A quick disclaimer before I begin. This article, as with all in this series, are based upon personal experiences and from experiences of others I have spoken to. What I write here is my opinion and my personal thoughts regarding how to get the best out of each of the project phases – none of it is reflective of the views of my employer.
I should also make very clear that any people I write about here are not real but are fictitious composites made up of conversations that we’ve all had, with characters we can all relate to.
Why is it I feel as though I fell down the rabbit hole, and have only just (barely) returned to normality?
I have just had the, erm, pleasure of a week long set of sessions with the dynamic duo of Belinda and Andy, the Blue-Sky Conceptual Capability Coordinators, and I can honestly say that my grip on reality is tenuous right now (not that it was that strong before!)
Following the wonders of the ProSpecT (Project Specification Talk) meeting this was always the phase of the project that I was most wary of.
Under the latest management directives (which have, as expected, been revised since my last diary entry) we were at the stage of the project now called the WORKSHOP – which stands for Working Out Required Knowledge Solutions, Holistically Observing Possibilities. I wish I were making that one up but the best one I could come up with cannot be repeated here, or in any polite company, and makes the one I put in my last diary entry look positively tame.
I’m sure that many people have been to workshops, and even run them, but a WORKSHOP is definitely a different kettle of fish.
Andy and Belinda are the kind of bubbly cheery people who feel like they took a wrong turn on the way to the children’s TV studios, and they are definitely NOT the kind of people you want to be dealing with first thing on a Monday morning following a session of analysing the best form of alcohol for inducing random acts of karaoke with Crystal and Steph from the “any numbered line” support team.
Before I explain the sheer horror of Monday morning, allow me to rewind a week… cue the Scooby Doo time wiggly lines effect please…
The Global Operations Director here, Konrad with a K because its kooler of kourse, was keen for us to adopt a more conversational approach to our relationships with Potential Procurement and this meant making the most of our Blue-Sky Conceptual Capability Coordinators.
As if asking the Head of Potential Procurement and Product Placement to tell us “what do you want?” wasn’t bad enough, we now needed to “Actively Engage” with the various “Professionally Equipped Expert Personas”… yes, we need to talk to PEEPs.
This active engagement involved sitting around on bean bags, yoga balls, and some Swedish furniture that really nobody could work out quite how it was meant to be used, in the largest open space we have – which just so happened to be the staff canteen. Fantastic planning as the morning breakfast queues had to perform some amazing dance moves around the whiteboards and seating provisions just so they could get their much needed bacon butties.
A rather eclectic mixture of post-it notes, whiteboards, string, Plasticine, and sticky backed plastic were used to conceptualise and visualise the internal thought spaces of a normal customer transaction. Honestly, you couldn’t make some of this stuff up – all I know is that Arthur Jr still hasn’t forgiven Primrose for mixing the blue and green Plasticine together.
Reading those last paragraphs again does make me wonder how I’m managing to hold on to reality – there is just so much management speak that I am at risk of losing my ability to talk to normal people. Mrs Arthur has been giving me some rather odd looks of late, but then asking her for a “roasted bean based caffeinated beverage served at about 90°c without any liquid bovine produce added” might have been a bit too much when all I wanted was a black coffee!
And so we head back to today. The WORKSHOPs have been completed, with my personal highlight being when Jack started to layout his process for getting ready for work each morning… by using interpretive dance as his medium!
Now I wait with bated breath for the wondrous “Conceptual Outline Designs” (sounds a bit fishy to me – maybe that should be baited breath!?!) to see just what I’m meant to be building. Whilst I wait it’s time to go and sit with Sven the Swedish Saab driving Systems Structural Symbologist to see what the wondrous system architecture will look like.
Business Analysis. It’s a phase of the project that can, if done right, really help drive the design of the project and give some clarity to the overall processes as well as giving opportunity to suggest where efficiencies can be made by using the functionality of Dynamics 365.
Moving from CRM 2011 to Dynamics 365 it’s highly likely that processes will have evolved over time, and it might even be worrying if they haven’t as I’m pretty sure that requirements will have changed. The challenge is to work out where the new functionality can, and should, be used.
Depending on your own business processes the BA phase might be just about information gathering, rather that presenting any suggestions for improvements. It also depends on the approach to the migration – if you’re just doing a partial lift’n’shift then there will be no changes, but if you are doing a re-engineering style project then this is where you definitely start to think about Business Process Flows etc.
This is a great chance to engage with the actual users of the system, and it’s so important to ensure that every voice is heard. We all have those people who can talk for England and can, without always realising it, dominate the conversation – but this is where the quiet ones need to have a platform, those that never speak up and just get on with the job. The chances are that they will be the ones who have the best ideas.
Quite often the technical side of the project sit on the side during the analysis phase, and just await the various diagrams and documents, but for me I definitely think that it’s crucial to get involved. Even if it’s just popping in for a quick round-table discussion, it’s so critical for understanding just how the users perceive their processes, and how the existing system can help or hinder that.
Likewise, the Analysis piece of work can often be a conceptual piece that doesn’t look at either the existing system or the capabilities of the new. Personally speaking, and this really is just my perspective on it, I really do think that process analysis should include system usage both pre and post migration. It’s a great chance to sell some of the newer capabilities within Dynamics 365, and it can really help to get the end-users on board with the overall project as they can see that you can make their lives easier.
I’ve seen analysis documentation for projects that really opens your eyes to what the users do, and I’ve seen documentation that leaves you wondering what the users do. In the case of the latter obtaining a clear idea of processes is something that I’ve had to pick up myself, and some of it is subjective as it may be that the Business Analyst doesn’t document in a way that crystalises things for you. The documentation may be fine, but it might just be that it isn’t presented in a way that matches your thinking.
The biggest thing here is Communication. Talking to the Analyst, talking to the Users, and keeping those channels open, will pay huge dividends as the project moves forwards. It will also help ensure that business expectations, and the delivered reality, are manageable and achievable.