dashboard actions are in place. Either method you chose has brought you here. We just have a few steps left to finish building our flexible KPI dashboard. Here’s what we’re going to do next.

  • Adjust our other worksheets to use the selected metric
  • Dynamically format the measures in our labels and tooltips
  • Update our Headers and Titles to display the selected metric

Show Selected Metric in Worksheets

The first thing we need to do here is to create a calculated field that will return the correct measure based on what is in the parameter. So users will click on a BAN, let’s say “Sales”. The word “Sales” will then get passed to our [Selected Metric] parameter. Then our calculation will test that parameter, and when that parameter’s value is “Sales”, we want it to return the value of the [Sales] Measure. Same thing for Quantity, Profit, etc. So let’s create a CASE statement with a test for each of our BAN measures, and call it “Metric Calc”.

Metric Calc

CASE [Selected Metric]
WHEN “Sales” then SUM([Sales])
WHEN “Quantity” then SUM([Quantity])
WHEN “Profit” then SUM([Profit])
WHEN “Profit Ratio” then [Profit Ratio]
END

Now, we just need to use this measure in all of our worksheets, instead of a static measure. In our Bar Chart, we’re going to drag this measure to Columns. In our Line Chart, we’re going to drag this measure to Rows.

An image showing the Metric Calc field being used in the dynamic charts in the dashboard

Now, whenever you click on a BAN in the dashboard, these charts will reflect the measure that you clicked on. Pretty cool right? But there is a glaring problem that needs to be addressed.

Dynamic Formatting on Labels/Tooltips

In our example, we have 4 possible measures that could be viewed in the bar chart and line chart; Sales, Quantity, Profit, and Profit Ratio. So 4 possible measures, with 3 different number formats.

  • Sales = Currency
  • Quantity = Whole Number
  • Profit = Currency
  • Profit Ratio = Percentage

At the time of writing this post, Tableau only allows you to assign one number format per measure. But luckily, as with all things Tableau, there is a pretty easy way to do what we want. We’re going to create one calculated field for each potential number format; Currency, Whole Number, and Percentage.

Metric Label – Currency: IF [Selected Metric]=”Sales” or [Selected Metric]=”Profit” then [Metric Calc] END

Metric Label – Whole: IF [Selected Metric]=”Quantity” then [Metric Calc] END

Metric Label – Percentage: IF [Selected Metric]=”Profit Ratio” then [Metric Calc] END

Here’s how these calculations are going to work together. When a user selects;

  • Sales
    • [Metric Label – Currency] = [Metric Calc]
    • [Metric Label – Whole] = Null
    • [Metric Label – Percentage] = Null
  • Quantity
    • [Metric Label – Currency] = Null
    • [Metric Label – Whole] = [Metric Calc]
    • [Metric Label – Percentage] = Null
  • Profit
    • [Metric Label – Currency] = [Metric Calc]
    • [Metric Label – Whole] = Null
    • [Metric Label – Percentage] = Null
  • Profit Ratio
    • [Metric Label – Currency] = Null
    • [Metric Label – Whole] = Null
    • [Metric Label – Percentage] = [Metric Calc]

No matter what BAN is selected, ONE of these calculations will return the appropriate value and TWO of these calculations will be Null. In Tableau, Null values do not occupy any space in labels and tooltips. So all we need to do is line up these three calculations together. The two Null values will collapse, leaving just the populated value. Here’s how you do that.

  • Go to the Metric by Sub-Category sheet (or one of the dynamic charts in your workbook)
  • If [Metric Calc] is on Label, remove it
  • Format your measures
    • Right click on [Metric Label – Currency] in the Data Pane, select “Default Properties” and then “Number Format”
    • Set the appropriate format
    • Repeat for [Metric Label – Whole] and [Metric Label – Percentage]
  • Drag all 3 [Metric Label] fields to “Label” on the Marks Card
  • Click on “Label” on the Marks Card and click on the ellipses next to “Text”
  • Align all of the [Metric Label] fields on the first row in the Edit Label box, with no spaces between fields (see image below)

Your Label should look like this.

An image showing the correct layout, with all of the dynamic labels next to each other

If all of your calculations and default formatting are correct, your Chart labels should now be dynamic. When you click on Sales or Profit, your labels should show as currency. When you click on Quantity, your labels should show as whole numbers. And when you click on Profit Ratio, your labels should show as Percentages. You can repeat this same process for all of your Labels and Tooltips.

Displaying Parameter in Titles

Saving the easiest for last! One last thing you’ll want to do is to update your chart titles so that they describe what is in the view. The view is going to be changing, so the titles need to change as well. Luckily this is incredibly easy.

  • Double click on any chart title, or text box being used as a title
  • Place your cursor where you would like the [Selected Metric] value to appear
  • In the top right corner, select “Insert”
  • Choose the [Selected Metric] parameter

It should look like this. Just repeat for all of your other titles (can work in Tooltips as well).

An image demonstrating how to insert the parameter into a chart title

Finally, I think we’re done! Those are two different methods for building really flexible KPI dashboards. This is a model that I use all the time, and users always love it! It’s incredibly powerful and just a really great way to let your users explore their data without having to build different dashboards for each of your key indicators.

As always, thank you so much for reading, and see you next time!

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How-To's It Depends Tableau Techniques

It Depends: Techniques for Filtering on Multiple Selections with Dashboard Actions in Tableau

Welcome to installment #3 of the “It Depends” blog series. If you’re not familiar with the series, each installment will cover a question where there is no clear definitive answer. We’ll talk through all of the different scenarios and approaches and give our recommendations on what approach to use and when. The question we are tackling this week is “How can dashboard actions be used to filter on multiple selections in a sheet?”. Pretty easy right. Just use a filter action…or a set action…or set controls…or a parameter action. There are clearly a lot of different ways to accomplish this, but which one should you use? And I think you know the answer…It depends!

But before we start…why does this even matter? Why not just throw a quick filter on the dashboard and call it a day? For me, it’s about user experience. When a user sees a mark on a dashboard and they want to dig into it, would they rather a) mouse over to a container filled with filters, find the right filter, click on a drop down, search for the value they want to filter, click that value, and then hit apply, or b) just click on the mark? Don’t get me wrong, quick filters are important, and often times essential, but they can also be a bit clunky, and can hinder performance. So whenever possible, I opt for dashboard actions.

Using dashboard actions to filter from a single mark is pretty easy, but the process gets a little more complicated when you want to be able to select multiple marks. And as developers, we have a choice on whether or not we want to push that burden onto our users. We have to decide what’s more important, ease of use for our users, or ease of setup for ourselves. We’ll also need to take performance into consideration. Those will be the two biggest decision points for which of these 4 methods to implement. And those methods are, as I mentioned above; Filter Actions, Set Actions, Set Controls, and Parameter Actions. There are no restrictions on these four approaches. Any one of them could be used in any scenario, but it’s up to you to weigh the importance of those two decision points and to determine which method gives you the right balance for your specific situation.

The Four Methods

Filter Action – This is the easiest of the four methods to implement and provides users with a better user experience than quick filters, both in terms of interacting with the dashboard and performance. But there are some downsides. First off, in order to select multiple marks, users would either need to hold down the CTRL key while making their selections, or those marks would need to be adjacent so that users could click and drag to select multiple marks together. Not ideal. Also, with Filter Actions, the selections cannot be used in other elements of your dashboard (calculated fields, text boxes, etc), like they can with other methods. And finally, and this one might be a bit personal, you can’t leverage any of the highlighting tips that I discussed in Installment 1 of this series, Techniques for Disabling the Default Highlighting in Tableau. Technically, you could use the “Highlight Technique” but because you can’t use the selected values in a calculated field, there would be no clear way to identify which mark(s) have been selected. Full disclosure, I never use this technique, but I’m going to include it because technically it will accomplish what we’re trying to do.

Set Action – This method provides a somewhat similar user experience to Filter Actions. Better performance than quick filters, but users still need to hold CTRL, or click and drag to select multiple marks. The main benefit of this approach over Filter Actions is it’s flexibility. You can use it to filter some views, and in other views you can compare the selected values to the rest of the population. This type of analysis isn’t possible with Filter Actions. With Filter Actions, your only option is to filter out all of the data that is not selected. With Set Actions, you can segment your data into selected and not selected. You can also use those segments in calculated fields, which is another huge benefit over Filter Actions.

Set Controls – This method provides all of the same benefits of Set Actions, but with one major improvement. Users do not need to hold CTRL or click and drag. They can click on individual marks and add them one by one to their set. This method is a little more difficult to set up than the previous two, but in my opinion, it is 100% worth it. It’s possible that it may be marginally worse for performance, but I have never had performance issues using this method. The only things that I don’t like about this approach are that you can’t easily toggle marks in and out of the set (you can do this with a second set action in the ‘menu’, but it’s a bit clunky), and you can’t leverage the Filter Technique for disabling the default highlighting (we’ll talk more about this later).

Parameter Action – In my opinion this approach provides the best user experience. Users can select marks one by one to add to their “filter”, and can also, depending on how you set it up, toggle marks in and out of that filter. The main downside here is performance. This technique relies on some somewhat complicated string calculations that can really hurt performance when you’re dealing with large or complex data sets. It’s also the most difficult to implement. But when performance isn’t a concern, I love this approach.

Method Comparison

So which method should you use? Let’s take a look at those two decision points that I mentioned earlier, User Experience and Performance.

If neither of these decision points are important then you can ignore this entire post and just use a quick filter. But that’s usually not the case. If Performance is important, but you’re less concerned with User Experience, you can use either a Set Action or a Filter Action (but I would recommend Set Actions over Filter Actions). If User Experience is important and Performance is not a concern, you can use a Parameter Action. And if both User Experience and Performance are important, then Set Controls are the way to go. But as I mentioned earlier, you are not limited to any of these methods in any scenario, and there could be other elements that influence your decision. So let’s do a closer comparison of these methods.

*Flexibility refers to how the selected values can be used in other elements of the dashboard
**Default Highlight Techniques refer to which technique (from Installment 1) can be used with each method

So now we have a pretty good idea which method we should use in any given scenario. Now let’s look at how to implement each of these.

Methods in Practice

For each of these methods we are going to use this ridiculously simple Sales dashboard. We’re going to use the bar chart on the left (Sales by Subcat) to filter the line chart on the right (Sales by Quarter). If you’d like to follow along, you can download the sample workbook here.

Filter Action

As I mentioned earlier, this is the easiest method to set up, but will require your users to either hold CTRL or click and drag to select multiple marks.

  • Go to Dashboard > Actions and click “Add Action”
  • Select “Filter” from the list of options
  • Give your Action a descriptive Name (ex. SubCat Filter)
  • Under “Source Sheets” select the worksheet that will drive the action. In this example it is our bar chart “Sales by SubCat”.
  • Under “Target Sheets” select the worksheet that will be affected by the action. In this example it is our line chart “Sales by Quarter”
  • Under “Run action on” choose “Select”
  • Under “Clearing the selection will” choose “Show All Values”
  • Click “OK”

When you’re finished, your “Add Filter Action” box should look like this

And now when we click on a mark, hold CTRL and click multiple marks, or click and drag to select multiple marks our line chart will be filtered to just the selected value(s). And when we click in the white space on that sheet, or the selected value (when only one mark is selected) the filter will clear and the line chart will revert to show all values

Set Action

Filtering with Set Actions is slightly more involved but still pretty straightforward. For this method we need to create our set, we need to add that set to the Filter Shelf on our line chart, and then we need to add the dashboard action to update that set.

  • Go to the sheet that will be affected by the action. In this case it is our line chart (Sales by Quarter).
  • Create a set for the field that will be used for the filter. In this case it is our [Sub-Category] field.
    • Right click on [Sub-Category]
    • Click on “Create”
    • Click on “Set”
    • Click the “All” option to select all values
    • Click “OK”
  • Add the filter to the sheet that will be affected by the action (Sales by Quarter).
    • Drag the [Sub-Category Set] to the filter shelf on the “Sales by Quarter” worksheet
    • It should default to “Show Members in Set”, but just in case, click on the drop-down on the [Sub-Category Set] pill on the filter shelf and make sure that is the option selected
  • Add the dashboard action to update the [Sub-Category Set]
    • Navigate back to the dashboard
    • Go to Dashboard > Actions and click “Add Action”
    • Select “Change Set Values” from the list of options
    • Give your Action a descriptive Name (ex. SubCat Set Action Filter)
    • Under “Source Sheets” select the worksheet that will drive the action. In this example it is our bar chart “Sales by SubCat”.
    • Under “Target Set” select the set that was used as the filter in the previous steps. In this case it is our [Sub-Category Set]
    • Under “Run action on” choose “Select”
    • Under “Running the action will” choose “Assign values to set”
    • Under “Clearing the selection will” choose “Add all values to set”
    • Click “OK”

When you’re finished your “Add Set Action” box should look like this.

The way this Set Action configuration works is that each time you make a new selection, the contents of the set are being completely overwritten with the newly selected values. That’s what the “Assign values to set” option does. And when you clear the selection, by clicking on white space in the sheet, or the last selected value, the contents of the set are replaced again with all of the values. That’s what the “Add all values to set” option does.

I would recommend one additional step if you’re using this method to override the default highlighting. When using Set Actions you are somewhat limited on what techniques you can use for this, but the “Highlight Technique” works great. You can read about how to use that technique here. Once you’ve added the Highlight Action, just put the [Sub-Category Set] field on color on your “Sales by Subcat” sheet and select the colors you want to display for marks that are selected (in the set) and marks that are not selected (out of the set). When you’re done, your dashboard should look and function like this. Keep in mind that similar to Filter Actions, users will need to hold CTRL and click, or click and drag to select multiple marks.

Set Controls

Setting up our filter with Set Controls is going to be very similar to Set Actions, but with one major difference. The way Set Controls work is that they allow you to select marks one by one and either add them to your set or remove them from your set. This is a great feature, but it makes filtering with them a little tricky.

If we were to start with all of our values in the set, we couldn’t just click on a value in our bar chart to add it to the set, since it’s already there (as well as all of the other values). So we need to start with the set empty and then start adding values when we click on them. But if our set is empty, and we use that set as a filter, as we did in the previous example, then our line chart will be blank until we start adding values. And we don’t want that. We want the line chart to show all of the values, until we start selecting values, and then we want it to just show those values. And we can accomplish this with a calculated field. So first, we’re going to create our set, then we’ll create our calculated field, then we’ll add that field as a filter to our line chart, and then we’ll add the action to update the set.

  • Go to the sheet that will be affected by the action. In this case it is our line chart (Sales by Quarter).
  • Create a set for the field that will be used for the filter . In this case it is our [Sub-Category] field. (skip this step if you followed along with the Set Action example)
    • Right click on [Sub-Category]
    • Click on “Create”
    • Click on “Set”
    • Click the “All” option to select all values
    • Click “OK”
  • Create a calculated field called [SubCat Filter]
    • { FIXED : COUNTD([Sub-Category Set])}=1 OR [Sub-Category Set]
  • Add the filter to the sheet that will be affected by the action (Sales by Quarter).
    • Drag the [SubCat Filter] field to the filter shelf on the “Sales by Quarter” worksheet
    • Filter on “True”
  • Add the dashboard action to update the [Sub-Category Set]
    • Navigate back to the dashboard
    • Go to Dashboard > Actions and click “Add Action”
    • Select “Change Set Values” from the list of options
    • Give your Action a descriptive Name (ex. SubCat Set Control Filter)
    • Under “Source Sheets” select the worksheet that will drive the action. In this example it is our bar chart “Sales by SubCat”.
    • Under “Target Set” select the set that was used as the filter in the previous steps. In this case it is our [Sub-Category Set]
    • Under “Run action on” choose “Select”
    • Under “Running the action will” choose “Add values to set”
    • Under “Clearing the selection will” choose “Remove all values from set”
    • Click “OK”

When you’re finished your “Add Set Action” box should look like this.

So there are a couple of things we should cover here, starting with the calculated field. Here it is again.

{ FIXED : COUNTD([Sub-Category Set])}=1 OR [Sub-Category Set]

Sets only have two possible values; IN or OUT. The set may contain hundreds or even thousands of values from the source field, but the sets themselves can only have these two values. So if we use a FIXED Level of Detail expression and count the distinct values, the result will be either 1 or 2. If the set is empty, the value for every record will be OUT, so the result of the LOD will be 1. Similarly, if the set contains all values, the value for every record will be IN, so the result of the LOD will still be 1. But if some values are in the set (IN) and other values are not in the set (OUT), then the result of the LOD will be 2 (IN and OUT).

So the first part of this calculated field ( FIXED : COUNTD([Sub-Category Set])}=1) will be true for all records when the set is empty, or if it contains all values. The second part of this calculated field (OR [Sub-Category Set]) will only be true for records in the set. So when we start with an empty set, the overall result of this calculated field will be True for every record, so everything will be included in our line chart. As soon as we add a value to our set, the first part becomes false for every record, but the second part becomes true for the values in our set. Because we are using an OR operator, the overall result, once we click on some values, will be true for the selected values and false for the rest of the values.

Next, let’s look at the Set Control options. We are starting with an empty set. Each time we click on a new mark, that value will be added to our set. That’s what the “Add values to set” option does. Unlike the “Assign values to set”, it does not override the set, it just adds new values to the existing ones. And then when we click on some white space in the sheet, or the last selected value, the set will go back to being empty. That’s what the “Remove all values from set” option does.

And just like in the previous example, I would recommend using the “Highlight Technique” covered here, and then adding the [SubCat Filter] field to color on the bar chart (Sales by SubCat).

And now your dashboard should look and function like this. Notice that you no longer need to CTRL click, or click and drag, to select multiple values. Nice!

Parameter Action

This method is by far the most complex, but if done correctly, it provides a really smooth user experience. The thing that I like most about this approach is that you can set it up so that you can “toggle” values in and out of the filter. There are a few extra steps in this approach, and some somewhat complex calculations. We need to create our parameter, create a calculated field that will be passed to that parameter, add that field to Detail on our bar chart, create a calculated field for our filter, add that filter to our line chart, and add the dashboard action that will update the parameter.

  • Create a string parameter called [SubCat Select] and set the “Current value” to the pipe character “|”
  • Create a calculated field called [SubCat String]
    • IF CONTAINS([SubCat Select], ‘|’ + [Sub-Category] + ‘|’) THEN REPLACE([SubCat Select],’|’ + [Sub-Category] + ‘|’,’|’)
    • ELSE [SubCat Select] + [Sub-Category] + ‘|’
    • END
  • Go to the sheet that will drive the parameter action and drag the [SubCat String] field to Detail. In this example, that is the “Sales by SubCat” sheet
  • Create a calculated field called [SubCat String Filter]
    • [SubCat Select]=’|’ OR CONTAINS([SubCat Select],’|’+[Sub-Category]+’|’)
  • Add the filter to the sheet that will be affected by the action (Sales by Quarter).
    • Drag the [SubCat String Filter] field to the filter shelf on the “Sales by Quarter” worksheet
    • Filter on “True”
  • Add the dashboard action to update the [Sub-Category Set]
    • Navigate back to the dashboard
    • Go to Dashboard > Actions and click “Add Action”
    • Select “Change Parameter” from the list of options
    • Give your Action a descriptive Name (ex. SubCat Parameter Filter)
    • Under “Source Sheets” select the worksheet that will drive the action. In this example it is our bar chart “Sales by SubCat”.
    • Under “Target Parameter” select the parameter that was set up in the previous steps. In this example it is [SubCat Select]
    • Under “Source Field” select the [SubCat String] Field
    • Under “Aggregation”, leave set to “None”
    • Under “Run action on” choose “Select”
    • Under “Clearing the selection will” choose “Keep Current Value”
    • Click “OK”

When you’re finished, your “Add Parameter Action” box should look like this

Alright, let’s talk through some of those calculations, starting with the [SubCat String] Field. Basically, what this calculation is doing is building and modifying a concatenated string of values. Here’s that calculation again.

IF CONTAINS([SubCat Select],’|’ + [Sub-Category] + ‘|’) THEN REPLACE([SubCat Select],’|’ + [Sub-Category] + ‘|’,’|’)
ELSE [SubCat Select] + [Sub-Category] + ‘|’
END

We set up our parameter to have a default value of just the pipe character (“|”). I’ll explain the use of the pipes a little later on. The first line of the calculation looks to see if the selected value is already contained in our string. So it’s searching our entire concatenated string for the pipe + selected value + pipe (ex. |phones|). If it finds that value in our string, it will replace it with just a pipe. So for our example, if our parameter value was |phones|binders|storage| and we click on phones, it will replace “|phones|” with a pipe, leaving “|binders|storage|”

The second line of this calculation will add the selected value. The calc has already tested to see if it’s there in the previous step, and if it’s not, this line will add it along with a pipe. Now let’s look at our parameter action…in action.

Take a look at the parameter at the top. As we click on each Sub-Category, its added to our string. Now look what happens when we click on those selected marks again.

As we click on each previously selected mark, that mark is removed from our string, until we’re left with just our starting value, the pipe.

The reason I use pipes on both sides, instead of just a comma separated list is to avoid situations where one potential value could be equal to a part of another value (ex. Springfield and West Springfield). The pipes ensure we are matching exact values in the next step, our filter calculation. Here’s that filter calculation again.

[SubCat Select]=’|’ OR CONTAINS([SubCat Select],’|’+[Sub-Category]+’|’)

This is pretty similar to the filter that we created in our Set Controls example. The first part is checking to see if our concatenated string is “empty”, meaning nothing has been selected yet and it’s just a pipe. If that’s the case, the result of this calculated field will be true for every record. The second part of the calculated field is checking the [Sub-Category] field in each record and seeing if that value is contained within our parameter string (along with the starting and ending pipe). If it is, the result of this calculation will be True for those records and False for all of the other records.

When using this method, I would highly, highly, highly recommend using the “Filter Action” technique for disabling the default highlighting. You can find it here. This technique not only masks the selection, but it also automatically de-selects a mark after you click on it. That is really important when using this method. Once you add that Filter Action, just add the [SubCat String Filter] field to color, and you should be good to go. Here’s what it looks like in action.

And there you have it. Four different methods for filtering your dashboards on multiple selections. As I mentioned before, some of these are much more complex than others, but they provide a much better user experience. In my opinion, it’s worth it to put in the extra time and effort to save your users frustration later on. I hope you enjoyed this post, and keep an eye out for more installments of “It Depends”.