Two times I #HitRefresh

I’ve been an independent, consultant since 1993. Which means it’s coming up to the 25th anniversary of the first time I #HitRefresh on my career. At that time I was working as an employee with a fairly large data centre in the financial industry, primarily writing teller systems in C for the Credit Unions of Ontario. At this time these systems ran on DOS and OS\2. I #HitRefresh by moving into the consulting world building applications for Windows written in PowerBuilder.

The second time I #HitRefresh was around 2000 when I latched onto the .net wave and learned C# and the .net framework. Along with many other new and exciting tools. Most important to me Team Foundation Server.

This was a big change from the world I had become accustomed. My friend and colleague Barry Gervin and I started speaking at user groups, attending the PDC conferences and going to each others house once a week to teach each other different parts of the .net framework. We eventually started a company that helped out customers adopt this technology. That was the beginning of ObjectSharp Consulting. We offered consulting and training. Some of that training we authored, and some was Microsoft Official Curriculum.

Although there have been many #HitRefresh moments in my career this was the biggest one. I am sure there will be more. Looking back it amazes me how this industry has changed since the mid 80’s when I began writing code. 

This post is part of a series of #HitRefresh moments. Read more at

Quick and easy custom filtered burn downs

Today I am going to show you how to create quick little burn down charts right off of a work item query.

As you may well know the burn down chart in TFS is based on the remaining work field in the task work item. It queries all the tasks in the corresponding iteration and shows how the remaining work changes each day during the iteration.

This is great if you are a scrum team, it's all you need to know.

I have a lot of customers that use TFS that are not using Scrum or are even that agile. However they love the idea of a burn down report. However they want to see it with different filters applied.

Perhaps by individual or by activity or Area Path. Remember not everyone follows the agile manifesto 100%. Don’t judge. :)

Back to our quick burn downs.

First we need to create a work item query that defines the scope of our burn down. Since it’s a query and not the iteration backlog we can grab any tasks we want we can create a burn down that crosses teams and iterations.

So lets keep it simple for now and create a query that gets all the tasks for the current iteration.


Now add the a few columns to the query. We’ll need Remaining Work since that is the key to our Burn Down. Lets also grab Activity, Area Path and Assigned To for our example


Now over to the Charts section of the query. (Make sure you have saved the query so you can make a chart.)

Create a new chart and select a Line Trend report.

Under Values change Count to Sum and select Remaining Work as the field to Sum.

Pick your Rolling period. This is how far back you want to start the burn down.

Now select your Group By field. This is where you can define if you want to see the burn down by Activity or Team Member or Area Path.


There is no projection beyond today or an ideal trend line, but I am sure you can visualize that.

With charts you can make a bunch of these, each with their own “group by” field to augment the burn down for your teams iteration.  

Writing to the Build Report in TFS 2015

This is a cool trick for writing something directly onto the build report. 

As an example I will write out the heading “ObjectSharp” and under it I’ll put the website. So it will come out looking like this.













The syntax follows this format:

##vso[area.action property1=value;property2=value;...]message

For more examples and syntax look here. For my example I simply added an inline Powershell task. With the following powershell.

$TempFile = [System.IO.Path]::GetTempFileName()
$fullurl = "" | set-content $Tempfile
Write-Host "##vso[task.addattachment type=Distributedtask.Core.Summary;name=ObjectSharp;]$Tempfile" 

How would I use this. In the past I have used it to write code metric results to the build report. I have also used it to write the URL to a location in Nexus Package Manager where a build artifact was uploaded ready for deployment.

Global Azure BootCamp


On Saturday, April 22, 2017, communities across the world will be holding Azure Bootcamps. There are already 132 planned!

Here is a list of events happening in Canada: Calgary, Montreal, Ottawa, Quebec, Toronto, Vancouver

Check time elapsed and time remaining for running SQL job

Just thought I'd share this handy SQL statement that allows you to check for the time elapsed and time remaining for the running SQL job. It would help you to get a better idea how much more time you'd have to wait for the script to complete. Anyway, here is a script that checks time elapsed and time remaining for the running backup SQL job

SELECT db_name(database_id), command, percent_complete, 'elapsed' = total_elapsed_time / 60000.0, 'remaining' = estimated_completion_time / 60000.0

FROM sys.dm_exec_requests

WHERE command like 'BACK%'


Docker for Windows Server 2016 requires update KB3176936

If you try to play with Docker and containers on new Windows Server 2016, you do the following:

  1. Add Containers feature using Server Manager, which is easy to do
  2. Then you open PowerShell with elevated privileges
  3. First install the OneGet PowerShell module:
    Install-Module -Name DockerMsftProvider -Repository PSGallery -Force
  4. Next you use OneGet to install the latest version of Docker.
    Install-Package -Name docker -ProviderName DockerMsftProvider

At this point, you get an error that "The docker installer requires update KB3176936". What is that about?!? Weird. What you need to do is to run sconfig, then choose option 6 and then A and A to install all updates. It might take a few minutes to download and install updates, so be patient.

This works for Server 2016 in no-desktop installs as well as with the UI.

  1. After this you need to restart your server using UI or using Restart-Computer -Force command.
  2. No you're ready to try to use OneGet to install the latest version of Docker.
    Install-Package -Name docker -ProviderName DockerMsftProvider
  3. After this you need to restart your server using UI or using Restart-Computer -Force command.

Now, you're ready to use Docker. For example, download a pre-created .NET sample image from the Docker Hub registry and deploy a simple container running a .Net Hello World application by running the following command:

docker run microsoft/sample-dotnet

This command will use Docker run to deploy the .Net container. It will take a few minutes to download the container image though.

Update Portal Settings for multiple team projects

There is a great Codeplx project that allows you to update Portal Settings for multiple team projects at the same time: Whenever you upgrade TFS, and have to re-enable and re-point team projects in your upgraded TFS project collections. If you have a lot of team projects to update, it becomes very tedious task. Feature4TFS tool allows you to update all of those items in one step. Very handy tool. The only issue with this tool is that it does not work with TFS 2015 Update 3 (only Update 2 or earlier.

I have downloaded the source code and updated the solution to make it work with TSF 2015 Update 3. You can download updated solution from!AoNW-kvNWJ9ygsNWPA5LHTJ5fYREXQ. There two files: binaries only and source code and binaries.

Getting output from Remote PowerShell on Target Machines

Remote PowerShell on Target Machines task in TFS/VSTS is awesome. Easy to use and it works. The only things that bugs me about that task is that I don't see the output of the script on the build console output. Luckily, this can be easily fixed. All you have to do that is to use Write-Verbose -verbose instead of Write-Output command inside your PowerShell script.

For example, instead of:

Write-Output "Remote script is executing step 1-2-3"

use the following

Write-Verbose "Remote script is executing step 1-2-3" -verbose

You should now see the remote script output in build console.

Persisting PowerShell variables between steps

In VSTS and in TFS 2015 Update 1 (and higher), you can use the following command to persist PowerShell variables between steps by simply writing it to standard out (Write-Host) in powershell

Write-Host ("##vso[task.setvariable variable=testvar;]testvalue")


This will make the variable available to be consumed by the later steps in an input via the $(testvar) syntax and the replacement will happen as expected. It's that easy.

You can see the full list of the commands you can use from the scripts at

Customize TFS build steps on the fly based on build trigger

I have the following scenario. The client currently has multiple build definitions, which are very similar (not identical, but similar), but have different triggers. For example, nightly builds run more/different tests, while gated or CI builds run less tests and perhaps run less steps. And, they want to combine/merge those build definitions into one. With TFS 2015 you can create multiple triggers on the same build definitions, so we should be able to merge those build definitions into one. The problem is that the build steps must be the same, or we need to figure out the way to update those steps on the fly somehow. Having the same steps is not an option, since we want gated/CI builds to be smaller/faster. So, we need to figure out a way to modify build steps on the fly. Somehow. PowerShell to the rescue.

I wrote a small PowerShell script that checks if the running build is gated build and update certain build variables (in my case, I used a variable called TestFilterCriteriaToSet) in memory, which are later consumed by next steps in the build definition.


function Is-This-Gated-Build ($buildid)


    $buildDetails=Invoke-RestMethod -Uri "http://TFSSERVER:8080/tfs/TFSCOLLECTION/TEAMPROJECT/_apis/build/builds/$($buildid)?sapi-version=2.0" -UseDefaultCredentials -Method Get

    $buildReason = $buildDetails.reason

    if ($buildReason -eq 'CheckInShelveset')


        return $true




        return $false




if (!$gatedBuild)


Write-Output "Running non-gated build..."




    $TestFilterCriteriaToSet = "(Name!=TestProcessQueue)"

    Write-Host ("##vso[task.setvariable variable=TestFilterCriteria;]$TestFilterCriteriaToSet")




    Write-Output "Running gated build..."

    $TestFilterCriteriaToSet = "(TestCategory!=LongRunning & TestCategory!=Commit & TestCategory!=IntermittentFailure & TestCategory!=ExecutableLaunch)"

    Write-Host ("##vso[task.setvariable variable=TestFilterCriteria;]$TestFilterCriteriaToSet")



Next steps: Save the script. Check it in. Add this script as a step in the build definition. Consume TestFilterCriteriaToSet variable in the next step as such $( TestFilterCriteriaToSet). For example, in Visual Studio Test step. That's it.