Tame Power Query Workbook Privacy Settings

I recently built a cool Excel solution at work that uses Power Query to reach out and grab some weather data, then upload it into database.  We use that data in our dashboards, as weather is pretty important to the golf industry in which I work.  But then I went to deploy the file, and needed to find a way to tame the Power Query Workbook Privacy settings.

The Issue

What happens is, every time a user runs a Power Query that was last saved by another user, they are prompted to set the Workbook’s Privacy level.  This is maddening, as we have two staff that use this workbook, where one covers for the other while they’re away.  Naturally, long lapses of time can occur in between… just long enough to forget what to do when you’re prompted by this frustrating message:

image

So while I can (and have) set the privacy level for the web data they are going to retrieve (see my tool here), I have no way to permanently set the Workbook’s Privacy level.  Worse is that, if the user clicks Cancel, or chooses the wrong privacy level, (even trying to protect the output table structure using Chris Webb’s technique here,) fails.  The table generates an error, and all business logic in the workbook is blown apart.  The only recourse is to exit the file without saving and try again.

Naturally, this concerns them, and they call to make sure they do the right thing.  That’s awesome, and I wouldn’t change that at all.  But the deeper underlying problem is that Power Query’s Workbook security is engineered to require developer interaction.  And that is bad news!

How to Tame Power Query Workbook Privacy Settings

Unfortunately I can’t use VBA to set this in the workbook (or at least, I haven’t tried, anyway), but I can work a little trick to at least warn my users when they are about to be prompted, and remind them which privacy level they need to select.  Here’s what I need to do in order to make that work:

Step 1: Create a range to hold the last user

  • Create a named range somewhere in the workbook called “rngLastUser”  (I put mine on the “Control Panel” worksheet and hid it.)
  • Drop the following code in a Standard VBA Module:

Public Sub UpdateLastUser()
With This
Workbook.Worksheets("Control Panel")
.Range("rngLastUser") = Application.UserName
End With
End Sub

Step 2: Create a macro to update your Power Queries

Public Sub GetWeather()
With ThisWorkbook
'Check if privacy level will need to be set
If .Worksheets("Control Panel").Range("rngLastUser") <> Application.UserName Then
MsgBox "You are about to be prompted about Privacy Levels" & vbNewLine & _
"for the Current Workbook. When the message pops up, " & vbNewLine & _
"you'll see an option to 'Select' to the right side of the Current Workbook." & vbNewLine & _
vbNewLine & _
"Please ensure you choose PUBLIC from the list.", vbOKOnly + vbInformation, _
"Hold on a second..."
End If

'Refresh the Power Query table
.Worksheets("Weather").ListObjects("WeatherHistory").QueryTable.Refresh BackgroundQuery:=True
End With
Call UpdateLastUser
End Sub

Step 3: Link the macro to a button for your users

  • Link my GetWeather() routine to a button
  • And we’re good!

What Did We Do?

So basically, what I did here was this:

  • Every time the user clicks the button…
  • Excel checks the contents of rngLastUser to see if the username is the same as the current user
    • If it is, it just goes on to refresh the table
    • If it’s not, it kicks up the following message:

image

    • After the user clicks OK (if necessary), then it prompts the user to set the security level. Yes, they can still get it wrong, but at least they have a chance now!
    • Once the security level is set, the macro goes on to refresh the table
  • After the table is refreshed, Excel updates the rngLastUser cell to the name of the current user.

And that’s it.  We now have a system that will prompt our users with the correct answer, so that they don’t have to come back and ask us every time.

Thoughts On The Security Model

Ideally it would be nice to not have to do this, and there is – in fact – a way.  Microsoft’s answer is “Yes, just enable Fast Combine.”  That’s great and all, but then it ignores all privacy levels and runs your query.  What if, as a developer, I need a way to ensure that what I’ve built stays Public, Private or Organizational?  What it if actually matters?

To me, Fast Combine is akin to setting Macro Security to Low in Excel 2003 and earlier.  Basically, we’re saying “I don’t like nagging messages, so let’s run around in a war zone with no bullet proof vest.”  Sure, you might come out alive, but why should you take that risk?

In my opinion, the Power Query security model needs work.  Even if we could assign a digital certificate to the query to prove it (and the privacy levels) had not been modified, that would be great.  I’m not sure exactly what it is we need, but we need something better than what we have today.

Refresh Power Query With VBA

When I’ve finished building a solution in Excel, I like to give it a little polish, and really make it easy for my users to update it.  The last thing I want to do is to send them right clicking and refreshing everywhere, so I program a button to refresh Power Query with VBA.

The interesting part about the above statement is that Power Query doesn’t have any VBA object model, so what kind of black magic trick do we need to leverage to pull that off?  As it turns out, it’s very simple… almost too simple in fact.

A Simple Query

Let’s just grab the sample data file from my post on pulling Excel named ranges into Power Query.  Once we’ve done that:

  • Click in the blue table
  • Go to Power Query –> From Table
  • Let’s sort Animal ascending (just so we know something happened)
  • Next save and Exit the query

At this point, we should get a new “Sheet2” worksheet, with our table on it:

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 The Required VBA Code

Next, we need to build our VBA for refreshing the table.  Rather than record and tweak a macro, I’m just going to give you the code that will update all Query Tables in the entire workbook in one shot.  But to use it, you need to know the secret handshake:

  • Press Alt + F11

This will open the Visual Basic editor for you.  If you don’t see a folder tree at the left, then press CTRL+R to make it show up.

  • Find your project in the list (It should be called “"VBA Project (Selecting Data.xlsx)”
  • Right click that name and choose “Insert Module”
  • In the window that pops up, paste in the following code:

Public Sub UpdatePowerQueries()
' Macro to update my Power Query script(s)

Dim lTest As Long, cn As WorkbookConnection
On Error Resume Next
For Each cn In ThisWorkbook.Connections
lTest = InStr(1, cn.OLEDBConnection.Connection, "Provider=Microsoft.Mashup.OleDb.1", vbTextCompare)
If Err.Number <> 0 Then
Err.Clear
Exit For
End If
If lTest > 0 Then cn.Refresh
Next cn

End Sub

NOTE:  The code above was updated 2015-08-19 to reflect the method posted here:  https://www.excelguru.ca/blog/2015/08/19/update-refresh-power-queries-with-vba/

Now, I’ll admit that I find this a little looser than I generally like.  By default, all Power Query scripts create a new connection with the name “Power Query –“ the name of your query.  I’d prefer to check the type of query, but this will work.

Speaking of working, let’s prove it…  But first, close the Visual Basic Editor.

Proving The Refresh Works

The easiest way to do this is to go back to the table on Sheet 1 and add a new row to the table.  I’m going to do that first, then I’m going to:

  • Press Alt + F8
  • Choose “UpdatePowerQueries”
  • Click Run
  • Go back to Sheet2 to verify it’s updated

If all goes well,  you should now have another row of data in your table, as I do:

image

Adding Polish

Let’s face it, that’s probably harder than going to Data –> Refresh All.  The goal here was to make it easier for my users.  So let’s do that now.

  • Return to Sheet 1
  • Go to the Developer Tab (if you don’t see it, right click the ribbon, choose “Customize Ribbon” and check the box next to the Developer tab to expose it)
  • Click Insert and select the button in the top left

image

  • Left click and drag a button onto your worksheet

When you let go, you’ll be prompted to assign a macro.

  • Choose “UpdatePowerQueries” and click OK
  • While the dots are still on the corners, click in the text
  • Backspace it out and replace it with something helpful like “Update Queries” (if you click elsewhere, you’ll need to right click the button to get the selection handles back.)
  • Click in the worksheet to de-select the button

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That’s it.  Test it again by adding some more data to the table then clicking the button.

Ramifications

I write a lot of VBA to make my users lives easier, and generally use this kind of technique as part of a bigger goal.  But regardless, it can still be useful as a stand alone routine if you want to avoid having to train users on how to do things through the ribbon.

Create Dynamic Table Headers With Power Query

In my last post, I looked at how to pull a named range into Power Query and turn it into a table of data.  Today we’re going to look at how to create dynamic table headers with Power Query, but using a slightly different, slightly more complicated way to do the same task.  Why?  Well, the reality is that sometimes the simple method won’t work for us.

Background

In this scenario, we’re going to use the same file I used in my last post, we’re just going to build the output differently.  The key that I’m after here is that I want to pull the data range into Power Query, but I want to use a table.  The issue, however, as I mentioned in my last post, is:

If I set up the table with headers in row 3, it would convert the dates to hard numbers, thereby blowing apart the ability to easily update the dynamic column headers next year.  That would defeat the purpose of making the input sheet dynamic in the first place.

I’ve really struggled with this feature in Tables, where it converts your headers to hard values.  So many of the tabular setups I create use dynamic headers, it’s actually more rare that they don’t.  So how do we work around this?  How do we create dynamic table headers in Excel?

Setting Up The Table For Success

It’s actually a LOT easier than you might think.  I use this very simple trick with both PivotTables and regular Tables, allowing me to take advantage of their power, but still control my headers and make them dynamic.  Here’s how:

Step 1: Add Static Headers Manually

  • Insert 2 rows below the current dynamic date headers in Row 3
  • Put some static headers in Row 5 that are generic but descriptive.  (In this case, CYM# means “Current Year, Month #”)

SNAGHTML1a520e81 The important part here is to make sure these static headers are each unique so that you can “unwind” them later with Power Query.

Step 2: Create The Table

Next, we need to create the table.  It’s going to cover A5:N24, and will therefore inherit the CYM column headers.  Since they are static values, it won’t make any changes to them, and my dynamic dates are still showing up top.

Step 3: Build a Translation Table

Huh?  A what?  Bear with me, as this will come clear a bit later.  Here’s how we do it:

  • Enter the following in B4:  =B3
  • Copy this across to cover B4:N4
  • Make sure B4:M4 is selected and go to Home—>Editing—>Find & Select –> Replace
  • Using the dialog, make the following two replacements:
    • Replace = with =$
    • Replace 3 with $3

This has the effect of making the formulas all absolute, which is important for our next step.

  • Select B4:N5 –> Right Click –> Copy
  • Select a cell down below your data range somewhere (I used A34)
  • Right click the cell and choose Paste Special
  • In the Paste Special options, choose the following:
    • Paste:  All
    • Check the Transpose box

Very cool, we’ve now got the beginnings of a table that is linked to the formulas in row 3.  We just need to finish it.

  • Add the column header of “Date” in A33
  • Add the column header of “Period” in B33
  • Format the data range from A33:B46 as a table
  • Rename the table to “DateTranslation”

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Step 4: Final Header Cleanup

Row 4 has now served it’s purpose for us, so you can delete that, and then hide (the new) row 4.  The end result is that we have a header on our table that looks like it’s part of the table, but isn’t really.  The benefits here are that we can preserve the dynamic nature of it, and we have a wider variety of formatting options. SNAGHTML1a67304b We also have a completely separate date translation table too…

Setting Up The Power Query Scripts

So now we need to get the data into Power Query.  Let’s do that.

Step 1: Import and Reformat the Rounds Table

To do this we will:

  • Click somewhere in the main table
  • Power Query –> From Table
  • Remove the “TOTAL” column
  • Filter the first column to remove text that begins with “Total” and values that equal null
  • Filter the second column to remove null values
  • Right click the first column and Un-Pivot Other Columns
  • Rename the “Month” column to “Round Type”
  • Rename the query to “Budget”

At this point, you should have the following: SNAGHTML1afa967c This is great, but what about the Attribute column.  This is the whole big pain here about using a table, in that we don’t have dates.  Yes we could have hard coded them, but then it would be very painful to update our query when our year changes.  So while we have something flexible (in a way) here, it isn’t really all that readable.  How can we change that? Save and close the query, and let’s deal with this.

Step 2: Create Another Power Query

Let’s add the other table we built:

  • Click inside the DateTranslation table we created
  • Go to Power Query –> From Table
  • Click Close & Load –> Load To…
  • Click Only Create Connection –> Load

This will create a new Power Query that basically just reads your original table on demand.  It won’t refresh unless it’s called from another source.  Now we’re set to do something interesting.

Step 3: Re-Open The Budget Power Query

If the Workbook Queries pane isn’t open on the right, then go to Power Query –> Workbook Queries to show it.

  • Right click the Budget query and click Edit
  • On the Power Query Home tab, click Merge Queries (in the Combine group)
  • Select the Attribute column
  • From the drop down box, choose Date Translation
  • Select the Period column
  • Make sure “Only Include Matching Rows” is checked and click OK

image At this point you’ll get a new column of data in your Query.  Click the icon in the top right of the column to expand it: image Excellent… now we only need to pick the column we need, which is Date.  So uncheck the Period column and click OK. Finally we can remove the Attribute column and rename the “NewColumn.Date” column to Date and we’ve got a pretty clean query: SNAGHTML1b05acce At this point we could call it a day, as we’ve pretty much accomplished the original goal.  I can update the Year cell in B1 and my Table’s “Headers” will update.  In addition, my Power Query will show the correct values for the dates as well.  Pretty cool, as I could now link this into Power Pivot and set a relationship against a calendar table without having to worry about how it would be updated.

Going One Level Deeper

One thing I don’t like about this setup is the need for the extra query.  That just seems messy, and I’d prefer to see just one query in my workbook.  The issue though, is that I’m pulling data from two tables.  What’s cool though, is that with a little editing of the M code, I can fix that. Here’s the M for the query I’ve built, with a key line highlighted (twice): image As you can see, the “Merge” line is coloured yellow, but the name of the Query being merged is in orange.  Well guess what, we don’t need to reach to an external query here, we can reach to another named step in M.  Try this: Immediately after the “Let” line, enter the following:

TranslationTable = Excel.CurrentWorkbook(){[Name="DateTranslation"]}[Content],

Now, modify the “Merge” line to update the name of the table from “DateTranslation” to “TranslationTable”.  (The reason we’re doing this is that the original query still exists, so we can’t just name the first step “DateTranslation”, as it will conflict. Once we’ve made our modifications, the script will look as follows: image When you click “Done”, the query will reload and you’ll see an extra step in the “Applied Steps” box on the right.  What you won’t see though, are any changes, as the data comes out the same.  Very cool, as we are now referencing both tables in a single step.  To prove this out, save this query, drop back to Excel and delete the “DateTranslation” query.  It will still work! (The completed file can be downloaded here.)

Ending Thoughts

I really like this technique.  It let’s me dynamically change the column names, yet still use those to link them into my data model tables.  But even more I like the ability that, with a minor edit to the M code, I can keep my workbook from being littered with extra queries.  🙂

Using Non-Contiguous Data Ranges in Power Query

One of the methods we use when building business solutions is creating specific input sheets for our models, as it separates our data from our business logic and ultimately our reporting layers.  This strategy is a key piece of building stable models, and is one of the fundamental things I teach when I’m leading modelling courses.  (For more information on having me at your site, click here.)  Since many data entry points consist of non-continguous ranges in Excel, it make sense to look at how using non-contiguous data ranges in Power Query can help us in our modelling.

To that end, in today’s blog post, I’m going to look at a technique to take a standard data entry worksheet and turn it into a data source, which can then be linked in to the model (or just used as the basis of reports.)  This is ideal, as we then only have one place to update our data for our solution.

Background:

What we’re going to start with is this:

image

A few key things you might want to know are:

  • You can download the sample file from this link if you want to follow along.
  • This is hypothetical budget data for golf rounds.
  • All the data entry cells are light green (I tell my users “Green means go” and they are now conditioned to stay away from anything that isn’t that light green colour.
  • The year in cell B1, when changed, will update all of the headers on the input sheet to the current year

Now, what I’d like to do is un-pivot this data into a useable table.  If I could do that, then I’d be able to use it in any of many methods, such as PivotTable, PivotCharts, charts or VLOOKUP solutions.

The initial setup

Your first temptation might be to layer a table over the data.  I’ve got a few reasons why I don’t want to do that:

  1. If I did layer a table over my input form it would lose the intuitive “enter data here” setup that I worked so hard to create.  Users would end up with a banded table that didn’t indicate where data should go.  That’s not ideal.
  2. If I set up the table with headers in row 3, it would convert the dates to hard numbers, thereby blowing apart the ability to easily update the dynamic column headers next year.  That would defeat the purpose of making the input sheet dynamic in the first place.
  3. If I set up the table with headers above that, I’d end up with a bunch of ugly Column1, Column2 headers.  I suppose I could hide them, but again, my table would blow apart my formatting as mentioned in 1.

So no… that’s not what I’m after.  So now what…?

There’s actually a few different ways to handle this.  I’ll look at some others in later blog posts, but for now let’s piggyback on the technique about using named ranges that I covered in my last post.

Creating the Named Range

The first thing I’m going to do is create a named range (not a Table) to cover the entire range that holds my budget data: A3:N22.  That includes the headers, all blank rows ,and all data right up to the totals on the right and bottom.  The reason for this is that, should I end up adding any new categories later by inserting rows or columns, it’s fairly likely that I’ll be doing it before the totals, so they’ll get picked up.  (It’s not quite the auto-expansion feature of a table, but it’s the best I’m going to get with a named range.)

So I created my named range and give it a sensible name like rngBudgetData.

Pulling the data into Power Query

Now let’s look at the easiest way to get our named range into Power Query.

If we click a single cell in our data range, then told Power Query to get the data from a Table, we’d be given a range for that expanded to cover only the contiguous block of data.  Because we’ve got blank rows in our data, that wouldn’t really work for us.  For example, assume we click B3, then tell Power Query to pull data From Table.  We’d be given the range A12:N15, as shown below.

image

Alternately, we could create a blank query, then type =Excel.CurrentWorkbook() in the formula bar, and choose our table, as outlined in the last blog post:

image

Okay, so that WOULD work.  As it turns out though, there is still yet another way to do this:

  • From the Name drop down in Excel, select the rngBudgetData named range

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  • A3:N22 will now be selected, so go to Power Query –> From Table

And look at that, we’re now in Power Query using our named range!

The secret to this is, in order for Power Query to pull in the named range, the entire named range must be selected.  If that happens, Excel will grab it as the Power Query source.  If you’re using named ranges that cover contiguous blocks of data, and you click somewhere in that block of data, then Power Query very well may grab your entire named range.  So long as the auto selection boundaries line up with your named range you should be good.  But in the case of my data, those blank rows blow that apart, which is why I selected it from the name drop-down first.

(It is worth noting that if a named range and a table’s boundaries match exactly, the Table will be used as the Power Query source, not the named range.)

Manipulating the data in Power Query – Issue 1

Upon pulling the data into Power Query, we end up with a table like this:

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Naturally, the first thing we want to do is promote the first row to headers, so that we can get to un-pivoting the data.  But look what happens when we do:

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What the heck?  The first column was renamed to Month (from the first row of data), but the remaining didn’t change! Not only that, but we lost our date time stamp.  That’s not good.

So it appears that Power Query can’t promote a date/time into a column header.  We’d better remove that step and try another approach.

Removing Irrelevant Data – Cut 1

Before I get into dealing with the harder stuff, I’m going to do a quick bit of cleanup here.  I’ve got some bank rows of data in my table, so I’m going to knock those off first.  To do that I:

  • Filter Column1 and uncheck (null) values

I’ve also got some header rows, which I can identify by the null values in Column2-Column14.  I can knock those off as follows:

  • Filter Column2 and uncheck (null) values

Easy enough so far.  I also don’t need the Total column, so I’ll scroll all the way to the right and:

  • Right click Column14
  • Choose Remove

Now I need to get rid of all the rows that contain totals (as I can always re-create those with a Pivot Table:

  • Filter Column1
  • Text Filters –> Does Not Contain –> “Total “ –> OK

Now, you’ll notice that I used Total with a space.  This is just to make sure that I don’t accidentally remove a row that contains a word which has total in it – like “totally”.  It’s always safer to make your text pattern as exact as possible.

After doing all of the above, I’m left with this:

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So the data is all clean, but I still can’t promote my headers so I can un-pivot this data.  Now what?

Busting Out Transpose

Transpose is quickly becoming one of my favourite functions.  Let’s hit it now:

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Hmm… originally I was going to convert my dates to text, Transpose it back, promote the text to headers, then un-pivot it.  But I don’t think I even need to do that at all.  Try this:

  • Transform –> Use First Row as Headers
  • Select the Month column
  • Transform –> Unpivot Columns –> Unpivot Other Columns

Bingo!

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Now just for the final cleanup:

  • Select the Month column –> Transform –> Data Type –> Date  (You need to do this, or Excel will return date serial numbers to the table, not dates formatted as dates.)
  • Rename the Attribute column to “Round Type”
  • Rename the Value column to “Amount”

Finally we can choose to Close and Load the Power Query and it will turn it into a nice Excel table.

Some Thoughts

As I was developing this blog post I found about 10 different ways through this process to end up at the same goal.  This is actually one of the things I enjoy about Power Query is the creativity that you can employ coming out to the same end result.

One feature I do hope to see eventually is the ability to filter for text that “starts with” or “does not start with”.  That would allow me to make my text searches even tighter than the “contains” portion I used here.  In one version I actually wrote an if function to do that:

=if Text.Start([Column1],5)=”Total’ then “remove” else “keep”

The loss of the months when originally promoting the header row shocked me a bit.  I would have expected this to be automatically converted to text and those values used.  Alas that’s not the case, so we have to do a bit more work.  Certainly not the end of the world, but not what I’d expect to see.

At the end of the day though, it’s nice to know that there is a way to get useful non-Table data into Power Query and turn it into something useful.  🙂

Pulling Excel Named Ranges into Power Query

The comments of my last post collected a tip that I thought it was worth exploring on pulling Excel named ranges into Power Query.

I made the claim that Excel MUST have the data in an official Excel table.  As LoganEatsWorld pointed out, that’s actually not true any more.  If you’d like to give this a go, you can download this workbook to follow along.

What’s in the file?

The file is very basic.  It simply contains one table, and one named range of data:

image

The table is highlighted in the blue table style, and bears the name “Stats”.  The named range is surrounded by the black outline, and is called “Breeds”.

Connecting to Excel Data:

The reason I never found this is that my method was always to go to the Power Query tab and click –> From Table.  That will work great to get the data out of a table, but it won’t work for the named range.  So let’s try this a different way…

  • Go to Power Query –> From Other Sources –> Blank Query
  • Click in the formula bar and type the following:

= Excel.CurrentWorkbook()

(Yes, it’s case sensitive… I’m starting to reconcile myself to the fact that it’s Power Query so I’m just going to have to get over it.)

What ends up happening is a bit of magic:

image

Interesting… we have two tables listed!  The first is our official table, the second is our named range.  Cool!

Let’s click in the blank space to the right of the green “Table” text in the Breeds row:

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The preview pops up and, sure enough, that’s our named range data:

image

Working With The Data

All right, let’s click the green Table text and break open that named range:

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One notable difference here (in fact really the only one), is that Power Query doesn’t automatically recognize the header row.  This is due to the fact that an Excel table actually has a named header row to promote, where a named range does not.  No big deal though, as we can easily deal with that:

  • Go to Transform –> Use First Row As Headers

At this point, we could save the table to the worksheet or data model, as we need.

Observations

So this is cool.  It’s awesome that we can get to named ranges, as I have a LOT of workbooks that use these, and there are occasions where I don’t want to convert them to official Excel tables.  Despite the fact that we can, however, you pretty much need a secret decoder ring to find it, and that’s not so good.

It would sure be nice if there was a more discoverable way to pull in a named range… but where?

Suggested Accessibility Option 1

When I look at Power Query’s “Get External Data” function, it seems logical to me that it should end up somewhere in that area.  Looking at the group:

image

I kind of like the ability that comes with the “From Table” feature which works from the table you’re in (if you are), and lets you create a table if you’re not inside a table when you click that button.  But I wonder if it would be better served as a SplitButton/menu/submenu structure that offered the following options:

  • From Table
    • Current Table
    • Other Table
      • List of other tables in the workbook
    • Named Range
      • List of named ranges in the workbook
    • Create New Table
    • Create New Named Range

Actually, there is another change I would make to that group, and that’s to move the “From Blank Query” out of the “From Other Sources”, and give it it’s own button.  (I create a LOT of queries from scratch now, and it’s just extra clicks in my way to do so.)

Suggested Accessibility Option 2

I’m not sure this is so much of an alternate as something additional I’d like to see, actually.  An “additional sources” button on the Home tab would be awesome.  If that had the ability to pull up all the existing tables or named ranges in the workbook, and add them to the Power Query script as a “Source2=…”

I think the implications of this would be two fold:

  1. It would allow you to add a data source after creating a blank query, and/or
  2. It would allow you to add additional data sources into the same query.

The latter is certainly something I do semi frequently, as I don’t want to have multiple Power Queries created that are then merged together.  I’ll add both sources manually in the same query then merge them.

At any rate, just some thoughts.  If you have any on the subject please feel free to leave them in the comments.  🙂