System Planning – Defining Success

What defines a “successful implementation” of a system?

Is it that the system or app is “on” or “live”?

Or perhaps it’s because we have users with licenses who sign in and “use” the system on some form of regular basis?

Maybe it’s because we can derive data from that system or tool/application?

I suppose it depends on the initiative being rolled out, but the common point is that without a defined statement (or statements) of what success is, it’s hard to know when we’ve arrived.

Bare with me here…

I coach children’s hockey. At the beginning of each season I make it very clear that while it may be fun to win, I don’t judge our success on how many goals we score or wins we get. I define it based on the level of effort put forth by each member of the team. The other coaches and I explain that we measure this by looking for sweaty brows following a game or practice. We measure it by listening for huffing and puffing when kids finish a shift or a set of drills. We measure it by the rosey cheeks we see in the dressing room following their time on the ice.

These are measurable outcomes. We might lose a game by multiple goals, but if everyone in that room is sweating, rosey cheeked and catching their breath, it’s a sign they gave it their all, and that’s what we ask for. There are other measures of success, of course, but these are foundational aspects of the game that I think are present throughout.

So let’s turn back to a systems roll-out and think about this same logic.

If we’re rolling out a new system, what do we need to accomplish to meet the goal? Better yet, what IS the goal in the first place?

The point is to think about this when embarking on this journey. I often find it difficult to think of these measurable outcomes when on the spot, so a trick I learned a while back was to brainstorm a little and then put the list a way and come back to it later. Maybe hours, days, or even a week. Occupy brain space with other projects and then revisit the list and add to it. I find as I reflect on what I wrote the last time I’m inspired to make some changes to that initial list and add some new items.

I also talk to others to get their input in what they would define success to be. As different departments or users at what point they will define the roll-out to be successful.

The definition of success should be laid out early in the process as it helps us frame the tasks that need to be undertaken to realize those outcomes. Those tasks, in turn, become the work necessary to pull the project together.

For example, in the case of a CRM system designed to manage sales, one of the goals might be that all opportunities are managed through the system. If we use a workback plan around this, it might look something like this:

Goal: All opportunities are managed (entered, won/lost) through the system.

To accomplish this, we need to do a number of things such as (but not limited to…this is just an example after all):

  • Develop a standard operating procedure(s) for the company on how opportunities are entered into the system
    • Manual (someone enters them as they arise)
    • Automatic (based on other events/actions in the CRM system or via API connection to another system)
  • Identify the fields necessary for the company to manage an opportunity
  • Create the fields and place on the opportunity form
  • Create relevant workflows / business rules / script on the form to support staff in management of the opportunity over time
  • Develop training resources for our staff team and facilitate as necessary
    • This includes the development of a training recurrence schedule – repeated tidbits of supportive material and training for staff (because training never ends even if we think it ought to)
  • …the list could go on

Within this single desired outcome, we now have a list of tangible actions that need to be completed to move the needle toward our company having “all opportunities managed through the system”.

And this is just one of the outcomes we might define. There could be numerous outcomes we hope to achieve, each with its own set of tasks necessary to get there.

I find this approach really useful as it helps break down what can seem like an absolutely enormous project into smaller component parts that we can start to delegate throughout our team and ultimately help us move toward “success”.

Photo by Photo by Vek Labs on Unsplash

I don’t know that there is a single definition of success that applies to all companies when it comes to rolling out systems or organizational processes. The point of this post was to frame the importance of defining what success is as a means to measuring progress and achieving ‘success’ for the project in question.

I believe this is critical because, as I noted earlier, if we don’t define what success looks like, how do we know we’ve reached it?

I’d love to hear your thoughts? How do you define and measure success of your projects? What is one tip you’d share with someone asking this question?

We’re all learning. Why not learn together?

Cover Image: Photo by N. on Unsplash

The Art of Planning

Whether you’re a sports team embarking on a new season, a surgeon preparing for a busy day of surgery, a system admin preparing to introduce a new system to your organization, or planning dinner for your family, having a plan is of critical importance.

Okay, great. A plan. I can make a plan. Let’s use the dinner example…

The Plan – An Example

The Plan in Theory: I’ll get home around 5 and get tacos ready. We’ll be eating by 5:30 and we can go for a lovely walk and enjoy a quiet evening.

The Plan in Reality: Took a last minute call and didn’t leave my desk until 5:15. Realized on my way to the car we didn’t take any ground beef out of the freezer so I’ve got to stop at the store. Get home and realize the youngest is having a homework meltdown – need to calm them down and get them on the right track.

Phew, okay, child is in good spirits again. It’s 5:45 now. That’s okay, tacos are quick.

Wait, the dishwasher didn’t run?! Shoot, the pan I need is in there. Okay, quick wash of that and we’re good to go. Oh, a text…one sec…okay, responded. Moving on.

Great, beef is on. Geez, how is it 6 already? Okay, tacos…*opens fridge*…sour cream, lettuce…eww, that’s wilty…cut around and find the good parts. Cheese. Wait, we don’t have any cheese?! Come’on…whatever, fine, cheese is basically just pure fat anyway, we are healthier without it. Salsa – well, that *should* be enough for all of us…

Wait, what’s that smell…THE BEEF!

Perhaps a bit of an exaggeration but I can tell you that story is based on mostly reality in our house. When we don’t have a plan, things can become infinitely more difficult.

Systems Planning

Dinner is one thing. Planning to select, configure, and roll out a system to support your organization is a whole other ball game, but the basic principle remains true – it’s easier with a plan.

Over the years I’ve seen various systems and tools rolled out to organizations. Those experiences have surfaced some effective practices that I think are beneficial to pass along. This post could be a series in and of itself. Maybe one day I’ll do just that, but here are what I think are pretty integral aspects.

Identify Needs and Prioritize

What business goals are you trying to solve? Truly think / talk this through with your organization. It’s not just “a system to track our people” – WHY are you tracking those people? What is it that you are doing with all that tracked information? What purpose does it serve? As you start to peel those layers away you will start to get at the core of what your organization truly “needs”. All of a sudden the “a system to track our people” becomes “communicate more effectively with our constituents” or “better understand the needs of our customers”.

Then, prioritize those. What are minimum viable product aspects (the ones that you cannot go live without) and which are ‘nice-to-haves (the ones that, if not in phase one, could be slide into a future phase of development).

Think Process

It’s easy to get lost in the world of fields and specifics. There are rabbit holes you could go down at every turn, but try to take as step back from this to examine the entire organizational process you’re working with. Instead of “we’ll use leads”, think about what “use leads” means – have you defined what a lead is in your organization? When does a lead get created? How does the lead get created? If manually, who creates the lead? What information is required for people to action those leads? There are many other questions and each answer provides deeper insight into the overarching business process you’re trying to augment with the system in question.

Perhaps your building an app to manage an internal process – the same principles apply. Example: submitting for a refund approval. Where does the request come from? How does that request get to the appropriate approvers? Who are the appropriate approvers? Who needs to action the request once it’s approved? What information does that department need to action the process?

Asking questions is key. While it may be annoying to some people, if we don’t know the answer and act on what we think, we’re making an assumption. And we all know what happens when we make assumptions!

Define Success

One of the best lines I read in a book (Brene Brown’s “Dare to Lead” – you should read it) is the concept of “Paint Done”. The idea stems from avoiding assumptions and being clear and intentional about what we are asking for or, if the receiver, in understanding what someone is asking for.

I fell in love with this idea as soon as I heard it and folded a piece of paper over the top of my computer screen so I see it while on every video call (the primary means of communication in my org). I started asking it casually when we were talking about a task or project just as Brene presented it in her book; “Okay team, let’s talk about the end game for a second – paint done for me”. The results were staggering! It frames the discussion around what success for the project or task is, and helps us surface key questions around how this item will be delivered when it’s ready. I don’t see a future where this isn’t part of my approach, it’s THAT impactful.

When thinking about what the end game of this systems rollout is, think about what “done” looks like. This will help you define KPI’s (key performance indicators) for your project stakeholders and executive team. It’s much easier to provide an update on progress or completion when you can say “We know we’re on our way because done looks like X and we can see that taking shape here, here and here” or “done looked like X, and X is what we have”.

Be Organized

Just as there are near infinite combinations of topics for tacos, I’ve seen requirements captured in various ways. Scratch pads, Word docs, spreadsheets, “To Do” software, and formal project management/issue tracking software.

I’m a fan of consistency in approach and process. However you elect to capture requirements it should be done in a predictable manner. I find the greatest success when I have a system that captures the pertinent information in a uniform way. What information? I typically strive to answer these questions:

  • What is the business trying to accomplish?
  • What is the gap we’ve identified that prevents the goal OR is making that goal more difficult to realize?
  • Who is impacted (stakeholders)?
  • How are they impacted?
  • What are your stakeholders expectations for how this/these gap(s) are mitigated?

These are your stakeholder requirements. They help you frame the business need you are trying to fulfill and how your stakeholders expect that gap to be dealt with. You need to be mindful that sometimes what your users *think* they want is not what they truly need. It is your job to call that out as the process unfolds and support them through this.

With this, the systems team can start to work toward identifying two-three options for how this problem can be solved.

From there we can typically start to anchor discussion with the stakeholders around how we want to tackle the item. Having the information in a consistent format with the same questions being asked each time helps us frame the issue in a comprehensive way.

Take Control, but Don’t be Controlling

Your users need to be the voices fueling the needs for the system, but they need the process to be managed. You are the one steering the ship and you need to be a good captain. What does that mean? It means you are identifying the right people to be engaged in the discussion at the right times. You are engaging external resources for insight and guidance as appropriate, and you are keeping the team informed along the way. It’s your job to build out the path to achieving ‘done’ based on all the input and feedback from the team. They are looking for your leadership here.

We all know that saying…’with great power comes great responsibility’ (thanks, Voltaire – or, Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben, if you prefer). It can be difficult to tease out the common threads of various teams having input on the same system. Asking questions, particularly “why”, is your friend . Just as how children who are given firm but reasonable boundaries tend to respect those boundaries and why they exist in the long run, your users will respect your thorough, inquisitive approach to understanding what they truly require from the system.

Wrapping Up…

I maintain that having a plan is the key to success for most things in life. I find the points above help guide my approach to systems projects, and help me to keep the team engaged, the process organized, and the focal point on what the ultimate goals of the project are.

I’d love to hear what you think of these points and what you find useful in your world! Drop a comment below!

We’re all learning. Why not learn together?

Cover Image: Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

Dynamics 365 / Power Platform / Microsoft Business Applications – There is just so much!

Overwhelming – a fitting word for someone jumping into the world of Dynamics / Power Platform / Microsoft Business Applications.  There is no shortage of things to learn in the community and limitless configurations and processes in your organization.

For the past 18 or so months, we’ve seen the Power Platform evolve as the core to a business applications suite that is nothing short of spectacular!

If you’re just coming into the fold, there are a number of things you should understand.

Endless Options to Enhance Organizational Efficiency

Common Data Service – a cloud-based hub for your business applications. You’ll find great literature from Microsoft directly, as well as various explanations from various community leaders. The best explanation I’ve come across is from MVP Sarah Critchley, found here.

Dynamics – Microsoft’s collection of industry relatable systems focused on everything from finance to manufacturing to business operations to really anything you want it to be. Overtime we’ve seen various naming for these products. When I first started we had Microsoft Dynamics CRM (“Customer Relationship Management”), Microsoft Dynamics NAV (“Navision”), Microsoft Dynamics GP (“Great Plains”), among others. These have transformed over the years and we now find ourselves with a Dynamics 365 spanning various applications including:

  • Sales
  • Customer Service
  • Field Service
  • Talent
  • Finance
  • Supply Chain Management
  • Retail
  • Business Central
  • Commerce
  • Marketing
  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Mixed Reality
  • Business Central

You can learn about these here.

The Power Platform is a fountain of function. I could attempt to outline its breadth of features and functions here, but Microsoft’s site does a great job of this already. Additionally, the Power Platform Adoption Framework does a stellar job at articulating its value and laying out the necessary aspects for integrating the platform at scale in an organization. Kudos to Andrew Welch and others who have produced this fabulous resource.

Just the Beginning

This is quite literally the tip of the iceberg. There is so much more to it all, but these elements give you a decent start.

Alright – time to check in, how are you feeling? Confused? Overloaded? Like you’ve stepped off a plane in a new country staring at signs in a foreign language – a pang of excitement yet shrouded in a blanket of nervousness? Allow me to let you in on a little secret…

You are not alone.

You are not alone.

You. Are. Not. Alone.

It’s a lot to soak in. Start small. Keep a journal of sorts (might I suggest a OneNote Notebook!?). Picture tabs (“Sections”) across the top representing the various systems you want to learn more about, and on the first Page in each Section answers a few questions such as:

This tool does…

Users of this tool might be…

This tool could impact organizational function by…

(Perhaps you can think of more! Comment below with your ideas)

Good Content – Where You At?

As I noted in my introductory post, there are so many incredible contributors to this amazing community which spans the entire Microsoft Business Applications umbrella. Just a few of my personal favourites…and trust me, these are just a few:

Kylie Kiser

Todd Mercer

Nick Doelman

April Dunnam

Ed Gonzales

Emma D’Arcy

Luise Freese

Seth Bacon

Gus Gonzales

User Group Communities offer tremendous value as they are ‘for user, by user’

Twitter (try #PowerAddicts , #PowerPlatform or #Dynamics365)

There are also plenty of training services out there. From App in a Day courses to bootcamps to blackbelt series, there is a format and method that near anyone can bite into. A few searches through your favourite search engine will yield plenty of options in this regard.

What Events Should I Consider?

At time of writing, we’re in the midst of a global pandemic casting a great deal of uncertainty over the in-person event market. Plenty of events have or are shifting to a virtual format, and many were already taking place.

I’m a bit biased given my speaking/presentation history, but Dynamic Communities “Summit” events have been, in my opinion, of tremendous value. They are well attended and I personally value sessions from “every-day people” sharing “every-day realities”. Great content and connections with industry peers is a great way to spend a few days.

That said, there are so many great options out there. Microsoft offers great events – Ignite and the Business Applications Summit I’ve heard are excellent. There are also many other groups offering various forms of conferences. Not too long ago the Scottish Summit took place and I’ve heard nothing but incredible reviews of the event structure, the hosts, and the content itself.

There are also great options/listings from Dynamic Communities, D365 Saturday, and 365 Power Up

We are all different humans, so what works for one may be different for someone else. I encourage you think about what you’re looking for in an event and content, and then scope out the various offerings and available. You’re sure to find something that aligns with your needs and learning style.

Let’s Wrap This Up

I’ve rambled long enough for this post! Yes, been an admin can be overwhelming and a lot to soak in, but instead of thinking of it in those terms, think of the limitless potential these tools offer you and your organization! The best part? You are a key part of stewarding the use of these tools to bring efficiency AND effectiveness to your users. You’re right up there with the Avengers in my opinion.

If I had to give one piece of advice – and this is advice I need to heed myself – it’s to engage in the community as much as you can! Put yourself out there. Tell people what you want to learn and you will be amazed at the resources that land on your…umm…internet-step. This community is as supportive, welcoming and engaging as you’ll ever find. I guarantee the majority of those you meet will be genuinely interested in pointing you in the right direction.

We are ALL learning. Why not learn together?!

Introduction

Welcome to The Nerdy Admin

Not too long ago I read a Tweet by Ed Gonzales (@PoweredbyEdg) encouraging people to ‘share their story’. My immediate thought was “Nah, I’m light years behind what others post these days”. The post was referencing another by Saron (@saronyitbarek) that said “If you’re holding back on writing that blog post because it’s “too basic” or “too simple”, stop holding back.

Damn.

Since 2011 I’ve been a part of and active within of the “CRMUG” (CRM User Group) and also within the social platforms Twitter and LinkedIn. Early on I did some presentations and participate in panel discussions which ultimately led to more active volunteer roles within the user group. Doing so lead to many, many incredible connections. People I’d meet in the halls or sessions of Microsoft’s Convergence conference or connect with on calls sharing experiences. Many of those people I now consider friends and am in contact still to this day. I also learned a great deal, both from sharing my own story and having it resonate with others (validation of my own experiences) and in the form of engaging in conversations that re-framed my position on a topic or feature, and learning how to use aspects of things I didn’t understand before.

Let me simplify that paragraph – I learned a lot because I shared a lot.

Whoa.

The irony here was that I have always felt as though I was sharing simplistic/basic content, but it seemed to resonate with some of the people who attended. I have always framed it as ‘this is my experience. I’m not the expert, I’m learning too. But here is what I’ve learned so far’.

Interestingly enough, about a year ago I had been thinking about starting to blog (or, perhaps someday, vlog – what?!). I even brainstormed a list of topics I could write about. After much reflection I ultimately decided that it was of limited value. There is SO MUCH content already out there and it’s all really good. I’m not sure anyone would benefit, I convinced myself. I packed up my brainstorm, tucked it away in a sub-tab of OneNote and moved on with life.

Ed and Saron’s Tweet inspired me to think again. I dug out that list and started to think about it more, and came to a realization. This WAS valuable information to the right audience. “Maybe I should just give this a shot”, I thought.

What Am I Doing?

I plan to post instructional content – application specific “click here, enter this, do that” tutorials. However the bulk of my content will focus on things we need to think about in our role of administrators. It can be an overwhelming world to be a part of! With the rapid development of features, functions and integrations with, well, everything, it can be daunting. It’s no secret that Microsoft produces at a fantastical pace and it can be hard to keep up. I’m going to tackle topics that I hope will make you think and reflect on the underlying challenges we face in our role. All the while pointing out many of the great resources available to admins and users alike. 

More than Tech

As a final twist, it won’t always be focussed on administration or even technology. Sometimes I’ll dive into other topics such as mindfulness, strategic thinking, trend and data analysis, or even quick tips on random business applications I’ve come to learn. These are personal interest items that I find tightly woven with the role of an admin.

But, why?

What is my goal? I can’t possible put into words what I’ve gained from the generosity of others within the community. May it be their blogs, hearing people present, following their social posts or having conversations with them directly about specific issues or problems I’ve faced, this community is chock full of intelligent, generous folks who share their knowledge at every turn. It’s time I try to give something back!

— Disclaimer —

There is one thing I need to be very clear about right out of the gate and you’re going to hear me reference often in my writings…

I am not here claiming to be the expert. I am sharing my thoughts and opinions on these topics. Even when I provide tutorials, I encourage you to chime in with your insights in the comments, especially if that’s to show a more efficient way of doing something. I am here to learn along with you, so please never hesitate to share your thoughts publicly, or privately to me directly.

I’m excited about this venture, and hope that it will be of value to those who choose to follow along!

Malcolm