When implementing a business process in Dynamics CRM there are several different implementation paths to choose from. There are advantages and disadvantages to the different techniques but there are some goals that I feel the implementations should meet, mainly:

1. Fully supported customizations only

2. Flexible and non-static.

3. Power user modifiable

4. Movable from environment to environment (dev-test-production)

I will discuss the different aspects bellow and why I feel they are important.

Fully supported customizations only

This is almost so self-evident that it doesn’t even need mentioning but I have seen several CRM implementations that not only nudge this paradigm in the corner, but bite big large chunks out of it. For me, the number one reason why this is so important is that all customers will sooner or later want a hotfix or upgrade to a later version and when Microsoft, in their greatest foresight and benevolence definied the concept of supported customizations, they made this possible without costly maintanance agreements or hostile customer relationships. So, not following it should be punishable by death or something close to it.

I would presume that you CRM implementations are meant to last for your customers and that you want a long a fruitfull relationship with your customer, why you just cannot underestimate this point. If you have to make unsupported customizations, make sure they are as light weight as possible, document them thouroghly and how to validate them when installing a hotfix or upgrade.

A business process must hence be made as supported as possible.

Flexible and non-static

The solution has to be flexible and non-static. We, and our customers live in an ever changing world and to cope with this, business processes have to change as the world around a company changes. Just imagine the changes the telecom industry has gone through the latest 20 years. To fully accomodate this the customer implementations have to be flexible and changable. Microsoft Dynamics CRM is one of the most versatile and flexible systems available, especially now that it incorporates windows workflow foundation. Implementing a business process in code entirly, locks the processes down, and builds a dependance on the CRM delivering partner, something every customer-value focused consultant must despise. I do not need to force my customers to use my services when I can get them to choose me because of the value I deliver to them every hour of every day.

Instead, use the power of Windows Workflow Foundation combined with custom workflow activities. If needed, trigger these workflows using plug-ins and isv.config customizations.

Power user modifiable

A business process often involves users of different sorts and communicates with these using emails, tasks and other activites. The content of these and the recipients, sometimes dynamically set, sometimes static (like the CFO), might need to be changed. Therefore it is not very flexible for the customer if code has to be re-written everytime a mail has to be changed. It is a lot more flexible to create a workflow that creates the activity and then just execute the workflow from code, apart from the fact that it is a lot quicker to implement. Just write a method that enables you to execute the workflow by name instead of Guid.

Movable from environment to environment (dev-test-production)

All implementations of any notable size always includes at least three environements, not seldom up to 5 or 6 depending on how you count (local dev, central dev, test, training, production). Business process implementations have to be easy to move between solutions without any or with as little as possible environement specifics. Hence, try to use names (or some other environment indpendant value) instead of guids since guids are environment specifics when relating to workflows and other similar things. Try to get all environement specific settings in one place, one file or create an entity for them. This can be a challange but try, it will pay off in the long run.

These are my thoughts on the business processes implementation stategy concerning Dynamics CRM 4. I would be happy to discuss the topic so please leave comments!

Gustaf Westerlund
Microsoft Dynamics CRM Architect