Looking Back, Looking Ahead

Before getting started, my upcoming speaking schedule:

Jan-14-2017 SQL Saturday Nashville – Two Talks 🙂 – “Super Mutants in No-Mans Land” & “The 20% of DAX that Gets you 80% of the Way There”

URL: http://www.sqlsaturday.com/581/eventhome.aspx


Jan-17-2017 Steel City SQL Server User Group – “Get Up to Speed on Microsoft BI in 2017”

URL: https://www.meetup.com/SteelCitySQL/events/236299411/


Feb-06-2017 Birmingham Modern Excel & Power BI User Group – “Kickoff Meeting!”

URL: https://www.meetup.com/Birmingham-Modern-Excel-Power-BI-User-Group/events/236568437/

Looking Back: 2016, what a year!

If you’ve spent any time on social media in the last few months, you know it’s a common refrain that 2016 was the worst year ever – terrorism, celebrity deaths, political upsets just to start. Through that lens, looking at those things we don’t have a lot of control over, 2016 was rough. At the same time there are things to celebrate and I need to write a little bit about my personal journey last year and what’s up for 2017.

Ferniany/Senseman Inc.

Top of the list for 2016 – we got married. Top of the list for 2017, it’s been two months and we’re still glad we did it.  Getting married is a significant blip in a story that’s mostly played out in our daily habits of thoughtfulness and accountability.  There no good pictures for that part, but that’s the part that matters.

View More: http://cottonandcloverphoto.pass.us/sensemanwedding

Moving on from a Company of One

I left my cubicle in late 2015 and started a company here in Birmingham – Ten Thousand Things. It was a company of one.  I was consulting, selling, and selling, and selling, and invoicing. That’s how it goes in a company of one – it was too small for me.  In June, Rob asked me to join PowerPivotPro in a more full-time capacity and I said yes.  No more company of one; now I’ve got a whole tribe. Better survival odds in this jungle. My current role is VP of Operations and we’re working to connect with the next 10 million Power Pivot & Power BI users.

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Reference: https://powerpivotpro.com/

Our Local Lives Need Love

As a consultant with clients all over the country, and the world, it’s easy to lose touch with your local community.  Home can be a place you rest your head before you get on the airplane again, and that’s not really home. I made commitments in my community in 2016 that I didn’t prioritize and my airplane life took over – that’s not going to be the case in 2017.  While I can’t promise that I’ll stay in Birmingham forever, wherever we are our local problems are more tangible than our national and international issues – much more solvable than national deficits, tribal conflicts in the middle east, [insert too big problem here].  The trick is to connect a local action with a larger challenge.

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Prioritization Happens

Along the same lines as “our local lives need love” my biggest takeaway from 2016 is that prioritization happens whether we’re prioritizing or not – we either consciously put our priorities in order or we fall back on our defaults, our old habits, the habits that choose us.  That second option makes me deeply uncomfortable.  My wife tells me I’m a rebel and she’s right – there is a rebellion that must be had within ourselves, against ourselves, for our best selves.

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Reference: http://www.raptitude.com/2012/07/most-lives-are-lived-by-default/

From Early Adopters to Mass Early Adoption

There are probably around 25 million intermediate/advanced Excel users in North America – these are my people and they’re the people that are likely to get a lot of value from Power Query, Power Pivot, Power BI.  My best guess is that 5 million early adopters (out of this 25) have engaged with these tools since 2010.  Those other 20 million are the reason I left my job in late 2015 to do this all the time.  I think another 10 million people from this group will engage with these tools over the next three years, which would triple the  size of the community.  This isn’t early adoption any more, this is the beginning of mass adoption for Power Pivot, Power Query, & Power BI, and it started in 2016.

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Looking Ahead: 2017, another year!

My two goals in 2017 are to be more thoughtful and to surprise myself.  There’s lots of smaller personal goals wrapped up in that. I’m just gonna mix up my personal reflections with what I see going in my career.  This year is going to be a new kind of adventure for me 🙂

More Time Connecting with Humans, Less With Machines

Where we place our attention is where we place our value. Looking ahead at the next year I want less screen time and more constructive social time.  The feeling of being alone together has crept into my life and I don’t like it.  I’m not getting off social media or doing anything drastic like that 🙂 I am trying to minimize the queues in my environment that nudge me toward bad habits.  Makes no sense, to me, to try to turn off the noise – I will try to live with it as a human.

Reference: http://nymag.com/selectall/2016/09/andrew-sullivan-technology-almost-killed-me.html

Getting Power Pivot Ready for Prime Time

It still amazes me that Power Pivot isn’t turned on by default in Excel, even in Excel 2016. I understand why, after having talked with members of the Excel team and seen Power Pivot out in the field – the truth is Power Pivot isn’t a very stable product.  I mean that doesn’t stop me or millions of other people from using it everyday to change the world, but it has its hiccups.  The Excel team is very focused on improving the stability and performance of Power Pivot – my hope is this work leads to the team deciding to turn Power Pivot on by default in the next version of Excel.  Nothing would do more to drive awareness and adoption than having that nice Power Pivot menu sitting right there on the ribbon.  Looking forward to this by the end of the year.

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Power BI Reaching for Tableau Parity

The Power BI has hired a lot of people over the past 18 months and those people have been working furiously to bring the product up to parity with the rest of the market. One of the unstated goals for the Power BI team is to match Power BI, feature by feature, with Tableau – to level the playing field on functionality.  The truth is Power BI already has more functionality than Tableau but not in the visualization layer – in the layer that sizzles Tableau is still ahead.  Look forward to Microsoft making an announcement around the middle of 2017 that they have reached feature parity with Tableau.

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Birmingham Power BI User Group

I’ve been meaning to do this for a while now, why not now! Very pleased to get the Birmingham, AL Modern Excel & Power BI User Group going this year.  There are a lot of people probably within a few miles of me that are sharing the same journey with these new Microsoft tools.  We should probably get together and get to know each other.  I haven’t mentioned it to Rob yet, but PowerPivotPro will be paying for all the pizza and soft drinks 🙂 One thing I really want to work on with this group is the mentality that “the tools don’t matter” – I hear it from one of my best clients all the time.  Sure we’re practitioners of a particular toolkit but our goals aren’t technical – our goals are to help organizations make better decisions using data.

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Reference: https://www.meetup.com/Birmingham-Modern-Excel-Power-BI-User-Group/

That’s it, Happy New Year!

intro to happy — how we approach teaching (and learning) power pivot & power query

power pivot first or power query first

On day one of a typical two-day training we start our students off with a nice, clean dataset and teach them the basics of loading data into Power Pivot, building a data model, writing some DAX, making a pivot table report. We don’t start with Power Query but inevitably during day one someone makes a comment that their data isn’t very clean and probably couldn’t be loaded right into Power Pivot. Let’s be real, this fictitious person is most of us. Most of us aren’t working off clean data sources. It’s a common experience to have messy data in Excel, CSV, & XML files that doesn’t fit into Power Pivot. And even if we have a better data source, like a data warehouse, there’s still usually some transformation that needs to happen to get our data in good shape for analysis. So if our data need some cleaning to any degree then we need Power Query before we can make much progress with Power Pivot.

If it’s the case that Power Query is a prerequisite for Power Pivot, then why don’t we teach you Power Query first in order to prepare you for Power Pivot? I’ve got the answer for that. It’s the answer we’ve been telling ourselves for a while now — Power Query doesn’t really make sense until you understand the shape your data needs to be in to build a good data model in Power Pivot. Said another way, once you’ve come to appreciate what the significance of the Power Pivot data model then you’ve got the right motivation to learn Power Query. Even as I’m writing this I’m wondering if that is still the right approach.

From out in the field …

In the past two weeks I’ve been in two trainings where we’ve broken protocol and introduced Power Query very early in day one. In both of these trainings we were working with the client’s data as opposed to a canned Adventure Works database, and in both of these trainings the client’s data was really messy right from the beginning. Instead of leading with Power Pivot, we led with Power Query. The training went well but it was more difficult than it had to be and here’s why:

Whenever I’m communicating a new concept, I prefer to start with why.

The why of Power Query is “You need to use this tool to transform your raw data into the shape that the Power Pivot data model likes, in the shape of flat files, with data tables and lookup tables.” Now this statement really makes zero sense if you’re an Excel person just being introduced to these tools. There’s a lot of new information packed into this why — importantly there’s this idea of a data model which to a Power Pivot beginner is an enigma wrapped in a mystery. So without having introduced the data model, teaching Power Query comes with this disclaimer “Trust me, all this data cleaning and transformation is what you need to be doing. You’ll see later why it’s important.” Which is basically some version of “Because I said so” which has been my least favorite reason for doing anything since 1992 when my mother told me I couldn’t watch the Simpsons.

The why of Power Pivot, on the other hand, is different — it’s not abstract. For the Excel user it’s the experienced pain of 1) not being able to refresh data, 2) writing VLOOKUP or INDEX/MATCH over and over again, 3) not being able to deal with large datasets, 4) making reports that are very difficult to maintain/edit, 5) struggling to create ratios that aggregate well, 6) dealing with data from multiple data sources, on and on. There are lots of constraints in old Excel and when you show Excel people the solutions in Power Pivot you can see the “why” on their faces. People light up. Lightbulbs go off. And when people understand Power Pivot they’re ready to do whatever it takes to get that raw data into the Power Pivot data model.

start with why

So starting with Power Query, before any Power Pivot, means starting withouta tangible why for most Excel users. But there’s a middle way — teach as much Power Pivot as needed to first establish the why. That may be as much as showing somebody a series of pivot tables with slicers and sparklines that get them excited. For others it may be showing them some time intelligence function like “YoY % Change in Net Income”. It may be showing them Power BI on a phone. For many it may be more in-depth than that. Either way, the best learning happens when people are motivated and so my first motion as a trainer is always to establish the why.

Just as a reference point — we start all of our training off with this slide …

Austin is VP of Operations & Growth at PowerPivotPro — check us out http://www.powerpivotpro.com

powerpivotpro.com, going on two million

The PowerPivotPro Google Analytics data really tells the story of the company. Starting from scratch in 2010 we’ve connected with close to 2 million users over the last 6 years, and we’ve done it all by giving away our best advice, for free. Thank you internet. 🙂

We’ve been very fortunate that Rob, Avi, and many others have developed great content that’s connected with the emerging Power Pivot community, and with that first two million on the horizon we’re starting to have this conversation …

How are we going to connect with the next two million Power Pivot users?

The question brings a lot of focus to one of our goals of empowering every Excel analyst to get to the next level with Power Pivot & Power Query. It’s not a small goal but we’ve taken a big step and built a platform that’s going to let us get there.

Moving into Q4 this year we’re going into a new phase of hustle mode and bringing in some new talents to help us engage with more people on the Power Pivot & Power BI journey. Look forward to sharing more later. 🙂

Austin is VP of Operations & Growth at PowerPivotPro — check us out http://www.powerpivotpro.com

3 things that used to suck in old excel that you can now easily do with power query

I’d like to dedicate this article to Joe Dambrino who in 2012 was the first person to explain to me and show me the beauty of working with flat files. We didn’t have Power Query then but we do now!

I was introducing Power Query to a client this morning and found myself saying things that needed to be shared with a broader audience. That client was paying my full rate, you’re benefiting for free. You’re welcome!

  1. Merging datasets together
  2. Breaking a dataset into its component parts / Deduplication
  3. Unpivoting a dataset

For folks coming from a tech background these activities have NEVER been hard — you have tools like SQL that can crank through this stuff. For the Excel crowd these tasks have NEVER been easy. But Excel folks are hackers and they’ve figure out how to get these things done. For example, I was showing a client “unpivoting” this morning and he said “let me show you a trick” which then proceeded into a set of three-button keyboard shortcuts, cascading menus, and non-obvious button clicks that did in fact unpivot the dataset. It was cool in the same way that these household hacks are cool …

 

50% “sweet!”+ 50% “wtf, srsly?!” Most Excel hacks share one common characteristic — they aren’t very automated, meaning you have to do that same arcane set of button clicks and keyboard shortcuts every time you deal with the data. Sure you feel bad ass for knowing that secret code in the same way you’d feel bad ass for biking the Swiss Alps with a fixed gear bike. I’m looking at the whole situation and thinking “Ouch!” So anyways, yes I was impressed with the hack but he was WAY more impressed when we walked through how to do it in Power Query.

I’m not going to spend much time explaining how to do these things — but if the community expresses some interest in a topic I could definitely write up a post 🙂

So I was saying … there are three things that are now easier with Power Query, here they are! Power Query encourages us “to be good to our future selves” meaning you spend some time building something the right way now so next time you do it you just have to click a button. Let’s get into it.


Merging datasets together

You have three tables: a products table, a a products category table, and a products subcategory table. You need to get all of this data into one table so that you can make sense of it. What’s your first move?

For the Excel crowd you’re probably going with VLOOKUP or INDEX/MATCH. Right now there’s somebody reading this who has a crazy hack to get this done. I know! I know! Calm down person with the crazy hack. I’m suggesting how 99% of Excel users would solve this problem. The problem with this standard VLOOKUP approach is that you start with the products table and then you have to write a formula for every column of data that you want to merge into it. And when a new column of data shows up or you realize you left one out, you write another formula.

The SQL people in the room all have their noses in the air and are like “LEFT JOIN, duh!” Look SQL folks, historically we Excel people haven’t had that LEFT JOIN luxury. We’re lowly data janitors just scrubbing these floors with this busted ass VLOOKUP mop. But no longer, PQ to the rescue! In Power Query you can smash two tables together based on a common column and load that merged table into a worksheet — it’s just a few button clicks.


Breaking a dataset into its component parts / Deduplication

Situation Number Two. You have a table that has all of your sales data (data, sales amount, customer, product) and you need to break it out into a table for sales, a table of unique customers, and a table of unique products. Alright Excel people, what’s your first move?

Really the best way to deal with this is to start copying and pasting. Sounds a little nutty but any hack that you use here is going to take a lot more time than doing the work manually. Wait what? You have a crazy hack for this?! 🙂 I’m sure somebody has figured it out, but moving on … You’re going to copy and paste the sales data into two extra tabs, remove the columns you don’t need for the products table / same for the customers table, and use the remove duplicates function to get a table of unique products/customers. Then you can go back to the sales table and remove the products/customers columns that you don’t need. Voila! When you get the data for next month you have to do this all over again and you better pay close attention so you don’t fat finger anything!

Once again our SQL people are just dying to introduce us noobs to the SELECT statement but Excel people don’t be intimidated with all this fancy SQL talk. In Power Query you can take the original table, break it out into its component tables, deduplicate the products/customers , and load all the results into a worksheet in Excel. When the new data comes in next month you just click the refresh button and you’re done. No need to write one line of code — it’s all just button clicking.


Unpivoting a dataset

Finally Situation Number Three. The shape of your data matters, and there are basically two approaches to shaping a dataset— really wide tables or really tall tables. Here’s what I mean …

This is a WIDE table, all the dates are in separate columns going off to the right
This is a TALL table, all the dates and sales amounts are in one column (I cut off lots of the rows)

The wide table is a better format for reading the data; it’s a more “human” format; it’s a reporting format. The tall table is a better format for a computer to deal with the data; it’s a better format to do analysis of the data with a pivot table and with Power Pivot. I’m not going to go too much into why the second way is better, so assuming you want option 2 how do you “unpivot” the wide table to re-shape it into the tall table?

There are definitely some good hacks for this and of course there’s VBA but once again for 90% of Excel people you’re probably going to start copying and pasting. It’s how I was doing it in 2011 — no judgment. It’s not an exaggeration to say that unpivoting is one button click in Power Query. For lots of Excel people if this is all that PQ did it would be a great tool, like something you would pay money for. But of course it does much more.

It still puts a smile on my face when a client shows me a three-button keyboard shortcut that brings up some menu that I’ve never seen. 🙂

To close it out — Power Query solves a number of headaches that us Excel people have just come to live with over the years. We’ve accepted our fate and come to idolize people that know all the crazy hacks. And yes cheers to all the crazy hacks. It still puts a smile on my face when a client shows me a three-button keyboard shortcut that brings up some menu that I’ve never seen. 🙂 But in some ways the era of hacks is coming to an end as Microsoft is delivering real solutions to these problems with Power Query, Power Pivot, & Power BI. Currently the best way to learn Power Query is to just dive in, and if you have any questions you know where to reach us.

Austin is VP of Operations & Growth at PowerPivotPro — check us out http://www.powerpivotpro.com

amazing analytics tool, just add water, solve world hunger

I’m always surprised when I read an article saying “now that we have this new analytics tool, any regular old person can do analytics well.” The message has been around for a long time and with the new buzz of “self-service BI” the message is multiplying. This is a message put in the mouths of sales and marketing professionals to put in the ears of senior managers —and it’s a powerful message with that crowd. It happens across many domains: senior people removed from the work generally don’t understand the work; they only see the products of the work. So when senior people see sexy end-products (read dashboarding tools!) they just can’t help themselves, and who are we to blame them, this is some sexy sexy stuff.

Power BI, mega eye candy! So the question is “to what extent is making sexy sexy stuff easy?” and I see three different flavors of the “Self-Service Analytics” hypothesis:

  • Strong Version: Anybody can now do analytics, just go grab one of the new tools, it’s just button clicking, you’re 5 minutes away from insights, no training required.
  • Medium Version: The barriers to entry for producing great analysis are lower than ever, you’re still going to need to learn the process of developing good analytics. No training required to get started, and it’s an effort to get good but you don’t need a computer science degree.
  • Weak Version: Analytics is something that’s out of your reach, leave it to the experts. You can learn the process, sure, but it’s really technical and you’re gonna need lots of special training just to get started.

So there’s a spectrum of ways to think about self-service and my experience of the way things are in 2016 has led me toward the middle way. From 1985 to 2010 the weak version ruled and the tools were mostly inaccessible to analysts. Post 2010 it’s a medium version world — the tools are accessible but require some skill. And the strong version? Computers are wonderful at answering well-formed questions but we’re not going to be in the strong version until computers can ask good questions and answer ill-formed questions — don’t hold your breath.

So if you’re an Excel analyst here you go … the strong version of the “self-service” message is not a message that has any relevance to what’s going on in your day-to-day life. Fortunately for you the weak version doesn’t matter either. You know that this work is work but for the first time in a long time it’s work that you’re now empowered to do.

Too many consultants are still pushing technologies from the pre-2010 weak version era, and these people are just straight up my enemies. I want to disrupt and put out of business these consultants pushing expensive, inaccessible analytic solutions.

The strong version message is going to get a lot of play with senior mgmt and it’ll move a lot of product off the shelf when sales people pitch it. Your job if you’re an Excel person is to manage expectations, and to manage them up. Meaning you need to prove your value in a non-technical way to decision makers and show them that reporting is much more than just slapping a report together.

The weak version message is going to get a lot of play with consultants trying to convince the same managers that they, the consultants, are necessary to make the magic happen with the tools. This is a point of ethics for me — consultants working with the current spread of self-service tools are amazing if they are empowering analysts to use the tools. Too many consultants however are still pushing technologies from the pre-2010 weak version era, and these people are just straight up my enemies. I want to disrupt and put out of business these consultants pushing expensive, inaccessible analytic solutions.

Your job as an Excel analyst is to help me out 🙂 and manage expectations and once again, manage up. Get it together and learn these new tools. Power Pivot / Power Query / Power BI is the most accessible to you but Tableau will also do. Get your hands on this stuff, learn it, and prove out the medium version of the hypothesis. Prove that analytics is still requires lots of skill but doesn’t require a deep technical background anymore. This is what self service analytics means in 2016.

Austin is VP of Operations & Growth at PowerPivotPro — check us out http://www.powerpivotpro.com

four weeks of content hustle

I’ve been asking people on my PowerPivotPro team what / how much content we should be putting out on the web. I didn’t get the answers I wanted (i.e. “one thoughtful piece a week” was a common answer). My gut instinct is that if we’ve got valuable or entertaining things to say then we can share more often, we can share everyday. What’s beautiful about social media is that you put yourself out there (for just the cost of hustle) and everyone else decides if what you have to say is valuable. If you’re just producing noise then over time you’re gonna get crickets in response — same goes for your business.

So last week I decided I was going to do four weeks of everyday content creation, over the month of August. Here’s where I threw it down on our team Slack channel:

posted on July 31, 2016

And what do I get in my email the next day on August 1? A message from Gary Vaynerchuk. Is this a security breach, something in the water, the zeitgeist?

Whatever it is, it just felt right. I saw Gary speak in Birmingham a few weeks ago at SlossTech. How would I sum up that talk and everything I’ve seen about Gary Vaynerchuk? Authenticity. That’s a trait that means a lot to me. Here’s the link for the talk if you’re interested (LINK).

I don’t claim to be currently operating at my full hustle potential but that’s where I’m headed, and if you’re headed there too then cheers to us. Not sure if I have a month’s worth of valuable things to say but not for me to worry about, you’ll be the judge.

Austin is VP of Operations & Growth at PowerPivotPro — check us out http://www.powerpivotpro.com

hire me, fire me

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We’re always thrilled when a client doesn’t need us anymore — it’s a sure, bittersweet sign of success. It’s a strange thing to say for people out in the wild trying to make a living as consultants, but we encourage our clients to learn what we do and to take ownership of the work so that they don’t need us anymore. The key word is empowerment and we preach it from day one.

For Excel Pros empowerment around data & analytics is the norm in 2016. Don’t let any fancy-ass business intelligence consultant tell you otherwise.

The difference in 2016 is that we have tools that are accessible on two fronts: relative simplicity and price. For Excel people, modern Excel offers functionality that historically was locked up in expensive, overly technical software — the ability to automatically refresh data, to tap into large datasets, to mashup data from multiple data sources. You can do all that in Excel now; you could do it all the way back in Excel 2010 but nobody was paying attention then. And what’s the cost of Excel? If you already have a copy, the financial cost is zero. Of course there’s a cost associated with learning the new tools and that’s what we’re here for. We’ll teach you, empower you, and support you when you need us and if we’ve done our job well you won’t need us for very long.

Austin is VP of Operations & Growth at PowerPivotPro — check us out http://www.powerpivotpro.com

it’s real simple, what matters are results

I’m in Chicago today to work with one of my favorite clients. I love working with them because they are focused on the right things. They’re focused on business results and their strategy for getting results is to encourage their people to follow the right process when trying to turn data into actionable insight. We’ve helped them shape that process and here’s what it looks like:

  1. Raw Data
  2. Data Transformation, Cleaning
  3. Data Modeling
  4. Writing Calculations, Analytics
  5. Interactive, Actionable Reporting

This process is sort of happening in Old Excel right now for tens of millions of people but it’s happening in a way that’s incredibly time consuming and manual, in a way that requires a lot of work and even more re-work. The most important part of this process, the way most of us want it to be, is that the process is automated — meaning we build something once and then hit refresh the next time we need to update it. That process is mostly not happening in Old Excel right now but it’s definitely happening for everyone who’s made the leap to Modern Excel with Power Query and Power Pivot. It’s also happening for everyone that’s made the jump to other BI platforms like Alteryx or Tableau.

So here’s the inspiration for me writing this. This client is communicating this to their people:

Look we’re going to give you Tableau, Alteryx, Power Pivot / Power Query / Power BI and we don’t care which one you use; we only care about you following this process.

Wow. You might think this would make me a little uneasy — I mean at PowerPivotPro we certainly have a bias around which tools are the best, but this approach actually makes me very happy. It’s real simple, what matters is results, and the way you get results with data is by following this process.

If you’re caught up in this nonsense about which tool is the best and that’s keeping you from the bigger picture then I feel bad for you. You can make absolute shit with any analytics product on the market; you can also make pure fucking gold. The distinction isn’t between people that are using this tool or that tool. In the world of analysts the distinction is between people that are delivering actionable insights that move the needle on their business and those people that are delivering noise. If you’re not aware of this distinction then you’re probably on the wrong side of the equation. Get with it!

So here’s my question to you — out of all the steps in the process that I layed out which ones do you find the most interesting or puzzling. Drop me a comment and let me know and I’ll write my next post about whatever gets the most interest.

Austin is VP of Operations & Growth at PowerPivotPro – check us out http://www.powerpivotpro.com

My Power Pivot Story

I’ve worked through a major life inflection over the last five years — going from using Excel the old way to using Excel the new way, from Old Excel to Modern Excel. Now I’m going through another transition — I’m working full time at PowerPivotPro to help other Excel people make this same transition. I want to share a little of my story because you may see some of yourself in it.


Sometime in the middle of 2012 Tom Osterbind leaned over the cubicle wall and asked me if I had heard of Power Pivot.


I started off my career as an analyst — living through 5 cubicle years of analyst work from 2011 to 2015 — armed with Excel, crunching numbers, developing information, helping decision makers bring data into decisions. In 2011, working at a large global bank, this work felt amazing because I was great at it. People respected my work; they respected the work. They feared my mighty VLOOKUP, INDEX/MATCH, & Pivot Table skills. We produced things relatively quickly that were accurate, good looking, and most importantly useful. I was an Excel Pro basking in the glory but not for long.

As everyone who’s worked with me knows I’m naturally uncomfortable with complacency, especially in the skills game. What I know now may be worth a lot but damn look at this better way of doing things! Just a year into my Excel Pro life I found myself writing the same Excel formulas over and over again, copying and pasting data in a thousand ways to make a chart, doing as much re-work as actual work, and not doing nearly enough thinking. I was really, really good at it but there wasn’t much satisfaction in the work. After all I was trained to solve complex problems in accounting and finance.

At this very moment there are tens of millions of people that power the global economy with Excel who are experiencing this same dilemma.

These folks didn’t enter the workforce as Excel people. They are accountants, financial analysts, supply chain people, marketers, and many others. They are senior executives and entry level analysts who are interested in moving the needles for their organization. I’m one of these people. We show up in the morning, open Excel, and get to work trying to turn our organization’s data into information into reports into decisions into business results. It’s an exhilarating proposition but the work itself can be a real slog. It was for me, until sometime in the middle of 2012 when Tom Osterbind leaned over the cubicle wall and asked me if I had heard of Power Pivot.


I wanted in to the party and I started knocking on the door.


Tom was my cubicle mate then and is still a good friend today. We were trying to a solve a problem that seems pretty simple on its face. We were trying to make a report that would produce financial ratios for different cuts of data — customers, regions, products, etc. The ratios had to compute correctly at every detailed level of the report as well as in the subtotals and totals. Most Excel users familiar with this type of problem would tell you that the only solution requires calling your spouse and telling him/her that they can go ahead and eat dinner without you, you’re working late. It’s a bullshit, non-solution solution — doing this kind of basic thing in Excel just didn’t work, and if you do get the result together god help you if a manager asks you to change something about the report — ”Cool you broke it out by product category, would you mind doing the same thing but by product subcategory?” “NO, NO, NO!” … that’s what you’re thinking. “Sure, no problem” … that’s what you actually say and then get back on the phone with your spouse.

Of course there are lots of solutions to this problem but the one we stumbled on in 2012 was Power Pivot. Microsoft had quietly released this add-in for Excel 2010 that allowed all sorts of magic to happen and we downloaded a copy and started exploring. Here’s what we discovered …

Excel people, my people, listen up. 90% of the drudge work that you do on a daily basis in Excel is not necessary anymore, and the solution to all that mind numbing work is right in front of you, in Excel.

A few months later in the fall of 2012 I took a job in a sales and marketing department where I got to do Power Pivot all the time and damn I started having fun. People would bring me their reports that we’re taking three days to complete every month — super manual work. We’d transform that spreadsheet into a report that would update automatically with the click of a button producing more accurate information. We were doing all of this with Excel, but not plain old Excel, Excel with Power Pivot.

As a result of a few early wins I started doing this work for people all over the company. Officially I was “Marketing Coordinator”, unofficially I was “Lead Power Pivot Evangelist”. There’s one universal thing that happens when a person catches the Power Pivot bug — they won’t the shut the fuck up about how awesome it is. I was this person. “Oh I see you’re using Excel, might I share with you the life-changing magic of Power Pivot? Oh you’re not interested? (grabs mouse) Here let me just show you this real quick.”

In the three years at that job I built some amazing things and inspired a couple of people to join me on the Power Pivot journey (cheers to you Joey Azar) but at no point did I feel like I was doing enough. My Excel people needed to hear about this. There were a few people that had carved out a space on the internet to share this story — Rob Collie & Avi Singh — and I was very drawn to their message. I wanted in to the party and I started knocking on the door.


Everyone who has experienced the drudge work of doing things the old way is ready for the new way, even if they haven’t articulated that yet.


In 2013 I had the good fortune of meeting Rob Collie at a conference and hearing him speak. Rob might not remember this but I asked him what it would take for him to mentor me and he basically said “you can’t afford me.” He didn’t mean it in a mean way and I didn’t take it personally. Three years later I’m on the PowerPivotPro team and he’s mentoring me and he’s paying me so HA, take that Rob. 🙂

I started working at PowerPivotPro in the fall of 2015. I’m on the field trip now — seeing dozens of client situations every month, learning what works and what doesn’t in training and consulting. I’ve gone from being a Power Pivot enthusiast to being a real expert. An expert in my mind is someone who’s made all the important mistakes in a field and lived to share those stories with others, and that’s basically what we’re up to at PowerPivotPro. We take the sum of our team’s experience and help individuals and organizations get further along on their Power Pivot journey. Pretty cool, right?

Here’s my message to you, my Excel people, if you’re an Excel person reading this and haven’t started working with Power Pivot you’re not alone.

My guess is out of the 500M people that use Excel worldwide, only about 5M of you are using Power Pivot (that’s a measly 1%). Getting this number from 1% to 5% would bring an enormous amount of value to businesses around the globe.

We want to bring this experience to Excel people. Notice I didn’t say we want to bring people this tool to people. We start all of our trainings off with a discussion about emotions — it’s really touchy-feely stuff because learning new things in life is not fundamentally about your talent, it’s mostly about your motivation. And everyone who has experienced the drudge work of doing things the old way is ready for the new way, even if they haven’t articulated that yet. We start with the motivation, the organizational decisions that you need to make to move the needle, and then bring in the tools.

Looking forward to sharing lots of Power Pivot over the next few years. For now though I’m headed out to the beach …

Austin is VP of Operations & Growth at PowerPivotPro (http://www.powerpivotpro.com)

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