The amount of time it takes to learn Power BI will depend largely on your pre-existing experience level working with other data tools like Microsoft Excel, SQL, Tableau or similar products along with how proficient you want to be building out reports in Power BI.
It will take significantly less time to become proficient at building and publishing reports than it is to fully understand Power Query coding, DAX formulas, and Query Optimization with the Vertipaq Engine.
We’ll outline some of the key challenges that people new to Power BI, give some general guidance on how long it takes to become proficient and recommend learning paths of how we would allocate our time.
Table of Contents
Is Power BI Easy to Learn?
Yes, Power BI is incredibly easy to learn and get started with. Most people can import a simple Excel sheet, make some minor modifications and start adding visuals to a report within a few hours. Microsoft even offers courses called Dashboard in a Day that take you from zero to publishing your first report. Because Power BI has so many features and so much flexibility, it can take users anywhere from weeks to become decently proficient to years to fully master all of the capabilities that it has.
It’s one of the reasons that we recommend taking a step back and deciding on whether you want to have a good working knowledge of Power BI or if you want to become a professional developer. We’ll walk through some of the considerations and topics you should be aware of for each.
Topics to Focus on for Power BI
We typically break down learning Power BI into 4 separate sections. In practice each one of these steps interacts with each other and building a dashboard is never a completely linear process. For the sake of breaking down a high-level learning path the primary areas of focus are:
- Data Modeling – Importing and Preparing Data with Power Query
- Report Building – Adding charts, graphs, and visuals to a report
- Publishing & Sharing – Making a report available for others to view, data security, and live data connections
For those that are completely new to Power BI and just wrapping their heads around what it can do, the following video from Guy in a Cube walks through what each one of these components are and does a great job overviewing the platform.
We recommend giving it a watch to understand what each step actually looks like at a high level.
Now let’s talk through some of the factors that influence how long it will take to learn Power BI. We think there are two primary ones, how much related prior experience you have along with how good you want to get at Power BI.
All of these estimates will vary greatly from person to person, there’s no exact timeframe of how long it takes an individual to learn Power BI or any other topic.
How Long Does Learning Power BI Take?
How long it takes to learn Power BI largely depends on your pre-existing skillset and your reasons for learning the platform. A brand-new user with little experience with data can learn to build a simple dashboard in as little as a day, Getting to an intermediate level of proficiency can take weeks and Expert Power BI Developers can spend years honing their skills in dashboard creation, data modeling, and gaining proficiency in related systems.
Power BI is fairly quick to learn at a functional level to go from zero to building your first dashboard. If you’re already familiar with other business intelligence tools and data concepts it can take even less time to learn. While certainly not necessary, some of the skillsets that we’ve seen people have that tend to reduce the learning curve include:
- Microsoft Excel – Power BI is typically the next tool in the progression from Excel, understanding spreadsheets will help, if you already user Power Pivot, Power Query or Get & Transform it will help a lot.
- SQL and Databases – Many concepts in Power BI are similar such as data types, pivoting, summarizing, and joining tables are similar to SQL but done in a low code way.
- Other Business Intelligence Tools – If you’ve ever used Tableau, Qlik or Alteryx it will be a quick transition. Many of the concepts will be the same, but the syntax for formulas and buttons will be different.
Even without any relevant similar experience, don’t be discouraged. Many of these skillsets are helpful but not necessary. Power BI is an extremely easy tool to get started with and it’s a matter of how deep into it you want to go.
Example Timeline Based Experience
The following estimates breakdown Power BI into several sections and list the learning curve depending on how much prior experience you have.
|Background||Data Modeling (Hours)||Report Building (Hours)||Publishing & Sharing (Hours)||Total Time (Hours)|
|BI Tool User (Tableau, Qlik, etc.)||2-6||3-8||4-8||9-22|
|College Student (Business/CS)||10-20||10-20||6-12||26-52|
When coming up with our estimates, we are making several assumptions. One of which is that a complete beginning and a college student will have different levels of familiarity with business and what each department does.
Learning the technical side of Power BI, knowing which buttons to push which formulas to write can be only half of the battle. Understanding the reporting context of what you’re putting together can add additional time to the learning process because it’s extremely helpful to understand the why of what you’re trying to present and communicate.
- Complete Beginner – Assumes no prior experience with data modeling, BI tools, or any kind of data analytics.
- Excel User – Assumes proficiency in Excel but not necessarily any other BI or data modeling tools.
- SQL User – Assumes proficiency in SQL, familiarity with data types, and data modeling
- BI Tool User – Assumes experience with other BI tools like Tableau or QlikView.
- College Student – Assumes general exposure to business concepts or computer science but not necessarily hands-on experience with BI tools.
The time frames are rough estimates and can vary based on individual aptitude, focus, and the complexity of the projects tackled during the learning process.
Purpose for Learning Power BI
The second factor for the amount of time it takes to learn Power BI will depend on what your end goal is. If you’re a business user looking to throw together some reports to automate them and save time during your day it won’t take as long as pursuing a career in professional Power BI development.
Professional developers will be expected to have a greater depth of knowledge and know more about the behind-the-scenes inter-workings of the platform to write efficient code and work with extra-large datasets.
Here are some example timelines of how long it would take to learn some common Power BI skills from Beginner to intermediate and expert.
|Skill Level||Power BI Skills||Estimated Time Required (Hours)|
|Beginner||Importing Data from Excel||0.5 – 1|
|Basic Data Prepping||4 -12|
|Creating Simple Dashboards||3 – 12|
|Basic Report Sharing||0.5 – 4|
|Intermediate||Importing Data from Multiple Sources||4 – 6|
|Advanced Data Transformation||6 – 8|
|Creating Interactive Dashboards||8 – 20|
|Scheduled Refresh Setup||1 – 2|
|Advanced||Setting up Power BI Gateways||3 – 8|
|Complex DAX Queries||30 – 60|
|Power Query M||20 – 40|
|Expert||Working with Big Data, Embedded, IOT Streams||10-14|
|Power BI API Usage||10-14|
As you’re looking at these, you might think the task seems extremely daunting. Luckily, very few people sit down to learn everything about Power BI all at once. We recommend starting with some quick wins and going from there. It’s always easier to get started and gain experience over time then to try and learn it all at once.
Astute readers will notice that this table doesn’t tie back to the first table, and that’s on purpose. Some topics are quicker to learn at a functional level to produce a report or two while it takes longer to see different permutations of data and data models to become more adept in that specific area.
Be Wary of Estimates and Training Courses
When researching this article, we came across a site that recommended setting aside 1 day to install Power BI. We’ll repeat that, 1 day to install Power BI. That’s ridiculous, you can Google download Power BI go to the site and have it up and running in 15 minutes.
Which brings us to pointing out that all estimates are just that.
Power BI is really an easy platform to download and get started with. There are numerous free and paid resources online that can help guide you with structured learning, or you can start with an existing business process that uses an Excel sheet, import the data into Power BI and get things going within a couple of hours.
We’ll introduce some resources to think about on your learning journey.
Resources to Learn Power BI
Here are some thoughts on resources that are available to learn Power BI. There’s everything from inexpensive video courses, to books, to live classes available.
- Books – There are lots of great books to guide you through starting with Power BI and specialized DAX Guides. Check out our round-up of some of the best Power BI books for all skill levels.
- Online Courses – Google Power BI Online Training and a million results will come up at different lengths and price points. Udemy is usually a decent resource for inexpensive training courses, they often have coupons that make it really inexpensive to sign up for a structured course. We would skip super long classes, you shouldn’t need hundreds of hours of training to get started.
- Google / YouTube – YouTube has a number of free videos to help you get started and build your first dashboard. It’s also great for times when you get stuck.
- Microsoft Dashboard in a Day – Microsoft offers their own training class for Power BI, you can register for a live session or download the material for self paced learning. Dashboard in a Day Power BI Training | Microsoft Power BI
One of the best features of Power BI is the community of support around it and the number of online resources available to help you learn and fix problems when you get stuck.
Power BI is an easy tool to learn but can take a long time to master. Most people should be able to go from zero to putting together a functional dashboard in about a day of focused effort. It takes a decent amount more time to learn the nuances of data modeling and creating visualizations because many of them are only used when a specific situation comes up.
At 40 – 80 hours, or the equivalent of one to two concentrated work weeks most people will be able to build out functioning dashboards and utilize the most common features of Power BI with relative ease.
People looking to become professional developers will need to learn a really wide range of skillsets and have a great depth of knowledge related specifically to Power BI that can take considerably longer to internalize. Even with formal training, the real value comes with experience that comes with lots of trial, error and time.