The Simple Art of Being Prepared

July 15, 2014

Saluting a Mentor

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Heikki Kanerva, Right.
(At left is Juha Niemisto, a Programmer from the Excel Team and Mutual Friend)

Taking a bit of a break today from “technical” posts and doing that whole “professional observations slash storytelling” thing.

My first real mentor at Microsoft was a guy named Heikki Kanerva.  I learned many, many things from that man, but the way in which he cared about his people, and PROTECTED his people, will always eclipse even those things.  I wouldn’t have had the time or the space to learn had I not lived in the Heikki-created “safe zone” for those crucial early years of 1997-1998.

And the charisma.  The leadership.  You know those fantasy stories about barbarian clans in the frozen wastelands of the North, where the clans have perpetually been at war with each other, but now a New and Evil Threat looms from the South, and the clans must set aside their pride and biases and band together, or face certain extermination?

In those stories, there’s always a charismatic leader who emerges to unite said clans, the Strong Leader who possesses brains, brawn, and charisma in just the right proportions.

And Heikki was pretty much the real-life embodiment of that character, in every way.  He played that role every day for the entire Office organization, and I have never seen anything like his powers since.

A Mentor’s Parting Lesson

Years later, when I no longer worked for Heikki, he passed away suddenly under tragic circumstances – a story that I may someday tell here, but not the focus for today.

But leave it to Heikki to still manage to teach AFTER departing this world.

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We Have a “Crush” on Verblike Reports

June 24, 2014

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Even Very “Sophisticated” Reports/Dashboards are Often “Couch Potatoes” in Practice
(They Sit There and Expect You to Do All the Work)

Intro From Rob

I’ve been meaning to blog this for a long time – it is, after all, one of my absolute FAVORITE things to talk about.  Now, Scott beats me to it.  But he does such a good job below that I don’t have much to add, except a few graphics here and there, like the one above.

Besides, how can I not love a blog post that starts off talking about how right I am? Smile

Guest Post by Scott at Tiny Lizard

By nature, I am a rather skeptical person.  When I first hear an idea, I generally think it is probably wrong.  This isn’t one of my finer traits and  I am sure it drives Rob insane, since he has a rather impressive track record of being correct.  Thankfully, this blog entry is not about one of the times I assumed Rob was wrong…

It is actually the complete opposite.  It is one of those times when Rob told me something and it just instantly SUPER resonated with me and got stuck in me.   I suspect it will do the same for most of you.

Nouns and Verbs

imageIf you were fortunate enough to hear Rob speak recently at PASS Business Analytics Conference, you have already heard this idea.

It is super typical for us, as report authors, to generate The Report.  The Noun.  We hand it off with pride.  And The Report has all the information somebody could possibly need to make a decision.  All of it.   Row after Row. Column after Column.  Unfortunately, even with the fanciest conditional formatting in the world, it is not clear… how is somebody supposed to look at The Report and actually… do something?

Because, at the end of the day (and yes, with a handful of exceptions like keeping the SEC happy), it is our hope that somebody looks at our reports and uses it to make a decision.  To do something.  To Verb.

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Why Steven Levitt is Too Expensive

June 12, 2014

 
Me with personal hero Steven Levitt at last year's PASS BA conference.

“And therefore Steve, this clearly indicates that you are entirely too expensive.”

Picking on a Hero?  Sacrilege!

I had a particularly energizing “remote assist” with a client today (on GoToMeeting).  Just fantastic.  I was smiling for 90 straight minutes at the pure awesome that the two of us were conjuring out of the data.

The lightning bolt realization that struck me, shortly after that meeting, was that a hero of mine might be in trouble.  (Well, only a little bit, but still – a little bit!)

Rumor is that Freakonomics author Steven Levitt charges something in the neighborhood of $30k to show up and give a 1-hour talk.  He’s the best keynote speaker I have EVER seen/heard, hands down, so I think he’s worth that, and I do NOT think he’s in trouble there.

I don’t think his book business is in trouble, either.  Again, fantastic books.  Love ‘em.  Untouchable.

But his consulting business…  hmmm…  yeah, I think Power Pivot professionals may have something to say about that heh heh.

Today’s (Redacted) Example – Cannibalization?

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Simple, Amazing, and Happy: A Story About Data

May 29, 2014

Last week’s two-part series on The Three Big Lies and The World Doesn’t Know Its Own Numbers got me thinking about how all of this is connected.  It’s all one big story, and I need to stitch it together.

I actually told a big part of that story in one of my sessions at the PASS BA CON earlier this month, and people seemed to genuinely both enjoy and benefit from it.  Because of that (and because I spent over 100 hours prepping that talk!), I’ve been meaning to re-record that talk for YouTube.

So I thought, hey, let’s cross the streams.  I’ll make a series of short videos that tell the entire story – including, but not limited to, what I shared at PASS.

Today I present the Introduction to the story.  Anyone who’s used Power Pivot for awhile will “recognize” the transformation I’m hinting at in this Intro, but if you’re just starting down the road, I hope you find it exciting.  Because you have some amazing discoveries just around the corner.

Please tell me what you think of this video – either here or on YouTube – because I’ll factor that into the series.  The more I know, the better I can tell the story.

(Note that we will be switching PowerPivotPro.com over to a new server this weekend, so comments might be disabled here starting Friday night).


The World Doesn’t Know Its Own Numbers

May 22, 2014

 
Picking up from Tuesday’s post about the Three Big Lies in Data

I give you…  the World’s Most Honest Scorecard!  

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In Moments of Honest Reflection, Most Organizations Would Acknowledge that
this Describes their Relationship with Data

The Most Important Numbers Generally Don’t Exist

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The two graphics above kinda “steal the thunder” of this point, but I’ll elaborate anyway.  One of the grandest surprises for me, after leaving Microsoft, is just how blind the world is to its own data.

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The 3 Big Lies of Data. (And Power Pivot vs. Power View, Power Query, Q&A, etc.)

May 20, 2014

 
How Power Pivot, Power View, and the Other Power BI Tools Relate to Each Other

Power Pivot is the Engine that Turns Data Into Information!
But We Can’t Understand This Properly Without Examining the Three Big Lies of Data

Goal:  Answer Four Frequently-Asked Questions

So many things to say this week. Let’s jump in.  Here are the questions I ultimately aim to answer, which are questions I get basically everywhere I go:

  1. How do all of the Power BI Components relate to each other?  Power Pivot, Power Query, Power View, Power Map, Q and A, etc. = Power Confusion for some folks.  I get it.
  2. Has Power Pivot become less important, now that we have all of these other new “Power *” tools?
  3. Which tool should I learn first in the Power BI family?
  4. Should I consider abandoning this stuff altogether in favor of <hot new technology X>?  Tableau, Hadoop, R, etc.

In order to answer these, first we must confront some insidious lies that we are told every day.

Examining:  The Three Big Lies of Data

We want data tools vendors to lie to usThe world of data, today, is clouded by Three Big Lies.  These lies originate with all of the tools vendors – Oracle, IBM, Tableau, etc., and yes, Microsoft too is very much playing along.

Even though the Vendors are the Purveyors of these lies, they are NOT “at fault” for them.  Because the world actually WANTS to be told these lies.  BADLY wants to be told them, in fact.  And because the audience is so receptive to these lies, the vendors naturally learn to tell them, and tell them well. 

Vendors who DON’T learn to tell these lies?  Well, those vendors don’t win many customers.  And then those vendors disappear. 

So while the lies COME from the vendors, the PROBLEM, really, is with US – the people who BUY the tools.

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Mini-Post: Agenda “Slides” from One of my PASS Talks Next Week in San Jose, CA

April 30, 2014

 

Power Pivot Talk on Self Service BI Revolution

One of my Intro “Slides” for Next Week
(“Slides” in quotes because the live version is animated)

I’ve mentioned before that I am speaking at the 2nd annual PASS Business Analytics Conference, aka BACON, and I’ve also mentioned that I’m scheduled to present three separate sessions:

  1. A full-day pre-conference session – a Power Pivot Jumpstart, if you will.
  2. A joint presentation with Mike Miskell of Kaman Industrial Technologies, where we talk about their tremendous Enterprise-wide scorecarding success with Power Pivot.
  3. A “solo, standard” session on My Seven Principles for the Data Revolution (listed as Six in the program, but Now With 16.7% More Principles!)

In Case You Like BA-CON on a Whim…

I think there’s approximately a 0% chance anyone is going to decide “hey, I’m gonna fly to San Jose next week on short notice,” but just in case, remember to use the discount code BASB5O.

Those of you who are already signed up?  Well, I will see you next week Smile

Power Pivot Talk on Self Service BI Revolution

This “Crypto-Cute” Agenda Slide Will Be Explained to Attendees Next Week
(Also Animated.  Hmm, Maybe I Will Do a YouTube Version in the Future)


A New Kind of Secret Formula: BI Director Leaves Coca-Cola to Become Power Pivot Professional

April 24, 2014

Matt Allington

This Man Just Walked Away from His 25-Year Career at Coca-Cola
to Become a Power Pivot Professional.
(And the Short List of Rob’s Favorite People Grows by One)

I Am Not Making This Up

Seriously, this is the Truth.  Matt Allington, pictured above, was until recently the BI Director for the entire Asia-Pacific region at Coca-Cola.

And he recently turned in his resignation – to join OUR ranks.  He sees the same sort of promise here that I first glimpsed in early 2010 – that “New and Better Way” thing.

From Coca-Cola to PowerPivotThis isn’t just an “Excel Pro.”  No, this is someone who has “been around the block” with data tools of all shapes and sizes.  A savvy and respected leader from the BI profession – and not from a small company.

I’m torn on how to describe my reaction.  On one hand, of course, I am not surprised.  When you truly believe in something (as I DO with this Power Pivot stuff), you’re never really shocked when someone else agrees with you.  If you are, you didn’t really believe all that deeply or honestly right?

But at the same time?  HOLY SHIT EVERYONE, the BI Director for Coca-Cola Asia Pacific just jumped ship for the Power Pivot revolution!!!!  Anyone know how many synonyms there are for “awesome?”  Cuz I think I’m going to use every one of them.

An Unexpected Client Development

Back in September, I got an email from a guy named Matt who wanted some quick help with Power Pivot.  Then I noticed Coca-Cola.com as his email address, and THEN I noticed his title.  Hey, I was flattered to help.

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Self Serve BI Adoption: the Relative Roles of People, Technology, the Business, and IT

April 22, 2014

Guest Post by Tim Rodman, currently blogging about Acumatica ERP @ www.PerpetualAcumaticaLearner.com

Self-Service BI and Power Pivot Barriers To Entry
They may take our lives, but they’ll never take our freedom Self-Service BI and Power Pivot.

Brief Intro from Rob:  Tim has a great “backstory.”  He found out about Power Pivot in the “usual” way – via a completely random coincidence.  I taught a private class to a firm here in town a couple years back, and one of the attendees (a guy named Andy) lived a few houses down the street from Tim.  Sitting outside at a summer barbecue, Andy mentioned Power Pivot to Tim, Tim said “what’s that?” and six months later Tim was a speaker at our Modern Excel User group.  I think he has some very interesting things to say here – very introspective and honest.  Worth a read for everyone.

Take it away Tim…

I’ve been thinking lately about Self-Service BI and barriers to entry. Now, when it comes to Self-Service BI, much of the focus is on the technology. Do you want to go with Microsoft, Tableau, something else? It seems to me like most of the content on the subject of Self-Service BI is focused on comparing the different technology offerings. I personally don’t know much about the gory details related to the technology behind these products, but I do think that too much attention is given to the technology and not enough attention is given to the people.

In my opinion, PEOPLE are the biggest barrier to entering the Self-Service BI age, not technology.  Note: for the purposes of this post, I’m going to focus on Power Pivot since this is appearing on a Power Pivot blog.

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Power Pivot is a Ferrari, not a Pontiac Aztec

April 17, 2014

 
Guest Post by Seth Strandin

Early in my Power Pivot journey, I found Rob’s “What is PowerPivot?” post.  Here’s an excerpt from that post:

1. It’s a Free Extension to Excel 2010 and 2013, Built by Microsoft

Yeah, it’s free, and it’s from Microsoft, as opposed to a third party.  It dramatically extends the powers of “normal” Excel, and more importantly, the powers of people who use it:  people like me, and probably you too if you are reading this.

It snaps right into Excel as if it had been there from the beginning:

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After spending some “quality time” with Power Pivot, I now believe Rob is wrong about that.  Here’s what I think that post should say instead:

Power Pivot is NOT just an extension or add-in to Excel, it’s a new animal that only uses Excel as its UI!

Perhaps it’s a subtle distinction, but in many ways I think it’s a crucial one.  I will explain. 

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The Much-Overlooked Producer/Consumer Dynamic

April 15, 2014

pot brain simmerA Long-Simmering Observation

Today I’d like to take a break from Power Pivot magic tricks and share some thoughts about “the state of data.” 

The particular observation I’d like to share is far from complex, but I think it’s being “missed” by many of the “players” of our game, so even though it’s simple, it’s worth talking about.

Let’s start with an old prediction about Tablets.  I think Tablets quite literally provide a window into the heart of the matter.

 

The Rumors of the Tablet’s Death Were Greatly Exaggerated

tombstone 2A couple years ago, a colleague of mine assured me that the world’s fascination with tablets (iPad, Surface, etc.) would be over shortly.  We’d all be back to using laptops in a few years and the whole tablet form factor would be a memory.  I didn’t give it much thought at the time one way or another – it struck me as bold, but there were other things to discuss so I moved on.

At this point I think we can say the Market has spoken, the verdict is in, and his prediction proven profoundly wrong.

With the recent announcement of Office for iPad, in fact, we’re seeing the world turned SO upside down that MS actually invested tremendous effort in re-tooling their flagship desktop suite to run on their arch-enemy’s tablet.  Again, I’d like to stress, it was Microsoft – of Redmond, Washington – who did this.

Oh, what’s that?  Power Pivot doesn’t run on Office for iPad?  Should we be bothered by that?  Heck no.  Let me explain why not…

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What is “Modern Excel?”

February 20, 2014

Modern Excel:  Is it Just Power Pivot?

So we started this User Group…

…and, you know, it’s a real thing.  We’ve got active chapters now in five US cities, a sense of “blueprint” for spreading it rapidly to many more cities worldwide, and nearly 700 members in the LinkedIn group.  (What, you haven’t joined yet?  Darth Formulus finds your lack of faith… disturbing.  A problem easily remedied yes?)

But wouldn’t you know it.  All you analytical types started asking “hey, what IS Modern Excel, exactly?  What is considered ‘fair game’ to discuss at meetings?”  “And what the heck is the point of this LinkedIn group – you’ve made virtually no announcements whatsoever.”

Ambiguity?  That will never satisfy humans with Compulsive Data Crunching Disease.  And I wouldn’t have it any other way.  I thrive on this sort of thing.

As an aside, constantly being forced to be precise (by my peers) at Microsoft is one of the most formative and useful experiences of my life to date.  My first 22 years on the planet had been fueled strictly by Instinctive Conviction – which in hindsight is merely another form of “coasting.”  But I’ve since come to believe that if you cannot communicate your opinions effectively, not only will their impact be forever limited, but actually, even YOU don’t understand what you THINK you do.  Sloppy communication often masks sloppy thinking.  22-year old Rob arrived in Redmond with an ample supply of both.  It was as much fun as a multi-year waterboarding, but they straightened me out.

Excel 2007 Desktop is a BIG Dividing Line

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