Archive for Requirements

Questions Answered From Presentation (Part 2): Creating SSRS Reports Efficiently Through Best Practices

On Tuesday, March 3rd, 2015, I had the privilege of speaking for Pragmatic Works. For the month of March, they are highlighting Women in Tech and have the whole month lined up with female speakers on each Tuesday and Thursday. I was the first in the line up for the month and it ended up being my largest audience to date. There were 419 people listening in. I even saw some comments about there being others who couldn’t make it. Wow

Thanks to everyone who came to listen to my session. While I couldn’t hear anyone, I enjoyed reading the questions and comments that were sent to me afterwards, and let me tell you there were quite a few. Below you can find the answers to SECOND HALF of the questions that were asked. The first half of the questions can be found here.

Questions Answered

1. How do you make the report to see test database or production db or development db?

This is done by changing the data source properties. Say I have a database server called Monkey. I would create a shared data source called Monkey that each of the reports would share. On the Development SSRS Server, I would have the Monkey data source point to the development database. On the QA server, I would have the Monkey data source point to the QA database. And on the Production server, I would have the Monkey data source point to the production database. Each time the report is loaded into the new environment, it would automatically point to the correct database server.

If you are in a situation, where environments have to share a SSRS report manager (and I’m sorry if you are in that situation), then I would create a separate parent folder for each environment. For instance a parent folder called Development and a parent folder called QA. In each of these parent folders, I would create a folder for all your shared data sources for that environment. Each parent folder would have its own copy of the report and its own shared data source called Monkey pointing to the correct database.

2. When copyrighting, does your company need to be registered with the copyright office?

The answer to this question should come from your legal department. Through my experience, the answer is no. Copyright laws are different than patent laws. When I was an artist, the fact I made the artwork first, meant I owned the copyright. Even in another country.

3. Query for getting reports that have not been run.






ReportServer.dbo.Catalog AS c

LEFT JOIN [ReportServer].[dbo].[ExecutionLog3] AS e ON c.[Path] = e.ItemPath


e.ItemPath IS NULL

AND Path NOT LIKE '/Decommisioned Reports%' --Ignore folders I don't care about.

AND c.Type NOT IN (1, 5, 8) -- Ignore Folders, Data Sources, and Data Sets




4. How did you add the template file in Visual studio?

For SSRS 2012, I put the RDL, RSD, and RDS files in the following directory: C:\Program Files (x86)\Microsoft Visual Studio 10.0\Common7\IDE\PrivateAssemblies\ ProjectItems\ReportProject. The directory will be different for 2008 and 2014.

5. What if a company doesn’t have any procedure for gathering requirements and creating/keeping documentation?

This puts you in the driver position. I would suggest meeting with your manager to discuss the benefits of having requirements documentation and a standard way of maintaining the documentation. I would then outline a plan for starting on this new path. I would start with new reports, and slowly add in existing reports as they get modified.

Awesome quote from one of the attendees:
I ask “what the decision is going to be taken with the data from the report”

6. How do you know the width to fit on landscape and portrait nicely?

I like half inch margins. So I subtract the two half inch margins from the width of the landscape or portrait paper. That becomes the width of the base report. I also set the half inch margins in the Margin property of the Report.

7. Could you show an example of a Tracking Number?

Sure! If I were using an Excel spreadsheet to keep track of my reports, I would number all my reports starting with 1000. (Why 1000? I like starting with 4 digits. No other reason.) If I were using a product like Team Foundation Server (TFS), then I would have each report represented by a work item. In either case, say the report named National Sales Revenue was represented by the number 1500. 1500 would always represent the report National Sales Revenue.

The first time this report is successfully published to production, it would be given a “release number” of 00. So the tracking number would look like 01500.00. After modifications were made to the report and republished to production, it would get a new release number of 01. The new tracking number would look like 01500.01.

In the location where I store all my documents for my reports, the report National Sales Revenue, will be stored under the number 01500. I usually add the name of the report to the folder name so that it looks something like 01500 – National Sales Revenue. This allows for two things. One, you can create the folder before you have a permanent title. (The temporary folder name would just be 01500.) Two, if the title changes later for some reason, you don’t lose the documentation location. It’s still under 01500.

8. What methodology do you use to create the Tracking Number or is it automatically generated from TFS?

When I’m using TFS, it is automatically generated for me. TFS uses a single sequential string of numbers across all the work item types (task, bug, custom work item, etc.), so you may have a report with number 1500, and then the next report will be number 1583. I do put a leading zero or two in front of the number so that when it goes two 5 digits, my folders are still in the correct order.

9. How do you put in the watermark?

a. Click on the base report.

b. Go to the properties window.

c. Click and open the BackgroundImage property.

d. Set the BackgroundRepeat property to repeat.

e. Set the MIMEType property to the correct format.

f. If you are using an Embedded image, set the following properties.

i. Source = Embedded

ii. Value = iif(First(Fields!EnvironmentID.Value, “GetReportStandards”) <3,”DRAFT”,””)

g. If you are using an image from the database, set the following properties.

i. Source = Database

ii. Value =iif(First(Fields!EnvironmentID.Value, “GetReportStandards”) <3,First(Fields!Draft.Value, “GetReportStandards”),””)

h. If you are using an image from a server location, set the following properties.

i. Source = External

ii. Value =iif(First(Fields!EnvironmentID.Value, “GetReportStandards”) <3,”location of your image”,””)

10. If a report is setup as a subscription, how can I tell if the subscribers are actually using/accessing the report?

This is an excellent question. The ReportServer Database will tell us which reports were executed through a subscription, but it cannot tell us if they were used. I have some ideas on ways to still capture the information, but they would require research and extra layers of complexity. If you want to hear about these ideas, send me an email.

Awesome idea from one of the attendees:
Maybe we should add a “pixel tag” to the report so that hits a web server which can track access.

11. This is not the question you are looking for. Move along. Move along.

12. Is there any way to handle the row hight dynamically in Excel output where include the merged cells? (Can grow does work with merged cells)

I don’t know a definitive answer to this question, but my inclination is to say no. Dynamically changing row height/width outside of the auto grow properties, is usually not possible. I have found ways around this by providing multiple layouts of columns/rows and hiding the ones I don’t want.

13. How can you use a business glossary to develop your label and be consistent across reports?

This question is a big one. The simple answer, is you need buy in from the business to make it happen and discipline from the entire team to make it successful. I would suggest you look into the topics for Data Governance, Business Semantics glossary, and Conceptual Data Modeling. These areas are what would help create and drive the business glossary from the very beginning, so that by the time you are ready to create a report, the terms already exist.

If you can’t get buy in yet, or ever, then I would suggest creating your own business glossary. Excel would work and is easily searchable. Make sure it is stored where your whole team can update it and use it.

14. Any major changes to SSRS 2014?

No. You can see the changes from version to version here. Just select the version you want to look at from the “other versions” drop down at the top of the article.

15. Can you tell what format they placed it in? PDf Excel

The Format Field in the ExecutionLog3 view will give you that information. Here is an example looking at the rendered format of a subscription.












RequestType = 'subscription'

AND ItemAction = 'Render'

16. How long did it take you to build this framework?

It took me a couple of years. I started by tracking down all the reports and entering them in an Excel spreadsheet. My manager wanted a more permanent solution that could be shared with others, so I was given time to create a custom Report Work Item in TFS. I then moved the whole catalog there and decommissioned the Excel based catalog.

For the requirements and design document, I slowly saw a pattern of questions that I kept asking, so I designed a requirements document and tweaked it over time.

For my report templates, I looked at existing reports. I took the consistent layouts I found, filled in some things I felt were missing like showing the parameters, and created the templates. They stayed pretty consistent over the years.

17. Is there a way to find out the limit of data export to Excel? We used to have reports which we can view, but time out when exporting to Excel. The limit is per size of other Excel or number of rows?

The limit will be how long it takes to do the export. There is a time limit and it if the export is not accomplished in that time frame, then it will time out. This can be changed with settings in the Report Manager. As far as the amount of data Excel can take, I would Google that, since different versions have different limits.

18. What’s better to use stored procedure or embedded SQL query and how to determine that?

This is an excellent question. This is also a highly debatable discussion, so this is my stance on the topic.

I prefer stored procedures for the following reasons:

  • Stored procedures are easier to modify when they need to be optimized. It is easier to track down a stored procedure in the cache plan than an inline SQL Statement in a report. You also only need to deploy the updated stored procedure back to production, not the report.
  • Dynamic queries are more likely to be classified as an “Adhoc query” by SQL Server. Depending how your SQL Server properties are set, the Execution Plan may never be kept in the cache, which means you will always have the overhead of creating the best Execution Plan.
  • On the reverse, if your SQL Server properties are set to handle Adhoc queries, then you can cause unnecessary bloating in your cache plan since every embedded query with different parameter values will be seen as a different query. That is not true of Stored Procedures….unless they have dynamic SQL inside them.

19. Would you recommend some sort of standards for Data Source Names?

I’m in favor of standards for everything. It satisfies my OCD needs. I keep all my data sources in one folder called either “Data Sources” or “DataSources”, depending if you like spaces in names. For the names, my data source names are the same name as the database they represent. If you have multiple databases with the same name in your production environment, then I would suggest adding the server name to the data source name. You want the Data Source names to represent what they are pointing to.

Name data sets the same way. I use the name of the stored procedure as the name of the data set. If you have the same stored procedure name in different Schemas, then I would include the Schema name in the data set name.

20. How to deploy the SSRS reports using TFS auto build?

I haven’t had the pleasure of using this feature. I unfortunately had to write a deployment document so that the report(s) could be deployed manually.

21. Can you mention the bug again with 2008 R2 with concatenated fields in excel prints?

Sure. In the footer of the report, I had a single textbox that had multiple fields in it. When the report was exported as an Excel document, the textbox was created in the footer of the Excel document, but the font size had been increased to 72 PT font. This bug did not occur on all of our servers.

22. All these best practices are good. I would like to see some more of practical on how to create hierarchies and links and other stuff, maybe in next webinar.

Please, please, please email me what you would like to see in sessions. I am always looking for ideas.

I have an example of a way to handle a hierarchy in my other Pragmatic Works session called: Scalable SSRS Reports Achieved Through the Powerful Tablix.

You can look at my recorded presentations page to see a list of presentations that have been recorded.

You can also look on my 2015 Speaking Engagements to see where I will be speaking or hope to be speaking this year.

23. No Russian Thank you? 🙁


Thanks for all the fish

Thanks go out to everyone who attended the presentation and for the patience of those who waited two weeks for me to answer the second half of the questions.

This is me sitting at a local café with my oldest daughter while I write, she studies, and we both drink flat white coffee. (This week she was working on an essay about Frankenstein and an exegetical essay for another class.  I’ll stick to SQL and SSRS.)
Mar 2015 Victoria and Me at Cafe

Questions Answered From Presentation (Part 1): Creating SSRS Reports Efficiently Through Best Practices

This past Tuesday, March 3rd, 2015, I had the privilege of speaking for Pragmatic Works. For the month of March, they are highlighting Women in Tech and have the whole month lined up with female speakers on each Tuesday and Thursday. I was the first in the line up for the month and it ended up being my largest audience to date. There were 419 people listening in. I even saw some comments about there being others who couldn’t make it. Wow

Thanks to everyone who came to listen to my session. While I couldn’t hear anyone, I enjoyed reading the questions and comments that were sent to me afterwards, and let me tell you there were quite a few. Below you can find the answers to HALF the questions that were asked. The other half of the questions will be answered next weekend.

Questions Answered

1. The number one question that was asked was: Will your documents, like your requirements document, be available?

Yes! You can find all the assets to the presentation under the Resources\Presentation menu on my website. I list all my presentation on this page, so just scroll to the correct presentation title.

I did get some comments about my SSRS templates missing. That has been fixed. Here are the three separate downloads:

If you missed the presentation, don’t worry. Pragmatic Works will be adding it to their catalog of past presentations here.

2. Hey, can you please share us that sample database?

I’m not sure which sample database this was pertaining to. Please email me.

3.  Would you give that mock up tool again?

It’s called Balsamiq. They are a wonderful company with a great user support forum. You can find tons of templates on their website and get your feet wet with a trial version.

4. Do you have any scripting that can be used to see what subscriptions are set up using all the various parameters?

I broke this question up into two questions because I wasn’t clear if you wanted existing subscriptions or executed subscriptions.


The ExecutionLog3 view in the report server database will have this information for you. You can filter the data on the RequestType field to show you only subscriptions. The Format field will tell you how it was rendered and the Parameters field will tell you what all the parameters were set too. The down side, is they use special escape characters, so you’ll have to decipher it.

@StartDate DATETIME = '03/1/2015'
,@EndDate DATETIME = '04/5/2015'

ItemPath NOT LIKE '/DataSets/%'
AND TimeStart >= @StartDate
AND TimeStart <= @EndDate
AND RequestType = 'Subscription'
AND ItemPath <> 'Unknown'


For existing subscriptions, you can look in the Subscriptions table in the ReportServer database. This lists the subscriptions that are set up, how they will be rendered, and the parameter values that will be used as well as other information.

5. Is there is way to bulk change the owner of a subscription? We have people leave and then when their account is deleted, the subscriptions stop working.

I’ve been asked this before. The information is stored in the ReportServer database, but I am always cautious about directly modifying this database. So , if you change it, then test it heavily  in development before applying the changes to production.

To help with this problem in the future, I would recommend a new standard. All subscriptions should be directed to Active Directory distribution lists. Even if the distribution list has only one person in it. I try to use existing distribution lists, but when I can’t, then I work with the Active Directory Admin (or whoever wears that hat). You could make a distribution list for a specific title, position, or category of people. I also made sure the description on the distribution list was filled out and included something like, “Do not delete this distribution list. It is used for subscriptions.”

6. What tool do you use for your report catalog?

There are several ways to create a report catalog. I started with an Excel document. After I outgrew that, I ended up creating a custom work item in TFS (Team Foundation Server). This allowed me to catalog the report, keep track of the workflow as the report went through its life cycle, and associate work items and bugs to the report.

Here is a blog post by Ted Gustaf on creating custom Workflows in TFS 2010.

7. Don’t you think that its better to get the Requirements and have them sign off on That ?? Prior to a Mock Up ?

Yes, it would save us some work too. Unfortunately, I found that the end users have a hard time verbalizing what they actually want. I find that the changes they request after seeing the mock-ups are not normally based on scope creep, but on the way they verbalized their needs when they initially gave them. This can be due to them not understanding what they really want, to them, assuming we know their data as well as they do. By creating the mockup, they have something tangible to look at. It’s analogous to telling a realtor that you want a three bedroom house, but the first one they show you is not what you were looking for. Now that you’ve seen the house, you can better articulate what you really want in a house.

8. Did you discuss the data quality requirements with your customers?

This is a very good question, and a delicate one. Some customers are very glad you bring this question up, and some customers assume all the data is accurate and will become concerned with past reports if they think the data is “dirty”.

Here are some scenarios and how I handled them. 

  • I was replacing an existing report that had bad data. This is an example of a delicate situation. My manager ended up coming with me to the meeting and backing me up. I showed samples of raw data under both reports and explained why the data was inaccurate before. Always save the explanation and data in an easy to locate place because they will be back asking again why a previous report is so different than a current report.
  • I had to aggregate data based on key phrases in a text field. This is an example where the customer is expecting to have a dialog about the quality of the data found. I spent some time looking at the raw data that did not match her phrases exactly and provided recommendations on additional phrases.
  • One of the requirements I was given for a report was based on ranges of numbers. For this report, I approached my client about the data I found that did not fall into the ranges he was expecting. In this case, it uncovered the need to validate the data when it was entered, so the client was grateful.

The bottom line is, be careful how and to whom you bring this question up to. It is a very important question and should always be addressed. It just may need to be addressed by your team instead of with the client, directly with the client, or in a very subtle manner with the client.

9. How do you place the Tablix color palette in the template form? And, could you provide, in your blog, info about Microsoft’s suggested methods of maintaining tracking info.

Below are the steps for creating a “color palette” on a new template. For your second question, I don’t know if there is an article from Microsoft for best practices on tracking info. In next weeks post, I have examples of how I did it.

Steps for adding your own color palette to a template

  • Add a table control (Tablix) to the body of a new report.
  • Remove the header row.
  • Make sure there is a column for each color in your color palate.
  • Make the width of each cell 0.2 in.
  • Change the background property of each cell to the name or hexadecimal value of your colors. is a really cool website that can be used to create a color palette from an image.

Awesome quote from one of the attendees:
A formal report request process gives the requestor an opportunity to think closely about what is really wanted. Does not force it to happen, but increases the likelihood that a good and complete request will be done.

10. What do you use for Version Control?

I have used both Team Foundation Server (TFS) by Microsoft and Subversion, which is an open source product. There are a few versions of Subversion out there. I used the Tortoise version.

For maintaining my SQL source code easily, I also use Redgate’s SQL Source Control product. It’s like a bridge between your repository (TFS, Subversion, etc.) and SSMS. I am happy to talk to anyone on Redgate’s products. Just send me an email. (No, I don’t work for them. I’m just addicted to their products.)

11. Is it better to use Visual Studios of Report Builder?

Better is not the word I would use. More Powerful is the adjective I would use. Report Builder only has a subset of features that you have in Visual Studio. It was designed to empower “power users” and to provide “self service BI solutions”. If you are designing reports all the time, I would highly recommend using Visual Studio. To see the power of what you can do in Visual Studio, take a look at my Scalable SSRS Reports Achieved Through the Powerful Tablix. It’s recorded on Pragmatic Works website.

Here’s some additional terminology for you with regards to the different versions of Visual Studio. The version that comes with SQL Server is all that you need to design reports. For SQL Server 2012 and 2014 it’s called SQL Server Data Tools and commonly referred to as SSDT. For SQL Server 2008 and 2008R2 it was called Business Intelligence Development Studio and commonly referred to as BIDS.

12. What’s the major difference of standalone SSRS and the SSRS on SharePoint server?

I have never worked with the SharePoint version of SSRS. From what I know, the major difference is how the metadata for the management of the reports is stored in SQL Server. The SharePoint tables are used instead of the ReportServer database. I don’t think the creation of the reports is any different.

13. Can excel templates be imported or easily developed so that if I export to excel it looks like the data came from excel?

I’m not aware of the ability to bring in an Excel templates as an SSRS template. If the user exports the report using the Excel render type instead of the CSV render type, then the report should look like it came from Excel. You might need to email me an image of what you are trying to accomplish for me to answer this question better.

Next weekend I will answer the rest of the questions from this presentation.

Thanks for all the fish

Thanks go out to Liz Hamilton at Pragmatic Works for moderating my presentation. She is wonderful to work with and I loved the movie trivia that she did prior to the presentation.

This is me sitting at a local café with my oldest daughter sorting, compiling, and answering questions. (I think she’s doing Latin homework. I’ll stick to SQL andSSRS.)Cafe201503

T-SQL Tuesday #56 – Starting Off With Assumptions

Dev Nambi (b|t) is hosting this month’s T-SQL Tuesday blog party. The party was started by Adam Machanic (b|t) in December of 2009. This month’s invitation is on the topic of Assumptions. Dev gave some great examples for possible T-SQL Tuesday posts with Assumptions as the focus. Here is the invitation:

For this T-SQL Tuesday, the topic is assumptions. For example:

  • The sun will come up tomorrow.
  • Firewalls and anti-virus are enough to protect my computer.
  • My backups work even if I don’t restore them.
  • I don’t need to check for that error, it’ll never happen.

Your assignment for this month is to write about a big assumption you encounter at work, one that people are uncomfortable talking about. Every team has an elephant in the room.

This is a great topic, but I want to take this in another direction. I want to talk about the assumptions that should be stated at the beginning of a project.

In the Beginning

When we start a new project, we are given requirements. You might be laughing at me and saying, “Mickey, I’m never given proper requirements. I just get an email with a couple of sentences or I’m told verbally what to go do.” Well, while I agree that an email or a verbal assignment is a crappy way to be given requirements, if that is what you have, then that is what you have.

The good news is, you don’t have to leave it at that. No matter how bad of a writer you think you are, if you can expand on what little information you are given, then you will be better off in the end. And this is where assumptions come in.

1. something taken for granted; a supposition: a correct assumption. Synonyms: presupposition; hypothesis, conjecture, guess, postulate, theory.
4. the act of taking possession of something: the assumption of power. Synonyms: seizure, appropriation, usurpation, arrogation.
Covering your behind with assumptions

Whenever I’m given an assignment, whether it is in a full blown requirements document (angels get their wings when this happens), or when I’m given some vague guidelines, I always create additional documentation. Sometimes this documentation is for me. Sometimes it is for my teammates. Sometimes it is used only as a discussion point in a meeting. No matter who the documentation is for, I always include a section called Assumptions. This section is at the beginning of the document and it lists all the elephants in the room that no one wants to look at. Sometimes these elephants are actually really drunk. (Those also get listed under a different section called Risks.)

You should list all the various pieces of information that you think are important, but are missing from what you were given. This information could be facts that you need, such as all dates will be based on UTC time. Or it could be tasks such as a new web service needs to be built by another team.

Some of your assumptions might be wrong. That is not a bad thing to have happen. If you hadn’t listed XYZ as an assumption and you coded to XYZ, then more time will need to be taken to fix your work, or worse, XYZ ends up in production. By having your incorrect assumption listed and corrected, you now know more information about your project.

Some of your assumptions will take the project owner by surprise. This is also not a bad thing to have happen. It means that you have information they were not aware of. It could also mean that they didn’t think the project all the way through. Either way they now have information they didn’t have before.

By listing out all the missing pieces of information and tasks that need to be accomplished to make your project successful, you are shedding light on the entire scope of the project. You are taking control by assuming ownership of your situation and helping the end result of the project to be a successful one.

NOTE: There is one type of document that I don’t include an Assumptions section in and that is for my SSRS Reports. Those requirements are gathered using a template so that all the answers I need are not missed. For me, this is my only exception.
Thanks for all the fish

Thanks go out to Dev Nambi for hosting this month’s T-SQL Tuesday blog party. Please visit his website at

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