Sixteenth Blog Birthday Post: On The Question Of “Why Don’t You Add This One Simple Feature To Power BI?”

Every year, on the anniversary of the first-ever post on this blog, I write a post reflecting on what has happened to me professionally in the past year. While I’m not sure anyone really wants to look back on the events of 2020 there is a topic I’ve been intending to write about for some time that I think has some interesting parallels with the bigger challenges of this year – although I’ll keep my focus on Power BI and let you draw your own conclusions about the rest.

As you may know, I work on the Power BI Customer Advisory Team at Microsoft and a large part of my job involves collecting requirements from the large customers I support. I’m also closely involved with the Power BI community through social media, user groups and my old connections from the MVP programme, and as a result I spend a lot of time talking about the Power BI roadmap and the features we’re working on. One question I get asked all the time is this:

Why don’t you add [insert feature idea here] to Power BI?

It’s sometimes followed up by one or more of the following comments:

It would be so easy for you to do
I can’t believe you haven’t done it already
Power BI is unusable without it
[insert competitor name here] has had this feature for years

…and a real or virtual exasperated sigh.

In many cases I’m able to tell the person asking the question that we are in fact planning to add that particular feature; sometimes I get to tell them that the feature already exists in the product. The rest of the time I make sure I understand the request properly, tell the questioner that we take feedback very seriously (which we do) and then make a note of it so it can be discussed with the relevant program managers. You could say I’m a kind of human https://ideas.powerbi.com/

Why, though, are there so many features missing from Power BI that would be easy to implement/make the product unusable through their absence/are so obvious that all our competitors have them? The short answer is of course that “it’s complicated” but let me try to give you a better explanation based on my own experiences.

You may also know that up until eighteen months ago I worked as an independent consultant and trainer specialising in Power BI and Analysis Services for thirteen years; even before that had I worked with Analysis Services for several years in a variety of jobs. In my pre-Microsoft career I worked on hundreds of Power BI and Analysis Services projects from all over the world and I thought I had seen it all. I was wrong.

Although the job I do on the CAT team today is not so different from my previous job, the customers are much larger and their concerns are very different. Before, I rarely encountered customers who used Power BI Premium; now I work with them all the time. Before, I used to wonder who used features like Bring Your Own Key; now I know why it was so important for us to build it. The point is, of course, that with a product that has as many customers and users as Power BI it’s impossible for any one person’s experiences to be representative of everyone’s. It’s like the parable of the blind men and the elephant.

On the whole I think that on the Power BI team we do a good job of balancing the priorities of all of our different customers but with finite resources we can never make everyone happy. There are so many different “one simple features” that I’m asked about – each of them valid and useful – that it would be impossible to get them all done.

What’s more there are plenty of ‘easy’ features that we’d love to implement but which turn out to be much harder to deliver than you’d think, or which only make sense after something else more complicated has been done, or which have cost or security implications on our side that aren’t immediately obvious. Then there’s all the other work that needs to be done to keep the Power BI Service running, able to handle the ever-increasing load on it, and the work we need to do to interface with other Microsoft products for the benefit of the wider Azure platform. There are many other competing demands on the developers’ time.

So, to go back to where I started, it’s complicated. Simple problems like feature prioritisation aren’t always as simple as they first seem (see also this post by my colleague Matthew Roche). I don’t make decisions about which features do get built in Power BI although I am involved in the discussions; I know it’s a cliché to say this but the people I work with who do make these decisions are some of the smartest that I know and they do a better job of it than I ever could. Mistakes are made sometimes of course; I suppose the only way to establish whether the number of good decisions outweighs the number of bad ones is the success or otherwise of Power BI in the marketplace.

One last thing to say: I don’t want you to get the impression that I get irritated or angry when I’m asked the “Why don’t you add this one simple feature?” question. In fact I love being asked it: it shows how passionate our customers are, it stops us being complacent, and this feedback really does all get stored, crunched, analysed (in Power BI) and used to make a better product. Please do keep asking! I only wanted to explain why you don’t always get the answer I’d like to give you when you do ask it.

8 responses

  1. Amen Chris. Warren Buffett once (probably) said, “The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.” Think more, do less, stay agile.

  2. One important aspect of product design is vision. If you only follow customer requests you will very quickly paint yourself into various corners. A good product stays relevant both because of customer feedback AND by ignoring customer feedback(*) and focusing on the big ideas. The argument “but product x had that feature for years” is irrelevant – there might be valid reasons why that feature conflicts with the greater vision for the product.

    As Jacob Nielson once said: “I never listen to what customers tell me. I watch how they use the product.”

  3. Would be nice if MS released

    1) A Real Changelog on all Products

    2) A Real ‘New Features Coming’ list, which fits into their prior market strategy of keeping customers hooked with the promise of coming features (vaporware) used in the 90s and 2000s

    3) Fixed the bugs first, then add the (useless like Big Data) features later, or have massive bug fix releases like SQL Server has CUs

    4) Re-Fix the corrupt Data Cache Refresh Plan issue re-broken in the Nov 18, 2020 version of Power BI Report Server, which still doesnt work for the Oct/2020 matching series of Server and Desktop

  4. @Chris – Happy blog birthday and Best Wishes for the new year.

    “Please do keep asking! …” – Well you asked for it 🙂

    Why
    a) Cant we connect to a Password Protected Access Database or a Password Protected Excel File via Power Query
    b) Cant we connect to Files stored in One Drive Personal (not One Drive for Business) Folder without URL Hacks
    c) Cant we cant we have a function that returns the username / user principal name in Power Query
    d) Cant we have a consistent UI / Feature set across Excel, Power BI Desktop and Data Flows for PQ
    e) Cant Dynamic M Parameters work on Data Sources used by Humans.

    Cheers
    Sam

  5. Pingback: The Complexity of Adding Simple Features – Curated SQL

  6. The only thing that Power BI is missing today is consistency. There are so many limitations and ‘this will not work if you …’ things, I don’t feel the product as a solid solution. I know, we all work in Agile paradigm nowadays, and you release so many cool features almost every month, but I can’t get rid of the feeling I need to re-check every solution whether it’s supported or not. I faced it recently when I couldn’t embed Paginated reports linked to Power BI dataset… it works all separate, but together it’s not. And this is frustrating.

  7. Heh, I have to say I’m guilty of saying “it would be easy to add this” on lots of things, I think the main frustration is that at least in terms of on ideas.powerbi.com is that to the outside viewer it appears as if it’s never read or updated. Looking at the five most voted on ideas, you have:

    – meaningless “under review” status with no commentary, idea is 2+ years old
    – planned, albeit it in a completely different format which isn’t really relevant to the original idea
    – “on our roadmap but with no timeline”, which tells us nothing and is incredibly infuriating given this idea is to restore something that was in the desktop client but was removed some time ago for no reason
    – status of under review and asking for votes, last updated nearly seven years ago
    – another under review comment with no suggestion on timeline

    Software development isn’t easy, I know, but how hard is it for someone at MS to read through the list occasionally? If you do that, you might please a lot of people with quick wins, or at least some updates. I find it hard to believe that something like “can we align the data in a card visual” is a tricky one, I also find it hard to believe that it still has no constructive comment and just says “needs votes” when it was suggested in 2016

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