Refer to other steps in Power Query

Last week I posted a technique to show how to calculate a rolling 12 months in Power Query.  One of the techniques used was to refer to other steps during the construction of that query.  Shortly after publishing that, a user asked a question on a non-related post that can make use of the same technique.  Because of this I thought I should focus on that specific technique this week, and where it can add more value.

The Question

I have a data sheet where the generated date shows up in a single cell up on the top and then the data table itself follows.

I created a query to just pick up the generated data but now I want to use that date within a formula of a new column in the 2nd query (the one that pulls/transforms the data table itself). How can I do that?

Now, the asker is working between two queries.  I’m actually not going to do that at all, rather focussing on getting things working in a single query.

The Mockup

I haven’t seen the asker’s original data, but I mocked up a sample which I believe should be somewhat representative of what was described:

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As you can see, we’ve got a single cell with the data in A3, and a table below it.  While I’ve done this in Excel, this could easily be pulled in from a text file, web page, or some other medium. The key that I want to focus on here is how to get that date lined up with the rest of the rows in the table.

Options, Options, and more Options

There’s actually a ton of ways to do this.  Just some include:

  • Naming the date range, using the fnGetParameter function to pull it in, and pass it into the query that way.
  • Pull the data into Power Query, duplicate the first column, format it as a date, replace errors with null, fill down, and cull out the rest of the garbage rows
  • Add a custom column that refers directly the the 3rd field of the first column
  • And many more

But in order to pull this of today, I’m going to refer to other steps in the Applied Steps section of the query.  This is a method you can use to determine a variable through the user interface without resorting directly to M code.

Building the Output

Loading the data

To pull the data in, I’ll set up a named range, as this doesn’t exactly look like a table.  To do that I:

  • Selected A1:C8
  • Replaced the A1 in the Name box (just to the left of the formula bar) with the name “Data”

Which landed me the following in Power Query:

image

Filter down to just the date cell

This part is relatively easy, we just need to:

  • Right click Column1 –> Remove other columns
  • Right click Column1 –> Change Type –> Date
  • Go to Home –> Remove Errors
  • Filter Column1 –> Uncheck the null values

And we’re now down to just our date:

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You’ll also notice, on the right side, the Applied Steps window shows this step as “Filtered Rows”.  I’m going to right click that and rename it to “ReportDate” (with no space).

Refer to Prior Steps

With this in place, we can now essentially revert to our original query.  To do that, we:

  • Go to the Formula Bar and click the fx logo to get a new query line:

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Notice that it refers to the previous step.  No big deal, change that back to “=Source” (the original step of our query.  When you do, your “Custom1” step will look like this:

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Perfect.  Let’s add a custom column.

  • Go to Add Column –> Add Custom Column
  • Set up the custom column as follows:
    • Name:  Date
    • Formula:  =ReportDate

Your “ReportDate” step gets added as a table:

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  • Click the expand arrow to the top right of the date column header and expand it (without keeping the column prefix)

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And now it’s just basic cleanup to get things in the right place:

  • Go to Home –> Remove Rows –> Remove Top Rows –> 4
  • Go to Transform –> Use First Row as Headers
  • Right click Column4 –> Rename –> Date

And you’re done:

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So… could you build one query to get the date, then try to pass it to a query with your data table in it?  Sure, but why?  Much better to do it all in one place.

It’s Faster with M

Before Bill S jumps in and shows us that it’s faster when we manipulate the M code directly, I figure I’ll cover that too.  Bill is absolutely correct when he comments on my posts showing why we should learn M.  Here’s the (summarized) route to do the same thing using M code:

  • Load the initial table into Power Query
  • Go to Home –> Remove Rows –> Remove Top Rows –> 4
  • Go to Transform –> Use First Row as Headers
  • Add a custom column
    • Name:   Date
    • Formula:  =Date.From(Source[Column1]{2})

You’re done.  🙂

Why?  The trick is all in the formula.  Let’s build it up gradually.

We start by referring to the Source step.

  • =Source

This would return a table to the column (as you saw earlier).  We then modify the formula and append [Column1] to this so that we have:

  • =Source[Column1]

This returns the list of all of the values in Column1 from the Source step.  (Never mind that we moved past that step – it will still refer to it as if it was still around.)  Next we append the index of the data point we want.  Remembering that Power Query is base 0, that means that we need #2 to get to the 3rd data point:

  • =Source[Column1]{2}

Now, if you went with this as your formula you’d find that it actually returns a DateTime value.  So the last step is to wrap it in a formula to extract just the date:

  • =Date.From(Source[Column1]{2})

Final Thoughts

So now you’ve seen two ways to pull this off… one via the user interface, one more efficient by writing a small bit of M code.  Different options for different comfort levels.

What I love about Power Query is that you don’t NEED to master M to use it effectively.  But if you DO master M, then it sure can make your queries more efficient and elegant.

Also, I should mention this… if the user really DID want to merge these two queries together, it is as easy as adding a new step (by clicking that fx button), then putting in the name of the other query.  That will bring the data over, and then it’s simply a matter of following the rest of this post to stitch them together.

Request new features for Excel

Have you ever wanted to request new features for Excel?  Maybe an upgrade of data validation, a new function, or something else?  Well guess what… there is a way…

In a recent blog post on the Office Blogs called “Your top 10 questions about Office 2016 for Mac answered”, answer number 7 was to the question “How can I request a new feature?”

And the cool thing?  This isn’t just applicable to Mac Excel.  It’s applicable to ANY AND EVERY flavour of Excel (Windows, Android, iPad, Mac, Online)

How to request new features for Excel

Go to the Excel Suggestion Box site at http://excel.uservoice.com

  • Create a user account if you want to add a new suggestion or vote on existing suggestions.
  • Select one of the feedback forums listed.
  • Check out the ideas others have suggested and vote on your favourites.

The Excel team does suggest that you search for your suggestion among existing requests before you post a new one.  This is actually important as you can then vote someone else’s suggestion up.  The more votes, the more likely it has a chance of being seriously looked at.

So on that note, check out the ones that are there.  Vote them up and comment if they are in line with what you’re thinking.  But add your own if you can’t already find one in place.

How to request features for Word, PowerPoint, Outlook and OneNote

As it would happen, they all have their own sites.  You can find them at the links below:

Rolling 12 Months in Power Query

Last week, in a blog comment, a reader asked how to filter their data to only show the most recent rolling 12 month period.  This post looks at how I made that work in Power Query.

Background

Assume we have a table set up as follows:
image

As you can see, we have sales categories down the left, months across the top, and values in the middle.  A classic setup when users are tracking information.  And now we need to pull the most recent 12 months only from that table.

You can download the completed sample file if you’d like to follow this along as well.

Filter the most recent rolling 12 months from a table in Power Query

Step 1: Grab the data

First thing we need to do is grab the data. To do this, I clicked in the table and:

  • Power Query –> From Table –> Confirm the range (if required)
  • Changed the query name to Rolling12

Helpfully, Power Query identified the data types in all the columns for me, so I’m pretty much ready to go.

Step 2: Show the most recent record first

To do this, we really need to get the data into an unpivoted list.  Easy enough to do:

  • Select the “Sales” column
  • Right click –> UnPivot Other Columns

Note: The “unpivot other columns” command was added to the right click menu in version 2.24.  While you can most likely still access this command, you are definitely running an older version, and for a multitude of important reasons, you should really update to the latest version of Power Query.

If you don’t want to (or can’t) do this for some reason, then go to Transform –> Unpivot –> Unpivot Other columns to accomplish the same thing.

We now get a nice unpivoted list:

SNAGHTML846714

Next I cleaned up that Attribute column:

  • Right click the Attribute column –> Rename –> Date
  • Right click the Date column –> Changed Type –> Date

And finally I sorted the records to show the most recent ones at the top:

  • Click the Filter icon on the Date column –> Sort Descending

Leaving us with this:

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Step 3: Create variables to hold the required data range

Next we need to work out the dates that we want to use for the top and bottom range of dates in the query.  This is a bit tricky, but uber powerful once you realize you can do it.

To start, click the fx icon in the formula bar:

image

NOTE: If you don’t see the formula bar, go to the View tab, and check the box next to Formula Bar

What this does is add a new step in the formula bar called “Custom1”.  And if you check the formula bar you’ll see that it just refers to the previous step:

image

The cool thing here is that we can modify this.  Why don’t we add some data to the end of that statement to pull the first value from the Date column of that table?  To do that, change the text in the formula bar to read as follows:

=#”Sorted Rows”[Date]{0}

Recognize here that:

  • #”Sorted Rows” refers to the table in the previous step
  • [Date] tells Power Query that you only want the Date column
  • {0} tell Power Query that you want the first value from that column (remember that Power Query starts counting from 0)

The result is a single cell with the most recent date:

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Let’s keep things clean in our Steps window… right click the Custom1 step and rename it to “MaxDate”.

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What’s cool here is that we’ve essentially created a variable to work out and hold the most recent date.

So now that we have the top of the range, why don’t we create another step to modify it to the date for the lower end of the range?

  • Click the fx step in the formula bar
  • Modify the formula to read as follows

=Date.AddYears(MaxDate,-1)

And the result is a new Custom1 step that shows in the formula bar as follows:

image

Note:  The formulas you can use are documented at Microsoft’s site here: http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/excel-help/power-query-formula-categories-HA104122363.aspx

Pretty cool, don’t you think?  We’ve now got a step that holds the lower end of the results too.  Let’s do our cleanup again.

Right click the Custom1 step and rename it to “AfterDate”

Step 4: Implement the variables into a filter

Our last step is to implement the variables into the filter, cutting the data down to the most recent rolling 12 months of data.  Before we can do that, however, we really need to get back to the table we had in the “Sorted Rows” step.

The challenge is that we can’t select and work from that step, as it’s earlier in the process than the creation of our variables.  So how do we get back to that step AFTER we’ve created our variables?

  • Click the fx button in the formula bar

Once again, we get a new step in the formula bar:

image

The problem is that it’s referring to the previous step.  So what if we changed it to point to the #”Sorted Rows” step?

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Now how cool is that?  Not only can we refer to the previous step of our query, we can change that to point to ANY previous step, or type in our own formulas against any previous step!

NOTE:  If your steps have spaces in the, don’t forget to wrap the step name in quotes and then preface it with the # symbol.  If your steps don’t have spaces, then you don’t need to do this.

Okay, so now let’s filter our data.  We’ll start by doing it manually:

  • Click the filter icon on the Date column
  • Select Date Filters –> Custom Filter
  • Set up your filter as follows:

image

Notice that we have to pick the values from the list here.  (Wouldn’t it be cool if we could type in our variable names here?  That would be awesome!)  Regardless, we can set up the filter as we’d expect to use it.  This will filter our list, and leave us with the following formula in the formula bar:

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NOTE:  You can expand the formula bar to show as I have by clicking the little down arrow icon.

Good stuff… now we need to do a little surgery.  Let’s replace the manual dates with our variables:

= Table.SelectRows(Custom1, each [Date] <= MaxDate and [Date] > AfterDate)

If you check the table now, you’ll see that it is filtered down to only contain records between Mar 1, 2014 and Feb 28, 2015.  And better yet, because the variables are created dynamically when the query is run, it will ALWAYS return the most recent rolling 12 months!

Step 5: Pivoting the data back into the original format.

Now we need to put the data back into the format the user wanted.  To do this, we need to pivot it back.

The trick to pivoting in Power Query is to select the column you want to use as the new column headers.  This time it is the Date column.  So…

  • Select the Date column –> Transform –> Pivot Column
  • Change the “Values” column to the one that holds your values (in this case it’s actually called Value)

image

And the result:

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Bingo!  The most recent rolling 12 months of data from our table.

At the point you can click File –> Close & Load, and load it to a table.

Proof Positive

Go and add a new column of data.  You can insert it into the existing table, put it on the end, it really doesn’t matter since Power Query will sort it anyway.  Once you’re done, right click the new table and refresh it, and you’ll find it works nicely.

One minor point of note… in the version I did we’ve actually reversed the column order (the most recent date has moved to the left from the right.)  If we wanted to change that it’s fairly easy too.  Just before we pivot the data back into the pivoted form, just sort it in descending order.

Important Power Query Update Available

At last, the Power Query update I’ve been waiting for has finally landed in the download site.  This is version 2.24, and sets my parameter tables technique back to a working state!

You can download version 2.24 direct from Microsoft’s site by clicking here.

Why is this Power Query Update important?

This Power Query update is pretty important for a few reasons:

  • It fixes the issues with the MultipleUnclassified/Trusted error on refreshing parameter tables (as I blogged about here)
  • If you’re running version 2.22 it also fixes issues with loading to the data model

Does this Power Query Update have any NEW features?

Of course it does!

  • Improvements to ODBC Connector.
  • Navigator dialog improvements.
  • Option to enable Fast Data Load vs. Background Data Load.
  • Support for Salesforce Custom environments in Recent Sources list.
  • Easier parsing of Date or Time values out of a Text column with Date/Time information.
  • Unpivot Other Columns entry in column context menu.

The big thing to me, though, is the Power Query update fixes the critical bug(s) listed above.  If you’re running 2.22 or 2.23 I highly recommend updating.  (And if you’re running an older version I’d update too, as there is new functionality released every month.)

Fix Date Errors

I was teaching a course on Power Query yesterday in which we imported a text file.  Almost immediately, some of my users pointed out that their dates weren’t importing correctly, and we had to cover how to fix date errors right away.

And to underscore the importance of this… this morning I woke up to comments on one of my previous blog posts with similar issues.  I figured it’s time to cover the easy way to fix date errors.

The Symptom

My data came from a text file, and was shown in the following format:

image

As you can see, the data is set up in the Month/Day/Year format.  The issue for the user is that their system is set to a different format… in the case of the users in my class their default windows settings were set to Day/Month/Year, which is the Canadian date format.  When they tried to convert the data from an “any” data type to a date, it messed it up.

The problem comes in to play because many systems export into a MDY format as they were programmed using US date standards.  But with our operating system set to a different format, it tries to interpret dates in the standard set there.  So when importing a text file, it looks at 1/12/2000 and interprets it as Dec 1, 2000, not Jan 12, 2000.

Then it hits a date like 1/13/2000.  Because there is no 13th month, it returns an error.

One of the class attendees brought up an interesting point as I was explaining this… “I thought that dates were just a format on top of a serial number?  So how can it get it wrong”.  He was absolutely correct.  But in this case we are importing data from another source into Excel (via Power Query)… Excel (Power Query) is trying to determine what that date serial number is based on the system settings.  That’s where the issue hits us.

How to fix date errors

At first, you might be tempted to flip the date format in your Windows settings, but that won’t actually help you in the long run.  In fact, in the worst case it may fix the issue for the current import, and blow apart other solutions that you’ve built.  So that’s really not a practical solution.  What we need is a way to tell Power Query what the date settings are for THIS data source.  Fortunately, there is a way to override the date format.  In truth, this doesn’t so much fix date errors, but rather prevents them from occurring in the first place.

What we do is select the column with our dates in it then:

  • Right click the column
  • Choose Change Type –> Using Locale

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(Yeah, I know… this is hardly a term that Excel users are familiar with, but it allows you to force a different regional setting on the data source.)

You’ll then be prompted with a new dialog where you’ll choose the date, then the Locale you want to use to read it:

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The key here is to recognize WHICH locale your data format is emulating.  There are hundreds of countries in this listing.  My guess is that you’re probably going to pick either your own or English (United States) most of the time.  In truth, when working with dates, the country is actually not the important part.  The important part is that you pick a country where the MDY or DMY format is consistent with your data source.

Future Proofing

I’ve been fortunate enough to have to deal with this issue very little in my career.  I generally leave my system in a US English configuration and most of my imports follow the US date standard, so no issue.  But I recognize this as a huge issue for Europeans, as well as any company that conducts business in multiple countries.  In both cases this issue comes up over an over again.

There are two great things about using the “Change Type With Locale” feature:

The first is that it avoids relying on an implicit shortcut, explicitly declaring the source data format.  This is REALLY handy for future proofing.  In Canada, we typically end up with some users in the organization using Canadian standards and some who use US standards (we are a very confused country sometimes.)  By specifically declaring the data type, I know that this solution will continue to work even when I send it to someone who uses a different date standard on their PC.  Why?  Because it’s now defined for the DATA, not the SYSTEM.

The second great thing is that this is a DATA SOURCE SPECIFIC feature.  I can set a different format for each data source used in my solution, allowing me to combine several data sets from different countries and still get it consistent.

Drawbacks/Improvements

One thing that I struggled with is this.  Back in the old text import tool for Excel, we had a nice feature that looked like this when we were setting data types:

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This was fantastic, as I didn’t need to try and figure out which region the data came from, I simply chose the date format that I could see.  While it’s great that we can now exhibit some national pride by choosing our country, that doesn’t always help.  In the case of Canada, I’d bet that if I asked 5 different people what our official data format is, I’d get 5 different answers.

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It would be SO handy if the Power Query team would add some indicator at the end of these options to indicate what the format is.  That would be such an easy change to make here, and SOOOOO useful.  I honestly don’t think I need to care if my setting is set to English Australia/UK/Ireland/Canada/Belize if it gives me interprets my date in the correct MDY order.

(I actually did email this thought to one of the program managers a few days ago.  So hopefully one day we’ll see that change take place.)

MultipleUnclassified/Trusted error

If you’ve been using my fnGetParameter function to build dynamic content into your queries, you may have noticed that passing some variables recently started triggering an error message that reads as follows:

We couldn’t refresh the connection ‘Power Query – Categories’. Here the error message we got:

Query ‘Staging-Categories’ (Step ‘Added Index’) used ‘SingleUnclassified/Trusted/CurrentWorkbook/’ data when last evaluated, but now is attempting to use ‘MultipleUnclassified/Trusted’ data.

If you’re like me, that was promptly followed by cursing and head scratching in the pursuit of a solution.  (I would suggest clicking the “was this information helpful?” link in the bottom of the error, and submitting a “no”.

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As far as I can tell, this error started showing up in Power Query around v 2.21 or so.  (I don’t have an exact version.)  I know that it existed in 2.22 for sure, and still exists in version 2.23.

Triggering the MultipleUnclassified/Trusted error

Triggering the error isn’t difficult, but it does seem to show up out of the blue.  To throw it, I built a solution that uses my fnGetParameter function to read the file path from a cell, and feed it into a query as follows:

let
fPath = fnGetParameter("FilePath"),
    Source = Csv.Document(File.Contents(fPath & "SalesCategories.txt"),null,",",null,1252),
#"First Row as Header" = Table.PromoteHeaders(Source),
#"Changed Type" = Table.TransformColumnTypes(#"First Row as Header",{{"POSPartitionCode", Int64.Type}, {"POSCategoryCode", type text}, {"POSCategoryDescription", type text}, {"POSReportingGroupCode", type text}, {"POSTaxTypeCode", type text}}),
#"Inserted Merged Column" = Table.AddColumn(#"Changed Type", "Lnk_Category", each Text.Combine({Text.From([POSPartitionCode], "en-US"), [POSCategoryCode]}, "-"), type text),
#"Removed Columns" = Table.RemoveColumns(#"Inserted Merged Column",{"POSCategoryCode"}),
#"Added Index" = Table.AddIndexColumn(#"Removed Columns", "Index", 0, 1)
in
#"Added Index"

The killer here is that – when you originally build the query – it works just fine!  But when you refresh it you trigger the error.

Fixing the MultipleUnclassified/Trusted error

There are two options to fix this particular error:

Option 1

The first method to fix this problem is to avoid the fnGetParameter function all together and just hard code the file paths.  While this works, you cut all dynamic capability from the query that you went to the effort of implementing.  In my opinion, this option is awful.

Option 2

If you want to preserve the dynamic nature of the fnGetParameter function, the only way to fix this error today is to perform the steps below in this EXACT order!

  1. Turn on Fast Combine (Power Query –> Options –> Privacy –> Ignore Privacy Levels)
  2. Save the workbook
  3. Close Excel
  4. Restart Excel
  5. Refresh the query

Each of the steps above are critical steps to ensure that transient caches are repopulated with the “fast combine” option enabled – merely setting the “fast combine” option is not enough on its own.

Expected Bug Fix

Microsoft is aware of this, and has been working on a fix.  I believe (although no guarantees), that it should be released in version 2.24.  Given the update schedule in the past, we should see it any day now.  Fingers crossed, as this is just killing my solutions!

I’ll keep checking the Power Query download page and post back when the new version goes live.