CRM Power Pane – Review

One of my favourite tools in my CRM Administrator Toolkit (*not an actual thing) is the Dynamics CRM Power Pane extension for Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox.

The Power Pane add-on has been developed to help developers, testers and power users to accomplish tasks that they may require in their day-to-day role.  Installation of the add-on is as simple as installing the extension in your browser – no need to install any solutions.

Once you have the extension installed an orange lightning bolt icon will appear in the top-left corner of your Nav bar whenever you open CRM, and clicking this will enable the actions for you.

I should caveat at the top that this tool is very much not for end-users, and I’d caution against even making them aware that it exists.  It can undo the security settings you have put in place, and render your customisations meaningless.

With that out of the way, let’s have a look at what it does.   The CRM Power-Pane add-on is comprised of 3 sets of tools:

  • Record Actions
  • Form Actions
  • Navigation Tools

I’ll give an overview of each of these below:

Record Actions

There are 5 options under the Record Actions section

  1. Entity Info – opens a pop-up window with the Entity logical name and the Entity Type Code
  2. Record ID – opens a pop-up window with the GUID of the current record
  3. Record URL – opens a pop-up window with the direct URL of the current record
  4. Clone Record – creates an exact clone of the current record
  5. Record Properties – opens the record properties window

I particularly like the Record URL options – no more clicking “Email a Link” and then copying the link so I can send it to someone in Skype.  I also get a lot of use out of the Record ID option, it’s come in handy more times than I can count.

 

Form Actions

The Form Actions are where this tool really comes into it’s own, and where I think most other developers/administrators will get use out of it.  There are 12 options under Form Actions:

  1. Enable All Fields – makes all read-only fields editable
  2. Show Hidden Fields – unhides any fields that have been set as hidden
  3. Disable Field Requirement – removes any business recommended or business required options on fields, enabling you to save it without filling them in
  4. Schema Names as Label – changes the field labels to show the logical/schema name
  5. Scheme Name Copy Mode – enables the option to copy the schema name for a field by clicking on the field name
  6. Show Optionset Values – prefixes the optionset options with their value
  7. Show Field Value – opens a pop-up window to allow you to input the schema name for a field, and returns the value in the field, and the field type.  Depending on the type of field additional values will also be returned, e.g. for a lookup field you will get the text value, the record GUID, the lookup record Entity Name and Entity Type Code.
  8. Find Field in Form – opens a pop-up window where you can input the schema name for a field, and then moves the focus to that field on the form and highlights the field
  9. Highlight Dirty Fields – adds a highlight to any fields that have been changed since the form was loaded
  10. Refresh Ribbon – refreshes the command ribbon on the form.  This can be useful if you’re testing the visibility of buttons that appear/disappear based on field values
  11. Refresh Form – refreshes the CRM form, without the need to refresh the whole window.

I use a lot of these tools on almost a daily basis, in particular the Schema Names as Label  and Scheme Name Copy Mode.  If you’re writing any code then I’m sure you’ll find these useful too.  Similarly, being able to unhide and unlock fields has saved me numerous times when I’ve been carrying out testing.

As I said at the start, if your Users find this tool it could cause no end of headaches for you, but it also serves as a stark reminder that CRM is just a series of web pages, so if you want a field to be completely secure don’t put it on a Form that is accessible by Users. Reece Campbell wrote a great blog about CRM Forms and security recently, so I’d recommend it for more reading.

Navigations

The last set of tools in CRM Power Pane are the Navigations tools. There are 6 tools here:

  1. Go to record by ID – enables you to open any record by specifying the entity name and the record GUID
  2. Entity Editor – makes it really easy to open the Entity customisation in the default solution.  This defaults to the entity you’re currently in, but you can specify which one you’d like to open
  3.  CRM Diagnostics – opens the CRM diagnostics page to allow you to evaluate network performance
  4. Performance Center – opens the CRM Performance Center to allow you to evaluate the performance of form loading in CRM
  5. Mobile Express – opens the Mobile Express version of your CRM environment
  6. Mobile Client – opens the mobile version of your CRM environment

Conclusion

The Dynamics CRM Power Pane is an incredible useful tool, and I find myself using it pretty much every day.  The array of tools it offers are varied, and they deliver some much needed added abilities for me as a system developer/administrator.  I’d recommend installing it and seeing how you get on with it, just remember not to let your Users know about it.

Some of you may be aware of another Chrome extension called Level Up for Dynamics CRM/365, developed by Natraj Yegnaraman.  Level Up does a number of similar funcitons to CRM Power Pane, and has some additional options.  I have both installed in my browser, and have used them both extensively.  If you’d like to read more about Level Up, Kylie Kiser recently wrote a review of it and I’d recommend you have a look at her blog

Add Team Members to another Team

I’ve been working on a problem that’s been plaguing me for months and now, thanks to Microsoft Business Solutions MVP Aiden Kaskela and his Workflow Elements solution, I’ve finally managed to get it sorted.

The Problem

I wanted to be able to conditionally add members of one Team to another with a workflow, without hard coding the specific Users into the workflow.

My specific scenario was as follows:

If an Opportunity meets certain criteria, an Owner Team is automatically created and linked to the record.  The new Owner Team should then be updated to include Users who are in another Owner Team (the Proposals Team in my scenario).

Dynamically Add Users to Opportunity Team

Why couldn’t we just link the Proposals Team to the Opportunity I hear you ask?  Good question, it is because the Proposals Team are the minimum members of the New Opportunity Team and each Opportunity Team may have multiple other Users added to it from across the business.

We use the Teams as part of our custom integration with SharePoint; adding a User to the Team automatically assigns them specific permissions in SharePoint so we needed specific Teams per Opportunity.

I went round in circles for a long time trying to work out the most efficient solution for this, but I kept running into issues.  I was able to achieve steps 1-4 from the image above, but could never quite complete the process.  The closest I came was using the “Add User to Record Team” N:N associate step from Andrii Butenko’s Ultimate Workflow Toolkit, however this still required me to add a step per user and hard-code their name into the Workflow, which meant I would also then have to deactivate the workflow and update it if the composition of the Proposals Team changed.

I asked in the CRM Community Forum to see if anyone else could help but still ran into the same issues.  I reached out to Aiden Kaskela about a month ago to see if he could help and today he’s delivered in spectacular style

The Solution

Aiden has updated his Workflow Elements solution to include a new step – “Relationship – Associate From Query” (available from V2.1.0) which makes my scenario really simple to solve

Kaskela Workflow Solutions

Getting this step to work couldn’t be easier.  You add it to your workflow, then select the N:N Relationship Name, and then you have the option of using a System View, Personal View or FetchXML query to select the records to be associated.  For my scenario, this was triggered on the Team entity, and used a Personal View on the System User entity to find the members of the Proposals Team

Relationship - Associate from Query

I love the simplicity of this workflow step, and I can envisage a number of additional scenarios that this could be used for in my environment.  It makes it really easy to develop complex, dynamic association workflows.

Conclusion

Solving this problem has demonstrated two things to me:

  1. Dynamics CRM/365 is an amazing platform, and the flexibility it offers developers and customisers to deliver on much-needed functionality is so useful.  The system gets better with every release, and it makes it a pleasure to work with
  2. More importantly, the CRM/365 Community is incredible.  There are so many developers who create tools and plugins that they make available for free for us all to use, and they make my job so much easier.  Their creativity and generosity astounds me, and I am so grateful to them for everything they provide.

I could not recommend the Kaskela Workflow Elements solution enough.  I use it for so many applications, and this latest release makes it even better.  Please go and visit his website, download the solution and try it out; I guarantee you’ll love it.

 

Customisation Tips – Entities

Following on from my last post I wanted to share some of the tips I’ve picked up along the way related to developing new entities in Dynamics CRM/365.

The first major step in any development is the creation of a new system entity, and there are plenty of opportunities for missteps here.

Per my last post, ensure any new Entity is created from within a solution, and NOT by selecting “Customize the System”!

Ownership

Entity Ownership

The initial decision you need to make is to decide whether you need the Entity to be owned by a User or Team, or by the Organization.  This decision can be influenced by the following factors:

  • Does the entity need specific security, or will it be open to all Users?
  • Do you need to have a specific named Owner of the records in the Entity?
  • Is the entity going to be used for a reference record (e.g. preferred language, region, etc.)?

This decision cannot be changed after the entity is created, so it is important to make the right decision.  If you’re not sure, I’d always recommend selecting User or Team ownership, as you can work around this to emulate Organizational ownership, this isn’t possible the other way around.

For more reading, see this article on MSDN.

Activity Entity

The next decision you need to make is whether the entity is an Activity or not.  This is a fairly straightforward decision

If the records will have a Start Time and/or an End Time, and will be Completed by Users, then it is probably an Activity.

It’s important to remember that defining an Entity as an Activity Entity cannot be undone, and that Activity Entities don’t have security, all Users can see all Activities, so factor this into your thinking.

Primary Field

Primary Field

A simple mistake I have seen made by many developers is to overlook the Primary Field.  It’s on a separate tab, so it’s really easy to click Save and forget about it, only to regret it later.

It’s important to give it a relevant name for your entity.  The Primary Field can only be a Single Line of Text field, formatted as Text.  Update the Display Name and Name to something relevant for your new entity, also decide if you want the Field to be required or not, and update the Maximum Length. I’d also recommend adding a proper description here.

The Primary Field is used for lookups to the entity, and is the default field included in a View when you create an entity, so forgetting about it can lead to search results that look like:

NoNameEntity.PNG

Even if you’re not going to use the Name (for example if you’re creating a manual intersect entity), I’d always recommend setting it up properly.  In situations where I’m not using the Name I will always set up a Workflow or Business Rule to set the Name automatically.

Entity Options

The last thing to decide before you save your new entity is which of the options you want to select. The best advice I can give here is to untick everything, unless you are ABSOLUTELY sure that you need to keep a field ticked.  This is particularly important for the Business Process Flow, Feedback, Notes, Activities, Connections, Sending Email, Queues, and Enable for SLA fields, which cannot be disabled once they are selected.  You can always enable them later if you need them, but they create fields on your entity, and add to clutter if they’re then unused.

No Ticks

The guys over at CRM Tip of the Day have turned entity creation into a handy illustrated guide that you should definitely print out and hang up on your wall to remind you of these rules!

Once you’re happy with all of the entity options, click Save and now you can move on to adding Fields.  I’ll share my tips for Fields in my next post.

Customisation Tips – Solution Management

When I first started using CRM I made plenty of mistakes that cause me to physically cringe when I reflect on them, so I hope that by sharing some tips that I’ve picked up on my journey, I may be able to help others avoid them.

I’ve been discussing customisation best practices internally in my organisation and, since I’ve been documenting them anyway, I thought it would be worth sharing my thoughts.

Use solutions

This is probably my number one tip. If you’re doing any sort of system customisation, please put it in a solution container; NEVER make changes directly to the base solution – just pretend the “Customize the System” button doesnt exist.

Ignore the Customize the System button

By using a Solution you can avoid the dreaded new_ prefix on newly created fields/entities/web resources, etc. and use your own publisher prefix.  A solution also operates as a container for all the customisations you are making to the system, which makes it significantly easier to understand what changes have been implemented for you and anyone else who may be working on your system.

One of the biggest debates on the use of Solutions is whether you should Managed or Unmanaged. I have used both in different systems and I don’t think there is a single right answer; it all depends what is right for you in your system (though Microsoft officially recommend the use of Managed Solutions (see https://msdn.microsoft.com/en-gb/library/gg334576.aspx#BKMK_UnmanagedandManagedSolutions)

Managed or Unmanaged

There are plenty of posts by more experienced heads than I discussing the differences between the two solution types, and weighing up the pros and cons of each, so I’d recommend seeking them out for further reading.

The only real piece of advice I’d like to add is that Unmanaged Solutions are easier to manage (pun intended), and you can always convert an Unmanaged Solution to a Managed Solution in future if needs be; just be aware of the potential for unintended changes to be added to the solution by over-zealous developers during UAT or while it is live in the Production environment, leading to solution disparity.  You should weigh up the control of Managed Solutions versus the flexibility of Unmanaged Solutions in any decision-making.

Version Numbering

Aligned with the use of Solutions is to ensure you have a rigorous and consistent approach to versioning. Using version numbers makes it a lot easier to manage your solutions, and to identify issues if and when they arise.

My approach is to use the standard of Major.Minor.Release (#.##.####), as defined below:

Version Numbering

Major – this should be incremented every time you introduce some significant functionality, change the phase of the project, or if you upgrade to a new version of CRM

Minor – this should be incremented every time you release an update to the solution that introduces minor features or changes that are building on existing functionality.

Build – this should be incremented with every single release, and should cover bug fixes, etc.

There are lots of different version numbering schemes available (e.g.  Major.CRMRelease.Minor.Release, Year.Month.Day.Revision, etc.), and it doesn’t really matter which one you use –  the important thing is that you use a consistent version numbering scheme in your development, and that everyone working on your system understands the numbering scheme.  I’ve previously inherited a system developed by a Microsoft Partner who had used 4 different numbering schemes when deploying solutions which gave me no end of headaches.

Documentation

I’m sure I’m not alone in not particularly enjoying writing documentation, but also cursing out any other developers who dare to release a solution without documentation.  As important as it is to develop system updates, writing appropriate documentation is equally important.  I’m not suggesting that you include War & Peace with your releases, but adding a few notes on the release history to the solution description field will go a long way to helping both future you, and anyone else who may be working on your system

Release Notes

Having these little notes provides a perfect aide-mémoire when you come back to work on the solution in six months time, and taking the two minutes to do it now will save you hours down the line.  I like to keep a more detailed release note history to go with my solutions too; for a great example of detailed release notes you could look at ClickDimensions.

Quick Tip: To make your life a lot easier when writing release notes, the MetaData Document Generator plugin for the XRMToolBox is a lifesaver

My next post will outline my tips related to new entities, fields, views, etc.

Advanced Multiselect for Dynamics – Review

Following on from my last post about Multi Select Checkboxes, I have been continuing research to try and find a suitable solution for adding multiselect options to my CRM 2016 environment.  I really like the checkbox tiles, but the downside to them is the need to create fields, update forms and update web resource parameters when they need to change, which creates more work for the administrator.  I was therefore looking for a solution with less administrative overhead for situations in which the list is likely to change more often, as well as to offer additional user experience benefits.

My search led me to the Advanced Multiselect for Dynamics solution by Pavel Khorozhansky.  This solution is built on the use of N:N relationships, and allows for quick associate/dissociate of records.  In Pavel’s own words:

You most likely are interested in this solution if:

  • you have Many-To-Many (N:N) relationships and would like to associate / disassociate related records in a quick, convenient and flexible way using a set of appropriate checkboxes on a form
  • you are using either Dynamics CRM 2016 Update 1 (8.1) or Dynamics 365 (8.2) version and you would like to have multi select / multicheckbox functionality on a form and don’t want to create a lot of dedicated checkbox attributes for each an option
  • you are using the new version of Dynamics 365 (9.0) (where a new multi-select functionality introduced out-of-box) and find this out-of-box feature does not suit your needs (for example, you have to make changes in metadata each time you need to add/remove list options (instead of giving some users an ability to easily maintain the lists), you cannot support ‘obsolete’ options, and so forth).

There is an extensive wiki on the GitHub repository covering installation and configuration, so I won’t repeat it here.  I found it incredibly easy to install and get using following the instructions, so I’m sure anyone else will too

What I like

Easy Installation

The solution is really easy to install, and the configuration wizard that Pavel has built into the solution makes it really easy to get up and running.  It is worth noting that there is a small element of the solution which would be considered unsupported, so this should be borne in mind if you wish to install this solution in your production environment.

Better User Experience

The solution works with any custom N:N relationship, including self-referential relationships, and it is significant improvement to the User Experience when associating records.  With the out-of-the-box approach using sub-grids there are up to six steps to follow to associate a record:

Add records to Sub-grid

In comparison, with the Advanced Multiselect solution it’s simply a case of selecting the appropriate records from the available list:

Advanced Multiselect

From a User Experience point of view, this is a much more efficient and elegant solution.; it minimises the amount of mouse clicks that are required and makes it really easy to train new users.

I also like that it shows the unselected records, so that system users are provided with a visual reference to decide if perhaps one of the unselected choices could also be selected.

Multiple Selection Types

With the solution you get the options of a few different types of selectors.  You can select from one, two, three or four columns of checkboxes, which look as you’d expect:

two_columns

Where I think the solution excels however is in the following two options:

One Column with custom descriptions, which is a great way to add context to the options.  I like the ability to add a custom description and can envisage numerous advantages to this solution

One_Column_with_descriptions

Selectize, which works kind of like a Tagging option. This is particularly useful if you have a large list of options:

Selectize

There is also the possibility to create your own template styles, if you’re familiar with HTML/CSS and knockout.js or selectize.js.  This add a massive amount of extensibility to the solution.

Conclusion

Overall I would say Advanced Multiselect for Dynamics is an excellent solution, and a very handy addition to my toolbox of solutions.  I have barely scratched the surface of the solution with this review, but I believe it will help deliver improvements to the user interface in your CRM system and therefore make the user experience more enjoyable.  I’ve demoed the solution to selected users in my organisation and the response has been overwhelmingly positive.

Clone a Record with a Notification Message

Trying to find the right words for a title to convey succinctly what I am trying to say is not my strong suit…

Within my organisation we occasionally have the need to create repeating records on an annual (or more frequent) basis, e.g. SWOT Analysis, Anti-Money Laundering checks, etc.  In order to preserve the original record we will lock it after a certain period of time to prevent changes being made, and therefore encourage the users to create a new record instead to record any updates.

To make it as easy as possible for the users to maintain the records, we wanted to add a simple notification to the record with an option to Clone the existing record.

SWOT Clone

The functionality above was really easy to implement using the Notify.js solution created by Paul Nieuwelaar of Magnetism Solutions Limited. (Incidentally, Paul also created the Process.js and Alert.js solutions which I would also highly recommend).

Paul’s documentation is really clear, so even a coding novice like me could put it to use really quickly.  In order to add the Clone function, I found a script posted by Neeraj Agrawal on the Dynamics 365 blogs; the script uses entity mappings from a 1:N entity relationship to make cloning the record simple.

All that was left to do was to combine the code and add it to my form.  The code I used is below (though please excuse the wordpress formatting!):


function addLockedNotification()
{
var daysSinceCreation = Xrm.Page.getAttribute("hr_dayssincecreation").getValue();
var recordStatus = Xrm.Page.getAttribute("statecode").getValue();

if (recordStatus == 1){Notify.remove("locked");}

else if (daysSinceCreation > 5)
{
Notify.add ("This record is locked. To update the SWOT Analysis, please Clone this Record", 
"INFO", 
"locked", 
[ 
{type: "button", text: "Create Clone", callback: function clone() {
var entityId = Xrm.Page.data.entity.getId();
var entityName = Xrm.Page.data.entity.getEntityName();
var clone_params = {};
var options = { openInNewWindow: true }; // to open record in new window
clone_params["hr_previousswotanalysis"] = entityId 
clone_params["_CreateFromId"] = entityId;
clone_params["_CreateFromType"] = Xrm.Page.context.getQueryStringParameters().etc;
Xrm.Utility.openEntityForm(entityName, null, clone_params, options);
} 
}, 
{type: "link", text: "Not now", callback: function () {Notify.remove("locked");}}
]
);
}
}
}

As you’d expect with code from a random blog on the internet, no warranty is expressed or implied, use at your own risk, etc.