Using CRM 2011 as a Configuration Management Tool

During a CRM implementation it is imperative that not only a great solution is provided to the client, but also to understand how the components within that solution came to be and how they relate to the respective requirements and associated use cases.  This can be done in a number of ways, including the use of Team Foundation Server (TFS), SharePoint lists or other such solutions.  However, if your client does not have the ability or the desire to implement such solutions, you can easily track these changes within the CRM 2011 development environment.

By containing these changes within the CRM instance, your CRM implementation team has the ability to immediately document their changes along with leveraging native capabilities within CRM such as Advanced Find, Views, Export to Excel and SSRS Reporting to support the effort.

How to start?

To get started, create a custom entity within your CRM instance.  You can call it “Configuration Management” for example.  The attributes to include within this entity will obviously vary based on your implementation, however, I have mocked up an example shown in the screenshot below:

Config Mgt
Mockup of a sample "Configuration Management" entity used to track changes within your CRM implementation

TIP: It is important to remember NOT to include this entity or associated entities within the CRM solution which will be exported from the development environment.  This information would not need to be included in other environments as the solutions are promoted.

Best Practices

Attributes to include as a best practice would be items such as:

  • Description of the change
  • Type of change (Add, Change, Delete, etc.)
  • Component Type (Entity, Attribute, Option Set, View, Chart, Jscript, Web Resource, etc.)
  • Detailed description of the function of the component (This also should be the description documented upon creation of the item
  • Related components
  • Unit Testing Information (Who is testing? When? What is the expected result?  Actual? What is the status of the testing?)
  • Traceability details (What requirements are associated?  Use Cases? Business Processes?)

Traceability

In order to maintain strong traceability between the component and the requirements and/or use cases and business processes, additional entities can be created to document these items and shown on the configuration management entity via SubGrids.  However, if the project is an Enterprise level implementation the cost/benefit may outweigh the time and effort required for this level of data entry if an import is not feasible.

In that event, a memo field to provide the details of the associated requirement numbers, use cases, etc. should suffice.  This information can be extracted from CRM as indicated earlier in the post through an Excel export from a view or through the creation of an SSRS report to support the documentation.

I hope that you have found this post informational.  Have you tried this before?  Please share your experiences by entering a comment below.

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Helpful CRM tools increase productivity and technical knowledge

There are a number of helpful tools available on Codeplex and within the CRM community that really improve the productivity of a CRM Functional Consultant. Not only do they improve your ability to deliver requirements, they also provide a unique way to gain some insight to more technical skills in a non-intimidating way. If you are not currently leveraging what these tools can offer, try them out and see how they can help your productivity!

CRM 2011 Visual Ribbon Editor

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Once this tool is used, here’s a learning opportunity…open the solution where your ribbon is kept in Visual Studio and look at the ribbondiffxml for the selected entity. See how the tool updated information that you entered to better understand the “under the hood” of CRM 2011 customization.

CRM 2011 Sitemap Editor

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This helpful tool streamlines the process to customizing the sitemap based on our client’s requirements. It also provides an insight to how the sitemap is structured. This information can be invaluable to the functional CRM consultant.

Sitemap and ribbon customizations can be a challenge without these handy tools if you are not familiar with Visual Studio, the sitemap or how to update the ribbondiffxml without confidence. I have found these tools to be helpful in not only streamlining the customization process, but demystifying the underlying components and increasing my understanding of some of the technical underpinnings of Dynamics CRM 2011.