How and Where to Get Help for Power BI

Level: Beginners/Intermediate

Regardless of what stage you are at in your Power BI/Power Pivot/Power Query journey, at some stage you are going to need some help.  Believe me I am no different to you – we are all learning and we all need help sometime or another.  There are basically 3 options that I want to talk about today

    1. Microsoft support
      1. PRO: It’s free if you have a software licence
      2. CON: It only applies to software bugs
    2. Free help via forums
      1. PRO: It’s free for everyone
      2. CON: You may not get a reply at all
      3. CON: The timeliness of any reply may not meet your needs
      4. CON: The effort to create desensitised data may not be practicable

Most of this article will cover “How” you should go about getting help via forums.  There are good ways and not so good ways to ask for free help.

  1. Commercial help
    1. PRO: You can share sensitive information under an NDA
    2. PRO: It can be more timely
    3. PRO: You can talk live to someone
    4. CON: It is not free

Let me cover each of these along with some tips on how to get the best results, with most of the focus on asking for help on forums.

Microsoft Support

This is really only an option if you have a bug (or something you think is a bug).  Even if it is a bug, there is no guarantee that Microsoft can or will fix it quickly.  But at least you will know one way or another what the problem is.  I recently had unexpected behaviour in Power Pivot after an upgrade.  I contacted support and the guy that helped me was excellent.   He connected to my PC, analysed the problem as being caused by a failed upgrade and then helped me reinstall.

If you need to contact Microsoft Support, you can do so here

Power BI Support https://powerbi.microsoft.com/en-us/support/

Power Pivot/Excel https://support.microsoft.com/en-us

First click on the Office link.

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Then select “contact office support”.

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Free Help via Forums

Forums are one of the best ways to get free help.  I personally have helped thousands of people on forums over the years and I have to say I have probably learnt more myself as a result of that experience than via any other single class of learning.  When you help others, you learn yourself.

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If you are going to ask for help on a forum, I strongly recommend you take the following approach.

You should always …

You are asking someone to help you for free.  With this in mind:

  • Ask your question clearly and completely.  You know your problem well, other people do not.
  • Explain the root problem rather than ask for help to solve a small piece of the problem using the approach that you think you need.  Sometimes (often) the reason you are stuck is because you are not going about the problem the right way.  If you explain the root problem you are trying to solve, it makes it much easier for someone (probably with more experience than you) to determine if you are going about this the right way, and also to understand the big picture.
  • Provide a small sample workbook containing realistic sample (non-sensitive) data.
    • If the forum supports you attaching the workbook (like PowerPivotForum.com.au), then do that.  If not, you should use a Dropbox link or something similar to attach the sample workbook.
    • Do as much as you can to solve the problem in the sample workbook until the point you are stuck.  Don’t expect the free helper to do the set up for you.
    • Create a simulation of the output you are after using regular Excel – that way everyone can see what you are trying to achieve.
  • Don’t get frustrated at the person that is trying to help you if they misunderstand or don’t solve the problem the first time.
  • If you problem is solved, thank the person that helps you and make it clear that the problem is solved. Some forums (like community.powerbi.com) have a Kudos concept. If you have found someone else’s post to be helpful to you, give them Kudos by clicking the thumbs up to say thanks.

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  • Some forums allow you to mark a problem as solved. Doing this means helpers don’t waste their time reading posts that are already solved.  In addition other people with a similar problem are more likely to read a post if it is solved.  If the forum doesn’t have this, then you can often edit the post title with a [SOLVED] prepended so everyone knows this is fixed.

You should avoid …

  • Do not post on multiple forums.  Many of the helpers work on a number of forums.  If you can’t get help on one forum, then post on another forum but make sure you add a cross link from the original post to the new post so that there is no duplication of effort.
  • Do not post a question and then never come back to see if anyone has helped.
  • Don’t ask “how do I write this formula” without providing full details of the data model.  DAX formulas only make sense in the context of the tables in the data model.  A formula without the table structure is completely meaningless.   As an analogy, let me ask “is the temperature 35 degrees good or bad?”.  Of course it is impossible to answer this question unless the context is clear.  It is the same if you ask how to write a formula without providing information about the tables and relationships in your data model.   Best option is to provide a sample (as mentioned above) or at least a picture of the table structure.

The Best Forums for Free Help

I personally frequent the following forums and in my experience they are the best places to go for help.

Commercial Coaching and Support

This is the only option out of the three I have discussed where you will need to pay, however there are lots of benefits of paying money for good quality, timely help including.

  • It can be more timely than waiting for free online help.  Delays, rework and mistakes cost you time and money too.
  • You can share sensitive data (with a Non Disclosure Agreement in place) saving time in prepare sample workbooks etc.
  • You can talk live to the person providing the support and have a deeper review and discussion about the problems.  In my experience it is often that the “real problem” is something structural deeper beneath the surface and these issues may not be realised with free forum help.
  • You can get coaching development at the same time as you fix your problem helping you learn and making you more sufficient over time.

While it is not the primary purpose of this blog article to promote my commercial coaching and support services, I do offer this service (for Power BI, Power Pivot and Power Query) and would be happy to chat with you if you need help.

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Comments

  1. Hi Matt
    Excellent article!
    You describe the situation I face on various sites helping other people on forums.
    Would you mind to publish the article on PBI community site?
    Regards Hp

    • I actually posted here so I can link to it when needed. Google doesn’t take kindly to the same content being on 2 sites as it picks it up as plaigerism, so I am reluctant to repost.

  2. Local Power BI user groups are also a great resource. Both the meetings AND the online forums for them through community.powerbi.com. Again, however, post your question in the most relevant place first instead of spamming multiple user groups.

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