What I Wish I Knew Before Getting Started With Power BI

getting started with power bi

For many enterprises, Power BI is the key to streamlining their data modeling and visualizations. This robust tool offers a huge array of reporting possibilities. But for brand-new users, it’s pretty overwhelming. 

The sheer complexity of Power BI means that many teams struggle to get started with the tool. However, once you get past this initial challenge, Power BI presents so many exciting features to help you save time and gain new data insights. 

Although the Collectiv team is a powerhouse of Power BI experts, all of us were beginners at some point. And we’ve struggled with a lot of the growing pains you have dealt with or are currently dealing with. Here’s our advice to anyone just getting started with Power BI.

Understand The Business Problem You’re Trying to Solve

What Power BI growing pains did you experience when you first started out?

When I started using Power BI in 2017, the program was only two years old, and very few organizations were using it for reporting yet. We were getting requests to build sales reports and executive dashboards in Power BI, and my biggest challenge was understanding the business behind those reports. 

Although we could create really interesting visualizations, they’re ultimately useless if they don’t clearly represent a clear outcome for the team members in charge of interpreting them. So I needed to figure out how to build visualizations that accurately reflected their operations while avoiding making them overly complicated. 

What would you tell yourself if you could go back in time?

If I could go back in time, I’d tell myself to focus more on Power BI data modeling specifically. Typically, when a client comes to us with an issue, it can almost always be traced to the structure of their data model. 

What advice do you have for people just starting out with Power BI?

Take a collaborative approach with your team and be sure to ask questions. 

Your business users understand their data better than anyone, and by understanding their perspectives, you’ll help them solve problems through your reporting. 

Along with that, understanding the business problem you’re trying to solve is key. Your reports need to be user-friendly to address business users’ problems effectively.

Worry About the Numbers First, Get Creative Second

What Power BI growing pains did you experience when you first started out?

For me, the biggest growing pain I experienced was simply learning how to use the tool. When you first open up Power BI, it can feel a little deceiving. It doesn’t provide many specific prompts, so if you don’t know how to source and input data, you might get stuck. 

What would you tell yourself if you could go back in time?

I would tell myself to think more about the data sources we’re using. Start learning tools like SQL and other languages—this will make the entire data modeling process easier and help unlock the full potential of Power BI. 

What advice do you have for people just starting out with Power BI?

When you’re just starting out, don’t focus too much on the visuals or design of your report. Instead, pay close attention to the numbers and logic. If you have a really beautiful report but your numbers don’t line up, you’ll lose your credibility.

Look at the Relationship, That’s Usually Where the Problem Is

What Power BI growing pains did you experience when you first started out?

One of the biggest growing pains I experienced when I started using Power BI was understanding the difference between a measure and a calculated column. 

I always wanted to make calculated columns because you can see them right away and they’re a bit more like Excel formulas than measures. However, measures are usually more effective when using Power BI. 

What would you tell yourself if you could go back in time?

I would tell myself to pay close attention to the data models I was working with. 

It’s important to make sure those relationships are set up correctly so the report runs smoothly. There were times I didn’t set up my data models correctly, resulting in repetitive and incorrect models. If your reports aren’t running correctly, look at your relationships—that’s usually where the problem is. 

What advice do you have for people just starting out with Power BI?

I’d recommend that beginners sign up for training. I did a Power BI Foundations Training when I started, and it helped important concepts click for me. I learned how to create measures and set up relationships to improve my reports. 

This foundational course helped give me a really solid base that allowed me to learn more advanced functionalities of Power BI.

Your Reports are Only as Good as Their Data Models

What Power BI growing pains did you experience when you first started out?

Learning how to structure data models was a big growing pain for me. Your Power BI report is only as good as your data model. 

Specifically, I needed to understand the difference between fact and dimension tables. When you have data coming from many different sources with facts and dimensions mixed together, determining the best way to split that up can be confusing. 

What would you tell yourself if you could go back in time?

If I could go back in time, I would tell myself to consolidate my Power Query steps while working. It’s easy to keep applying new steps and not pay attention to them, but it slows down the table and the data model. 

Additionally, I would learn the correct formatting for DAX, particularly in terms of indentations and spaces. This makes your reports much easier to understand and read. 

Another neat little trick is creating measure tables for your calculations. These tables help you stay organized and find the measures you need while working. 

What advice do you have for people just starting out with Power BI?

The internet is your best friend! I am a self-taught Power BI user, and I’ve found so many amazing resources out there. You can look up almost anything on Google, YouTube, or Power BI forums. 

However, teaching yourself Power BI is very time-intensive. I’d recommend taking Power BI training to make the process more efficient. 

A Huge Opportunity to Revolutionize the Entire Reporting Process

What Power BI growing pains did you experience when you first started out?

Power BI is an expansive technology with many different features and functionalities. Learning how all of these parts interact was the most difficult part, and it felt a little overwhelming at first.

I discovered Power BI independently around 2018, and shortly afterward, a company I was working for at the time wanted to use it. There were definitely a few times that deliverables weren’t met because there was so much to learn. 

But, I recognized that there was a huge opportunity to use Power BI to revolutionize the entire reporting process, from ETL to modeling, with greater insights. 

What would you tell yourself if you could go back in time?

If I could go back in time, I would have told myself that Power BI existed earlier! 

I initially found out about Power BI because I was trying to make a personal budget planner and had tried several other data modeling tools. With Power BI, tasks would take just weeks to complete, as opposed to months with other tools. 

What advice do you have for people just starting out with Power BI?

Try not to feel overwhelmed by starting small. 

If you get too intimidated in the beginning, you might not want to learn the technology later on. One of the best things about Power BI is that it caters to any level of expertise, so start small with a personal project to learn how it works. Over time, you can expand and learn new features.

Master Power BI With Collectiv

Power BI is a beast to master. There’s a reason that “power” is in the name. But taking the time to learn the ins and outs of Power BI sets your team up for success when it comes to data visualization. 

Rather than taking weeks or months to piece together YouTube tutorials or scan online support boards, enlist help from the team that Microsoft itself partners with.

Collectiv offers Power BI trainings with our expert team to help you level up your skills with hands-on support. 

Whether you’re just learning the basics, want to master advanced DAX skills, or even learn customized skill sets, we have training options that will suit your needs. Schedule a call to get started with Collectiv’s Power BI experts.

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