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 or discussing a non-technical (but still work-related) subject. Two years ago I wrote a post about people who ask the question “Why don’t you add this one simple feature to Power BI?”, something which seems even more relevant now than when I first wrote it. This year I want to discuss a similar topic: people who ask “Wouldn’t it be great if Power BI did this?”, where “this” is some amazing, complicated new piece of functionality they have thought of.
First of all, let me explain why “Wouldn’t it be great if Power BI did this?” is different from “Why don’t you add this one simple feature to Power BI?”. The “one simple feature” question is asked by people who come across the same problem in their day-to-day work so frequently that they can’t understand why Microsoft hasn’t addressed it yet – which is why they are often so frustrated and angry – and where the solution seems obvious and easy. Expanding/collapsing column headers, the top-voted idea on ideas.powerbi.com, is a great example of this type of question: lots of people want it, there are no arguments about how useful it would be, but as Amanda’s comment on the item says it’s actually a lot harder for us to implement than you would think. Hopefully we’ll be able to do it soon.
The “wouldn’t it be great” question is different because it is is prompted by long years of experience of BI tools and projects and is the result of some very creative thinking: the solutions suggested are never obvious, never going to appear on ideas.powerbi.com, and are much more strategic. In the past I’ve been very much the type of person to ask the “wouldn’t it be great” question. For example, about fifteen years ago I remember writing a long email to the Analysis Services team asking for something vaguely like DirectQuery on datasets; more recently I remember trying to convince Chris Finlan that it would be good if paginated reports could render to adaptive cards. Luckily for me the people I sent these emails to were always very polite, even if nothing ever came of my galaxy-brain proposals.
Why does someone like me love asking the “wouldn’t it be great” question so much? It’s the IT equivalent of fantasy football: if you spend way too much time thinking about your favourite football team/BI tool then it’s only natural to imagine how cool it would be to be the coach/program manager of that team/tool and make important decisions about its destiny. Maybe you think you could do a better job than the people who are actually in charge. It’s harmless fun and a great way to while away a few hours with friends over a beer at a conference.
It’s important to understand why the “wouldn’t it be great” question is not a good way of requesting changes to Power BI though. My colleagues Kasper de Jonge and Matthew Roche, both of whom have many years of experience as program managers, helped me with this when I first joined the Power BI CAT team. Now, when I think of a “wouldn’t it be great” idea, I hear Kasper’s voice in my head telling me that it’s the CAT team’s job to collect and curate feedback and it’s the program managers alone whose job it is to design the product. From Matthew I learned the word “solutionize”, which according to the definition I found here means “to come up with a solution for a problem that hasn’t been defined (and might not even exist)” where “common examples are things like developing a feature because you can, iterating and building without research, or selecting a platform or pattern before knowing the required functionality”. Asking the “wouldn’t it be great” question is suggesting a solution when actually the people who design the solutions need to hear the details of the problem you’re trying to solve. If you provide enough details of the problem then it’s possible that the program manager will come to the same conclusion as you about the solution, but even then there are so many other factors to take into account (such as whether it’s even possible to implement your solution) that nothing can be guaranteed.
So, in summary, if you have a problem that you think Power BI needs to solve then you should spend as much time as possible defining that problem rather than imagining what the solution could be – that’s the best way to ensure it gets the attention it deserves from Microsoft. To be clear I’m not saying that you shouldn’t suggest a solution too, I’m just saying that solutions are not what you should be focusing on.