imageOne of the Power BI Community’s Earliest Visionaries

We recently received some very sad news:  the world lost Mike Miskell, one of the absolute-best humans I’ve ever met, a little over a week ago.  All of the standard phrases apply here for sure.  Too soon.  Tragic.  Shocking.  But that’s not what I’m here to talk about today.

Instead, I simply want to honor a truly amazing person and friend.  Right now there is a fantastic family in NY/CT who should be celebrating Thanksgiving with their fantastic husband and father, and instead they are mourning his sudden passing.

If we, or I, can do anything to help them today, it would be to tell his story through our lens.  Through MY lens, more specifically, but everyone here at P3 who knew him had EXACTLY the same sort of experience with him, so please consider my take to be representative.

When we formed this company in 2013, Mike (in his role at Kaman Industrial, a billion-dollar plus in annual revenue, publicly-traded firm) was the first person to hire us for an enterprise-level project.  To this day, “the Kaman Story” is one of the five client stories I tell basically everywhere I go.

One of Mike’s Favorite Quotes
(And SUPER appropriate for the kinds of things he and his team have accomplished with Power BI since 2013)

In 2013, the C-level executives at Kaman had tasked Mike with the single most-critical project on their entire radar.  They needed to get better at pricing their products, to rein in a “margin erosion” problem.  This was easier said than done.  It didn’t just require them to “get smarter.”  It also required them to drive behavior change across hundreds of people, each of which needed to make many difficult and time-sensitive decisions every day.  All of those decisions – thousands per day – needed to be made slightly better in order for the overall needle to move.  And he had this WILD idea that this new Power Pivot thing might represent a path to a solution.  Crazy insightful for 2013!

And in the end, all we did was help Kaman’s stock price go up.  Yawn.  All in a day’s (well, two months’) work for Mike.

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Yeah…  I know…  correlation is not causation.  But don’t underestimate what someone like Mike can do.

“The Wolf”

As I got to know Mike, I learned that this was par for the course:  when there was a big problem, the execs called Mike.  I’d spent most of my career up until that point safely ensconced in the software engineering trenches, far from the executive levels, and it was downright fascinating to watch Mike operate.  He had a serious and formal job title at the time – Director of Process Improvement, which honestly sounded pretty boring to me.  But that was just a title.  Because hey, to run in Mike’s world of industrial distribution and manufacturing, you NEEDED a serious and sober job title.

But his REAL role was “The Fixer.”  Got a big problem?  Seems impossible to solve?  Put Mike on it.  He solves anything.  And then comes back for more.  Everyone knew that.

And this got me thinking about Winston Wolf, the “fixer” from Pulp Fiction.

via GIPHY

Mike didn’t strike me as a Pulp Fiction fan (in fact he’d never seen it), but he LOVED the comparison when I shared it with him.  Embraced it.  Had fun with it.

He even got a chuckle about me bad-photoshopping his face over Harvey Keitel’s and then publishing it for thousands to see:

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From the Oct 2014 Post, “Winston Wolf Has Job For You

Thanks to the things we learned working with Mike, “The Wolf” became a Favorite Client Archetype for us over the years, as we met a number of other Executive-Level Fixers, each with their own distinct job title but a very similar “real” role.

But Mike was the first, and he was always so generous with his time and thoughts, it ALLOWED us to learn about “Wolves.”

Never say “my tech can beat up your tech.”

ROB:  “So Mike, we all know Power BI is gonna replace Cognos as the official BI tool at Kaman…”

MIKE:  <smiling> “No not at all!  There are things Cognos does better than Power BI, and things Power BI does better than Cognos, and we’re just gonna keep using each tool for its strengths.”

ROB:  <laughing> “Yeah yeah yeah, excellent politician-speak.  But there’s no one here but the two of us!  You can level with me!  Cognos is going away and we both know it!”

MIKE:  <still smiling, not the least flustered>  “No no no, Rob…  these tools are very different.”

ROB:  <laughing harder>  “Yep they’re different, one is just better, we both know it, so why won’t you break character???”

MIKE: <triumphantly>  “Break character???  My dear sir I’m afraid I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

<two years pass>

MIKE:  “Hey Rob guess what!  They just put me in charge of ALL the BI at Kaman, and you know what?  I think we might retire Cognos!!!

ROB:  “You’re a cagey veteran Mike and I’m gonna make sure we never become opponents.”

imageOne of my favorite Mike stories played out over the course of YEARS.  It was an ongoing inside joke of sorts.  Kaman had long been using a traditional BI tool called Cognos.  The Margin Scorecard project that we built with Kaman was originally “given” to the Cognos team to address, and said Cognos team had cried uncle (because hey, traditional BI doesn’t work, no matter which software vendor you chose).

So Cognos was still the answer for Kaman, for everything EXCEPT the Margin Scorecard, which we built in Power Pivot.  And the smashing success of said scorecard, well…  I’m sure that surprised the Cognos team just a bit.  I suspect they were betting “if we can’t do it, neither can so-called Modern Excel.”  In their shoes, I would have been surprised too!

This created a tension behind the scenes at Kaman – the age-old “but we have an official BI tool, please stop using that newfangled interloper tool” tension.  And the way Mike navigated that…  I will forever be in his debt, because I never saw things quite the same after watching him manage that situation.

Every time I saw Mike, I’d needle him about this situation, and every time, it went down as illustrated above.  I could always see the glimmer in his eye, even as he denied.  He knew.  He agreed.  But he ALSO knew that it would never help ANYONE to say such a thing out loud.  It drove me nuts that he wouldn’t “level” with me, but he was doing both of us a major service, longer-term.

“Never try to convince anyone that Power BI is a better tool than other tools, even if YOU believe it.  Instead, just go build something that was otherwise impossible, and KEEP delivering the impossible, without EVER picking a fight with the proponents of the other tools.  Tell them you’re happy to switch to their tool of choice as soon as they’re ready to duplicate what you’ve built in Power BI.  They’ll never get around to it of course, but in the meantime, no one is served by picking a fight.”

-One of our company’s core recommendations, learned by watching Mike.

I’ll leave you with a few quick additional Mike stories…

Even Fixes Faxes!

On one of my visits to Kaman HQ, I witnessed Mike debugging a Fax Server of all things.  Not just ANY fax server, of course, but one that sent and received hundreds per day as part of the customers’ ordering process.  So, huge crisis?  Has nothing to do with BI or Analytics?  Yep, Mike’s on it.  I’d known him for years at this point and I was still laughing in admiration as he rallied the troops to solve a deep and hairy tech problem that he himself knew ZERO about…  and yet, I watched him untangle the web of people and problems and get it mitigated.

Speaks at Conferences!

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Mike and I Gave a Talk About the Margin Scorecard Project Together in 2014 Smile

Hosted a “Private Summit” With Microsoft in 2014!

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Yeah.  Mike Co-Organized a Private Summit Between Us, Some of Our Other “Wolf” Clients, and the Engineering Leaders from Microsoft

Happy Trails, Mr. Wolf

We’re all fond of the hand-drawn art style here, even when it means hybridizing several images into one.  So it was only fitting to “commission” one such piece for our good friend Mike:

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Happy Trails to a Fabulous Colleague and Friend

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Rob Collie

One of the founding engineers behind Power Pivot during his 14-year career at Microsoft, and creator of the world’s first cloud Power Pivot service, Rob is one of the foremost authorities on self-service business intelligence and next-generation spreadsheet technology. 

This Post Has 12 Comments

  1. Thanks for great stories and a great lesson (i.e. don’t pick fights) and my condolences to Mike’s family and the P3 team.

  2. Just so, so sad. Mike had me out to CT to visit with Kaman earlier this year — got to enjoy some great meals and company — including Mike’s wonderful wife, for whom my heart breaks.

    Not only did Mike “get it” in terms of Agile BI — but his ability to lead a charge was impressive. All his people work hard cuz Mike works VERY hard. And when questioned the answer was always “Kaman has given my family a good life — if there is some way I can give back to Kaman, why wouldn’t I do that?”

    At PASS BA con about 3 years ago there must have been 10 excel ninjas drinking on Mike’s dime. It was super fun, and Mike loved it and you could just sense… he felt a bunch of excel nerds hanging out with Kaman folks could only help the long term success of BI project at Kaman. Such a great time and great man.

    My thoughts are with the many lives he touched.

  3. Rob, my heart goes out to you and his family. I’ll never forget having the honor and privilege of sitting at your table with him and Matt. I’m forever grateful for the opportunity and the tough love you delivered afterward. It was pivotal.

  4. Rob, Your message about Mike was awesom. I was blessed to know and work with Mike for over 30 years and you very much captured the essence of who he was and how he would approach the challenges (opportunities he would say) which came his way. I will miss him treamendouely. Mike very much valued not only your knowledge Rob but also your friendship. Take care. Sincerely, Don

    1. Thank you Don. It’s amazing to me in retrospect how many of us interacted with him. Today someone from Microsoft reached out to offer condolences, for instance – someone who met Mike through us and corresponded with him over the years.

      How does one fill a Mike-sized hole, professionally or personally? Impossible.

  5. Thank you Rob on behalf of Stephanie, Kyle and myself for a wonderful tribute to a great man. Michael spoke of you often. I would tease him about his “pixels”. It is fulfilling to know others saw Michael’s ability as a “fixer”. That’s what he loved to do and was excellent at it, whether at home or work. He possessed great integrity, fierce loyalty, and humbleness. Michael’s life was about giving to others and how he could help, it was never about him. Thank you all for your kind comments.

    Bonnie, Kyle and Stephanie Miskell

    1. Oh Bonnie, thank you for stopping by. We never met but I did speak with you on Mike’s speakerphone in his car one time. He had that ledge in his car that magically supported a phone without any mounting hardware…

      Mike’s support and faith was crucial to our fledgling business at the very beginning, and I like to think we lived up to it.

      And it’s CRAZY how much I learned from him. Just watching him operate. 12 days ago I was speaking with a mutual acquaintance of ours (someone Mike met) the other day about holding a P3 Summit this year, and wanted Mike and the acquaintance to be the headliners of the event, but hadn’t had time to reach out to Mike yet. So even now, a couple years after we last worked directly together, we feel the lack. There’s going to be a void.

      I am so sorry for your loss, and hope that this helped in some small way.

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