Friday, May 24, 2013

Software Training is All About Timing

The point of this post is simple -- software training cannot be successful until users have the live system in front of them with a goal in mind they want the software to help achieve.

I am not an expert when it comes to the fine details of software training. How best to conduct the sessions and how to present the content are things I respect but have little practical expertise in. I am, however, a witness to a great many people who learn how to use new software systems and more painfully I am a aware of the kinds of problems they have.

I am not naive about the difficulty of setting up the "software in front of your users with goal in mind" scenario but in most software deployments there is one convenient moment that puts your users in a position to succeed -- during parallel testing. A parallel test is no small task but it is the perfect opportunity for this scenario to exist for a wide range of users. Piggy backing on the parallel test for training is superior in efficiency of dollar spent per unit of user skill gained to traditional up-front user training because of the psychological engagement only real use cases can invoke. I strongly recommend parallel testing for any system roll-out for many other good reasons outside of the scope of training, but for sure you are missing the optimal learning moments without it.

Psychologically, once users have some skin in the game, then they can learn. And to be painfully realistic, very few are capable of learning before that point. We are busy, we have deadlines looming, we simply cannot pay attention to a system training for a system we will not touch for another 2 weeks and we've never seen before!

So I am recommending the abolishment of traditional up-front user training sessions? No. What I am recommending is a shifting of the goal of that up front meeting (and hopefully reducing its duration and expectations). The function it can provide very well is enough of a primer that the users think the system will be easy to use. Show high level things it can do. Describe in glorious detail how it will make their life easier. Set up scenarios and make the software sing. Its almost a full sales demo, but with the future users in the room. Get them excited about it. That first training session is more about "buy-in" and emotional connection to the new reality. Make them want it. That is about as good as you can hope for -- it will set up all kinds of good interactions with the system and its administrators in the coming days weeks and months as users actually learn how to interact with their special use cases. This is a huge difference from the usual top-down approach that has a tendency to demoralize future users and encourage animosity towards support staff (notice how support are rarely the trainers and vice versa? Why are these are different teams?) and administrators -- negative feedback that finds its way back to the stakeholders and eventually "complexity of the system" complaints . That rationally stubborn behaviour can be curbed by acknowledging the very human need for buy in in a sales-like kick off meeting. Of course there are limits to the success of this initiative and after that buy in meeting there will be resistors, but at least then you've identified them (or you have the wrong solution for their problems and thats a whole 'nother issue :)).

Friday, March 8, 2013

Web Deploy v2 and Web Application Packages

WebApplication.deploy.cmd -- when I run this command on my local machine I was getting this message:

To deploy this Web package, Web Deploy (msdeploy.exe) must be installed on the computer that runs the .cmd file. For information about how to install Web Deploy, see the following URL:

To install V2 of the MSDEPLOY.exe you MUST FIRST UNINSTALL V1! There is no failure message if you install V2 after V1, it just simply doesnt write the V2 files to the V2 directory if V1 is installed. Odd behaviour, but is what it is.

If this is not your issue, check out VS2010's SP1 fix to the WebApplication.deploy.cmd:

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

CRM 2011 FYI for programmatic solution imports

The ImportSolutionRequest.PublishWorkFlows property also publishes SDKProcessingMessages! It doesnt say this in any documentation, but it does. It is explicit on a solution import through the GUI.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Rollup 12 Service Activity bug and Microsoft's Public Apology

Our users found an odd bug on our service activity form (where we have custom javascript to set a lookup field based on some business logic).

The error below started coming up after rollup 12. I explain steps to reproduce in more detail here:

We ended up getting an acknowledgement of the bug from Microsoft and they pushed a fix online, but will have to wait for rollup 13 for the fix on-premise. They are damaging their credibility with these bugs and I am not the only one to notice. It even prompted a public apology from Bob Stutz, a Microsoft VP. Apologies can't give me or my customers their time back.

>System.Web.HttpUnhandledException: Microsoft Dynamics CRM has experienced an error. Reference number for administrators or support: #52178855: System.Web.HttpUnhandledException (0x80004005): Exception of type 'System.Web.HttpUnhandledException' was thrown. ---> System.FormatException: Guid should contain 32 digits with 4 dashes (xxxxxxxx-xxxx-xxxx-xxxx-xxxxxxxxxxxx).
>   at System.Guid.GuidResult.SetFailure(ParseFailureKind failure, String failureMessageID, Object failureMessageFormatArgument, String failureArgumentName, Exception innerException)
>   at System.Guid.TryParseGuidWithNoStyle(String guidString, GuidResult& result)
>   at System.Guid.TryParseGuid(String g, GuidStyles flags, GuidResult& result)
>   at System.Guid..ctor(String g)
>   at Microsoft.Crm.Application.Platform.AttributeCollection.CreateEnityReferenceFromLookupPropertyValue(String name, Object value, IOrganizationContext context)
>   at Microsoft.Crm.Application.Platform.AttributeCollection.SetEntityProperty(Entity entity, String name, String childAttributeName, Object parentProperty, AttributeMetadata attributeMetadata, Object value, IOrganizationContext context)
>   at Microsoft.Crm.Application.Platform.AttributeCollection.Insert(String name, Object value, Boolean throwIfKeyExists)
>   at Microsoft.Crm.Application.Platform.EntityProxy.SetLookupValueData(XmlNode node)
>   at Microsoft.Crm.Application.Platform.EntityProxy.SetData(XmlNode entityElement)
>   at Microsoft.Crm.Application.Platform.ApplicationEntityCollection.Deserialize(String entitiesXml, String entityType, IOrganizationContext context)
>   at Microsoft.Crm.Application.Platform.EntityProxy.SetData(XmlNode entityElement)
>   at Microsoft.Crm.Application.Forms.EndUserForm.RetrieveParametersForEventDefault()
>   at Microsoft.Crm.Application.Forms.EndUserForm.Initialize(Entity entity)
>   at Microsoft.Crm.Application.Forms.CustomizableForm.Execute(Entity entity, FormDescriptor fd)
>   at Microsoft.Crm.Application.Components.PageHandlers.SchedulableActivityBasePageHandler.ConfigureFormHandler()
>   at Microsoft.Crm.Application.Components.PageHandlers.ServiceAppointmentRecordPageHandler.ConfigureFormHandler()
>   at Microsoft.Crm.Application.Components.PageHandlers.RecordPageHandler.ConfigureFormWrapper()
>   at Microsoft.Crm.Application.Components.Utility.GenericEventProcessor.RaiseEvent(String eventName)
>   at Microsoft.Crm.Application.Controls.PageManager.OnPreRender(EventArgs e)
>   at System.Web.UI.Control.PreRenderRecursiveInternal()
>   at System.Web.UI.Page.ProcessRequestMain(Boolean includeStagesBeforeAsyncPoint, Boolean includeStagesAfterAsyncPoint)
>   at System.Web.UI.Page.HandleError(Exception e)
>   at System.Web.UI.Page.ProcessRequestMain(Boolean includeStagesBeforeAsyncPoint, Boolean includeStagesAfterAsyncPoint)
>   at System.Web.UI.Page.ProcessRequest(Boolean includeStagesBeforeAsyncPoint, Boolean includeStagesAfterAsyncPoint)
>   at System.Web.UI.Page.ProcessRequest()
>   at System.Web.UI.Page.ProcessRequest(HttpContext context)
>   at System.Web.HttpApplication.CallHandlerExecutionStep.System.Web.HttpApplication.IExecutionStep.Execute()
>   at System.Web.HttpApplication.ExecuteStep(IExecutionStep step, Boolean& completedSynchronously)

Import CRM 2011 Solution Dependency Error for a Workflow

I have a workflow that creates a Case from an Opportunity. It maps fields like the title and price list and spits out a case, simple and tested in my development org. However, when I exported the unmanaged solution it resides in as managed and import that into a blank org, this error occurred:

The dependent component Attribute (Id=parentaccountid) does not exist.  Failure trying to associate it with Workflow (Id=13e950d4-8e77-e211-b5f0-080027cd26e8) as a dependency. Missing dependency lookup type = AttributeNameLookup.

Despite having the dependency (parentaccountid is a system field on the Opportunity Product entity!) in the target org. So right off the bat I know this is going to be a weird one. How can I not have a stock system field?

My own analysis looking into the XML for the workflow found one node with reference to parentaccountid for preferredserviceid. (perferredserviceid is a system field on the account). However, the workflow did not contain a reference to that preferredserviceid field! How odd. Its like CRM remembered at one point that it did have a reference to it and never removed it. That "memory" caused it to output the field as a dependency in the workflow XML but not in one of the workflow steps itself. How odd.

I attempted deleting the whole workflow and re-add it to see if that node exported in the new workflow and it did not. After deleting and painfully copying each detail from the original workflow into a new one the error was gone. Hope that helps someone else in this situation.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Execute FetchXML in CRM 2011

If you want to execute arbitrary fetchXML code, dont forget about the bids reporting extension.

While developing some custom code best suited to a fetchXML query, I wanted a rapid way to execute fetchXML for a complex query. A small test app would work, and there is even a simple codeplex project for exactly that here However I recalled executing fetxhXML in the CRM 2011 bids reporting extension so if you have that installed simply open one of your CRM based reports and make a new dataset and use the query designer there to help debug those complex fetxhXML statements!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

CRM 2011 Online Programatic Report Generation

CRM 2011 Online Programatic Report Generation isnt possible through the API.

Microsoft knows about the feature gap. They recommend we vote for it on connect. This is the highest voted item in connect for it: give it a vote with your live id?

My scenario is for a customer who wants to auto create order reports and email them -- I have no solution other than recommending they move to on-premise.


We want to generate Reports programmatically in a CRM-online environment (exported to PDF and/or word).

There appears to be a way to achieve this in a crm-online environment posted in this blog: The logic behind it looks like it should work – since you can perform these actions via the web interface they must resolve into requests and responses so we can use XMLHttpRequests to get the data. The blog has many comments so it looks like the pitfalls have been addressed.