Power User Tips for CRM 2013 Navigation

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Posted on 3rd March 2014 by Jukka Niiranen in Tips

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Multitasking isn’t necessarily the most efficient working method for us humans with only a very limited capacity for concurrent threads in our CPU. The reality however is that the days of an information worker are filled with a never ending dance of switching between apps and windows. With large Full-HD monitors (and soon 40 inch 4K screens) it would simply be a waste of space not to have several applications, documents or web pages open simultaneously, to make it easier to combine information from different sources to get our jobs done.

CRM 2013 has been redesigned for a single window UI paradigm that kills the need for most popup windows while working in the end user areas of the application. This works great when searching for information related to a particular account, opportunity etc. but there are situations when you need to work with the data in more detail, to compare the contents of multiple records, for example. At times like these you can find yourself wishing you had those multiple CRM windows you could switch between.

Instead of having to manually open several different sessions of CRM in your browser, you can leverage the built-in navigation paths for popping records open in a new window. In a list view you can right-click on a record to reveal the menu that offers this feature:

CRM2013_power_user_navigation_1

If you’ve already clicked open the record you want to continue working with while navigating onto a different part of the application, you’ll find an icon in the top right corner of the form that will allow you to pop the current record open onto a new browser window:

CRM2013_power_user_navigation_2

Great, so there are ways to have the individual records open simultaneously. Now, as a person who mainly works with CRM system customization and configuration instead of the data, I often find myself wishing to have two different parts of the application open at any given time: the end user records and the solution management interface. This way I can more easily pinpoint the views, fields, form components etc. from the end user UI that I want to manipulate in the customization UI. Ever since CRM 2013 arrived it has therefore become a routine for me to open two copies of the CRM organization in separate browser tabs, usually by copy-pasting the URL from the first tab onto a brand new one and hitting enter.

When working with CRM Online organizations I noticed that if you access CRM via the Office 365 Admin portal as a system administrator, you’re by default taken to the CRM Settings area instead of your home page as defined in the Default Pane and Default Tab of your personal settings. The reason is that the URL gets appended with a few additional parameters and ends up looking like this: https://orgname.crm4.dynamics.com/main.aspx?Origin=Portal&page=Settings&area=nav_administration. While I almost never want to go to that Administration page directly, it did give me an idea for a little productivity tweak that I can use for shaving off a few clicks from my average working day.

As we can see from the URL, there are parameters for variables called “page” and “area”. The last one looks like a sitemap subarea ID (you can review these via several config tools, such as the Sitemap Editor found in XrmToolbox), so the first one must be the sitemap area ID then. Hmm, I wonder if I changed the link to point to the Solutions subarea ID instead, would that take me to the list of solutions that I so frequently need to access? Let’s try https://orgname.crm4.dynamics.com/main.aspx?Origin=Portal&page=Settings&area=nav_solution and see what happens:

CRM2013_power_user_navigation_3

Yup, that’s exactly where we land. Now, if only there was a way to make this a generic link that I could apply in any of the zillion CRM organizations that I need to work with… Hey, wait a minute! That’s precisely what I did just a while ago with the global Advanced Find button! All I need to do now is to apply the awesome script from Sonoma Partners’ Blake Scarlavai and create a Javascript bookmark that will take me to the Solutions menu instead of Advanced Find. As we’ve already cracked the URL code, we can now change the part between the last quotation marks to append the CRM URL with our destination of choice:

javascript:window.open($(‘#crmContentPanel iframe:not([style*=\"visibility: hidden\"])’)[0].contentWindow.Xrm.Page.context.getClientUrl() + “/main.aspx?Origin=Portal&page=Settings&area=nav_solution”);

While we’re at it, let’s also go and build another URL that takes us to the accounts view, which is a fairly safe bet to have as the “get out of the admin land” navigation link (although not every org may have it in the sitemap). Following the same logic as above, our Javascript bookmark contents will be:

javascript:window.open($(‘#crmContentPanel iframe:not([style*=\"visibility: hidden\"])’)[0].contentWindow.Xrm.Page.context.getClientUrl() + “/main.aspx?Origin=Portal&page=SFA&area=nav_accts”);

Once we paste the scripts into the URL fields of bookmarks on our browser and add them to the toolbar, there’s now a powerful set of quick access buttons to take us to the frequently visited areas of the CRM application in any CRM 2013 organization that we have currently open in the active browser tab.

CRM2013_power_user_navigation_4

If you’re not working within the customization area of CRM that much but would rather just have a faster way to switch between different areas and entity lists than what the touch optimized Navigation Bar of CRM 2013 enables, I suggest you take a look at a brand new solution from MVP Scott Durow (of Ribbon Workbench fame) called Start Menu for Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2013. Instead of organization agnostic Javascript bookmarks in a browser, the solution from Scott takes the CRM 2013 Command Bar to where no ribbon has gone before and introduces a true power user menu for accessing any part of the CRM application from (almost) anywhere, by rendering the sitemap contents as a dropdown menu available on all Command Bar enabled entities. Here it is in action:

CRM2013_StartMenu

Last but not least, if you have any thoughts on how the CRM 2013 navigation options should be developed further in upcoming releases, be sure to review these links to feature suggestions on Microsoft Connect and cast your vote for the ones that you feel would help your organization’s users to be more productive when working with Dynamics CRM. Thank you.

Finding Advanced Find in CRM 2013

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Posted on 8th February 2014 by Jukka Niiranen in Tips

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The user interface of Dynamics CRM has been cleaned up quite a bit in the latest 2013 version. The number of buttons visible to the user has been greatly reduced in the browser client. Another significant change from a usability perspective is that Dynamics CRM now operates like any other web application or website: within a single browser window, allowing you to navigate back & forth with the browser’s native buttons. The combination of these two factors has however lead to one side affect that may cause the users familiar with previous Dynamics CRM versions to ask the question: “Dude, where’s my Advanced Find?”

In CRM 2011 the Advanced Find was always available in the main window of CRM. Unless you resized the window to a small enough size and made the Data tab of the CRM 2011 Ribbon collapse into a single flyout button, it was pretty easy to spot the familiar binoculars icon that represented Advanced Find. Being one of the most powerful features of the Dynamics CRM application, this button will have surely become familiar to all power users of CRM over the years.

CRM_2011_Advanced_Find

In CRM 2013 the Advanced Find feature is not always so easy to locate. I have observed quite many experienced users to struggle with locating the menu after the system has been upgraded. Also, when I was recently studying the Google search terms that had lead people to visit my blog, “CRM 2013 Advanced Find” and its variations appeared three times in the Top 20 searches. Since the Advanced Find feature itself has not really changed at all in the 2013 version compared to previous releases, I presume many of the questions people have in their mind while reaching out to a search engine may be related simply to “how to find Advanced Find” (as “meta” as that may sound).

If that’s the question you have, then let me first explain a bit about the logic behind the standard behavior of the new Dynamics CRM 2013 UI in different areas of the application. Then I’ll show you an alternative method that will make it much easier to launch Advanced Find from any place inside CRM.

Standard Navigation Experience

When you open up the Dynamics CRM 2013 browser client with the default settings of a fresh new CRM organization, you’ll be taken onto the dashboard page. Here the button for opening Advanced Find is displayed prominently as one of the actions on the Command Bar, just like it would have in CRM 2011.

CRM_2013_Advanced_Find_1

If we move forward to a list view of any entity, the Advanced Find button no longer appears directly on the page. Instead the user needs to click the ellipsis (three dots) to reveal the “more actions” menu, where one of the actions launches Advanced Find into a new popup window. Another alternative would be to expand the view selector menu and choose the last option of “Create Personal View”, which will also lead the user to the Advanced Find window.

CRM_2013_Advanced_Find_2

How about if we’ve navigated onto a record of an entity, such as a contact, and then realize we want to perform a search on other similar records? If we now repeat the same action of expanding the Command Bar menu via the ellipsis, there is no longer an option launch Advanced Find from here. Instead we’d need to go back in our steps to the Contact list view by clicking the label in the Navigation Bar. This would then land us on a window where the option is again available.

CRM_2013_Advanced_Find_3

In a way this behavior makes sense, since the Command Bar actions visible on the record detail page are all related to the single record in question. Advanced Find also isn’t considered a “global” action in CRM that would be always present in the Navigation Bar (like the gear icon for opening the personal options menu), but rather it only makes its appearance when looking at a view of records (with the dashboard page being an exception to this rule). As Advanced Find really is a tool for building views, it is shown within this context of existing views for any record type.

Creating a Shortcut Button for Advanced Find

If you need to frequently work with views in Dynamics CRM, to perform searches on records, study different data columns than the system views offer or perform data analysis of any kind, you might find yourself reaching out for Advanced Find quite often. Instead of having to first perform a check on what is the current page’s context and then determining the steps needed for launching Advanced Find, wouldn’t it be more convenient to just have a persistent button available that would always take you to that window?

Although Dynamics CRM itself doesn’t offer a direct way to bookmark the Advanced Find page, you can still easily grab its URL. In Internet Explorer, once you’ve opened up Advanced Find, press Ctrl+N to open it in a new window that contains the full browser controls. Now you can add it as a bookmark and place it on the Favorites bar (right-click on the top of the IE window to enable the bar if it’s not visible). The URL will be in the form of http://[servername]/[organizationname]/main.aspx?pagetype=advancedfind in an on-premises Dynamics CRM environment.

CRM_2013_Advanced_Find_4

Wait, don’t leave just yet! There’s more to it! The URL will be a static link that points to your current CRM organization. If you ever need to work with more than one CRM environment (such as development, test, production instances), then that bookmark will not be of any help in the other organizations. Wouldn’t it be cool to have a context sensitive button that would always take you to the Advanced Find window of the CRM environment you’re currently accessing? (more…)

Expanding “Add Activity” Options on CRM 2013 Forms

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Posted on 23rd January 2014 by Jukka Niiranen in Configuration |Tips

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CRM 2013 has introduced many UI features that aim to reduce the number of different windows between which the user needs to navigate while performing everyday actions on records. Since customer relationship management systems are often focused on capturing the various interactions between the company and its customers, activity management is naturally a core feature that should be as smooth as possible in a CRM application.

The refreshed entity forms in CRM 2013 contain the Social Pane (shown as “Notes Control” in the form customization UI due to legacy reasons) that shows three tabs of interaction data related to the record: Activity Feed posts (Yammer posts if available), activities and notes/attachments. In addition to a much richer rendering of the activity content than the previously available subgrids, there’s also an inline control available for adding tasks or phone calls directly on the main entity’s form. This provides quite a slick user experience that makes CRM appear very effortless to use for activity management.

CRM2013_Activities_1

What’s missing from the Social Pane then? Well, for starters, not all the activity types are available to be created via the Add buttons on the top of the control. We have phone calls & tasks available immediately, clicking the ellipses (…) button gives us email & appointment, and if we’ve added any custom entities into our solutions they’ll be presented here, too. However, if you’d want to add any of the other default activities for the record you’re working on, meaning a letter, fax, recurring appointment or a service activity, then you’re out of luck. The user would need to navigate away from the form by selecting the Activities menu from the Nav Bar, create a new activity record from there, find the Regarding record to reference on the activity, save it, then return back to the original record.

Another limitation has to do with the inline editing experience of tasks and phone calls. When you create a phone call via the Social Pane, it will always be record as a completed activity. So, no chance for planning upcoming phone calls and setting up a reminder, unless you record it as a task instead. Another downside of the inline form is that it’s not customizable, which means we can’t display any custom category fields related to a phone call or task. When implementing a CRM system for tracking the activities of sales people and account managers, it is a very common requirement to have some compulsory fields added onto the activity entities that the user must fill to categorize and describe the activity before being able to complete it. Well, since the inline form will log a completed phone call right after clicking on OK, this isn’t exactly the optimal feature for those scenarios.

Ribbon to the rescue

While some parts of the new UI are not yet customizable in CRM 2013, we do still have a way to introduce additional features onto the entity forms via the Rib… sorry, Command Bar. Even though in its default setup the Command Bar looks like a stripped down version of the CRM 2011 Ribbon, it’s still built on the very same  Ribbon XML definitions and it supports most of the features from its previous incarnation. As we know, CRM in itself doesn’t provide tools for configuring the contents of the Ribbon, which is why someone just had to do something about it. That “someone” is CRM MVP Scott Durow and the “thing” is his awesome Ribbon Workbench solution that gives us everything imaginable for customizing the CRM 2011 Ribbons as well as the CRM 2013 Command Bar.

Since many of the common features presented on the CRM 2011 Ribbon get hidden away once the CRM environment is upgraded to 2013, Scott has been covering several scenarios in his blog where this functionality is restored onto the Command Bar. Among these articles is a tutorial on how to restore the Add Activity buttons into a CRM 2013 environment. By following these steps documented by Scott we can enable the creation of letter activities while on an entity form, as well as provide a navigation path to opening the full form of a phone call activity to control the business required fields as well as activity status beyond the options that the Social Pane inline activity form gives us.

To demonstrate the possibilities of modifying the default activity management features of CRM 2013, I decided to take Scott’s example and expand it a bit further. In his blog post Scott shows you how to make the activity buttons appear on the Command Bar, but due to the limitation of max 5 items being shown directly on the form and the rest being pushed away into the “more actions” menu, it’s not going to be very easy for the CRM user to discover their existence. What I did instead was add a new flyout menu, promote it to the top 5 items on the Command Bar and arrange all the “Add Activity” buttons inside it. The screenshot below shows how this has been configured while in the Ribbon Workbench UI:

CRM2013_Activities_RibbonWorkbench

How do we get the buttons to do what we want them to do, meaning creating new activity records like they used to in CRM 2011? Scott’s blog post contains all the details you need for making this happen, but since the inherent complexity of the Ribbon XML language can make it challenging to grasp how the various options relate to one another (I’ll be the first to admit I struggled quite a while with the task before being able to achieve the result I wanted), I’ll recap the main steps here for your convenience.

First of all, we’re not creating a completely new command but rather customizing a native CRM platform command. While the activity buttons aren’t visible on the Command Bar by default, they do exist in the Ribbon definition and can be accessed in the Ribbon Workbench by switching from the Command Bar tab to the Ribbon tab (bottom left corner of the top menu) and navigating to the Form ribbon (since this is where we want the flyout menu to appear in our example). You’ll see the familiar Ribbon in the format that it would be shown, with the Activity buttons available under the Add tab. Yeah, not too many end users probably ever discovered that second tab of the ribbon on their own, which is why the simplified design of CRM 2013 is definitely a step in the right direction, even if it means us consultants need to do a bit more tweaking of the system to enable the relevant features.

CRM2013_Activities_RibbonWorkbench_2

Anyway, now that we’ve found the buttons, we can right-click on them and select “Customise Command”. Effectively what this does is it brings the commands like Mscrm.AddPhoneToPrimaryRecord available for us to reference in the custom buttons that we create. While we’re at it, we can also re-use the icons and labels from the native buttons in our custom flyout menu buttons. The one thing we need to change, however, are the Display Rule settings of the now customized commands, as the Mscrm.HideOnCommandBar rule would otherwise do just what it says and hide the buttons from our flyout menu when viewed on a refreshed UI form.

As mentioned, please refer to the original blog post to guide you through the detailed configuration of the custom buttons. It will give you everything except the different layout, which is the flyout menu that you can see below. In practice this method allows us to create up to five traditional dropdown menus on the form’s Command Bar. We now have a button labelled “Add Activity” that will open up a list of different activity icons, which in turn will lead the user to the traditional full create form for the chosen activity type. It will pop open in a new window, allow the user to edit the details, then close the window and return back to the parent entity form. Just like in the “good ol’ times” of pre-2013 Dynamics CRM.

CRM2013_Activities_2

If you took a closer look at the flyout menu shown in the picture, you may have noticed one non-standard entry at the end of the list: Site Visit. What’s that? And why’s it under a menu section called “Quick Actions”? Thanks for asking, let me explain what it’s all about. (more…)

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