Understanding Activities and their unique powers

Dynamics

This post is about technology related to Microsoft Dynamics CRM and contains facts as they relate to the 2016 Online version, but may also apply to earlier versions.  In the previous post on this topic, Dynamics CRM Activities, Activities were introduced. In this post, we review the implications of making an entity an Activity.

Implementing Activities

My first foray into Dynamics began last October with 90% custom entities. I was a babe in the woods with no Dynamics experience or training.  I figured things out as I went along.  All the while I had this nagging concern that I would make a decision that would have downstream implications.  So far, there have been a few gotchas, and the most recent one relates to Activities.  This type of contextual information is where the Microsoft help is so wholly deficient.

Two truths:

  1. A entity can be a type of Activity. This causes the entity to be created with some default functionality related to activities; like start time, stop time, duration, resources involved, etc. as outlined in Dynamics CRM Activities.  See 1 in the screenshot below.
  2. An entity can have related Activities.  See 3 in the screenshot below.

Both of these configuration choices are made during Entity Definition and are permanent. Once you save the entity you cannot change this configuration option.

NewActivityEntity

What does this mean?  Here’s what I’ve discovered:

An entity can be an Activity

When creating an entity, you have a choice to make it an Activity type by checking the Define as an activity entity checkbox.  Checking that box is final.  It cannot be changed, which means more than I realized at first.

First:  The entity is created with a handful of default attributes with special powers. One of them is a Regarding lookup attribute. This lookup is populated with all records from all entities which can have related Activities.  Out of the box, that’s Account, Cases, Contacts, and others.

If you create a record for this entity from a parent, like a Case, the Regarding attribute is automatically populated with the primary key from the Case record.  If, however, you create the entity outside of a parent, the Regarding attribute is not pre-populated.

Like mentioned in the previous paragraph, the Regarding lookup is populated with all records from all entities which can have related Activities. This is problematic if you intended for the Regarding to always be one record type.

For example, I created a File Room Request entity that should only be related to Cases.  When a user is creating a File Room record from a Case, Regarding is pre-populated with the Case’s primary key.  However, if the user creates it from a View or a Dashboard, the Regarding is not pre-populated and the user can select anything.  They could make the mistake of associating it with a contact.  

RegardingLookup

You can filter the list of entities defined as Activities so they make the right choice, but that requires Javascript.

Second: As an Activity entity, the View ribbon displays a button for each entity defined as an Activity. In this screenshot you can see Task, Email, Phone Call, Fax, Campaign Response, and under Other Activities are the custom entities you’ve created as Activity types.

ribbon

Third:  Where Activities appear in the user experience is different and you must consider this as it relates to the overall user experience.  Because I checked the Define as an activity entity checkbox when creating the File Room Request entity, I now have File Room Requests launched from the Activities ellipsis on the Case form; whereas, I have other case-related related entities launched from sub-grids.  I could add File Room Request to the a sub-grid as well, but can’t remove it from Activities.  Too many ways for a user to skin the cat creates confusion.

activitylaunch
Activity component within Case form

Note:  You can prevent the entity from appearing in the Activities menu shown in the screenshot above by unchecking the Display in Activity Menus checkbox during Entity Definition as shown in the first screenshot.

Fourth:  The icon you select for the 32×32 dimension (you can specify a 16×16 and 32×32 icon for a custom entity) must be designed to appear on a white background; otherwise, it will blend into the background on the form it’s on.  You can see it working correctly in the screenshow above.

This is the same 32×32 image used on the Site Map as the sub-area icon; so consider its design carefully.  Related Site:  www.flaticon.com.  Free simple icons that can be downloaded in pre-specified sizes and colors.

I now wish I could figure out how to change all the OOTB icons because I like my white background better. 😉

sitemap

Fifth: If an entity is defined as an Activity, it appears in the Activities View which is filtered on entity type.  Not such a big deal; but consider the user experience and what appears there vs. doesn’t appear there in the context of all of your solution’s functionality.  If they see Tasks, Phone Calls, Appointments, and records from any other activity defined as an Activity type, they may have stop and think why something doesn’t appear that that “feels” like an activity.  If your user has to stop and think, you’ve failed in your UI design.

mywork

An entity can have related Activities

During Entity Definition you can also specify whether the entity you’re creating can have related Activities. You choose this option by checking the Activities checkbox in the Communication & Collaboration section of the Entity Definition dialog as shown in the first screenshot of this post.

The downstream impact is as follows:

First:  The ACTIVITIES section is available for displaying on the entity’s forms.  Each item with a red dot is an example of an entity configured as an Activity type described in the first section.

activities

Second: The Activities icon appears in the related navigation section when clicking the down arrow to the right of the record’s name.

Related

In the second installment I’ll explain all of the unique attributes of an Activity entity.

Dynamics CRM Activities

DynamicsThis post is about technology related to Microsoft Dynamics CRM and contains facts as they relate to the 2016 Online version, but may also apply to earlier versions.

What is an Activity?

Activities are types of records in Microsoft Dynamics related to things having the dimension of time and involve people performing the activity.  These include things like:

  • Telephone Call
  • Task
  • Email
  • Letter
  • Appointment

There are OOTB Activity entities, as listed above, and when creating a custom entity you can specify it as an Activity entity, which causes it to include unique attributes.

EntityAsTask

Attributes Unique to an “Activity” Entity

  • Party – the people involved in the Activity
  • Subject – the subject of the Activity.  This is the primary key.
  • Regarding – the entity to which the Activity is related.  This can be any entity which has been configured as an Activity; such as, Account, Contact, Case, etc.
  • Dates
    • Scheduled Start
    • Scheduled End
    • Actual Start
    • Actual End
    • Scheduled Duration
    • Actual Duration
  • Parties
    • To
    • From
    • CC
    • BCC
    • Organizer
    • Resources
    • Customers
    • Required Attendees
  • Left Voice Mail 
  • Status Reasons
    • Open
    • Completed
    • Cancelled
    • Scheduled

 

Other than the unique attributes, there are other downstream implications when creating an Activity entity.  These are detailed in the next post Understanding Activities And Their Unique Powers.

Creating a Logo for Your Dynamics CRM Theme

Dynamics

Below you learn how to create a custom logo for your Dynamics CRM instance using a layered Photoshop file. I have provided the DynamicsLogo.psd below in order to make quick work of it so you can get back to the fun of customization.

I use the word instance with great intention as opposed to Solution.  The reason is that the Theme applies to the entire instance, not just one Solution within the instance

Modify Text in Photoshop

1.  Open the DynamicsLogo.psd file provided below.

2.  Click the eye icon on the left side of Layer 1.  The layer’s black background is now displayed so you can see the white text you’re creating.  We’ll turn it off before saving so the image can be displayed on any dark background.

Step1

 

 

3.  Click in the middle of the text you want to change.  You must click within the text; otherwise, you will create an additional text box, which is not what you want.

Step2_ChangeText

4.  Change the text to display what you want to show in the logo.

5.  When done making the change, click the checkmark from the button bar.

Checkmark

6.  Repeat steps 3 thru 5 for the Line 2 text.

7.  When done making your changes, Save As a PNG file.

Upload to Dynamics

1.  Click Settings > Customization > Themes.

2.  Select the theme you want to change.

3.  Click the search icon in Logo field.

UploadLogo

 

Variations

  • One Line?  If you don’t want two lines, drag the Text 2 layer to the trash can shown at the bottom of the Layers panel, then center the Text 1 layer so it fills the space you desire.
  • Image with or without text?  To insert an image, simply place it and size it within the size of the image.

download168Download DynamicsLogo.psd 

 

people8

 

If you need help modifying this file, consider hiring my son who has an undergraduate degree from one of the top art schools in the country and isn’t earning a living wage.  He’ll do a quick tweak with the font of your choice for $25 USD.  Send me an email if this is your desire.

From Chaos to Order using OneNote – Part 1

~ managing a Microsoft Dynamics project using Agile and OneNote to capture and bring order to your brilliance ~


Microsoft’s OneNote has saved me from myself.  I am slightly ADD and have brilliant moments at inopportune times.  I manage my self-induced stress with order and structure, and this blog series will detail how I’ve done it using OneNote on my laptop.

Here’s a quick overview of the process; details to come later:

During requirements gathering …

customer input explodes into a fireworks burst of more questions, ideas, and things I need to remember to do.  Dear G_d, the chaos and the sleep loss.

After requirements gathering …

the chaos (er — details) are brought to order into a product backlog of stories and tasks I need to accomplish.  The priority of the items are managed on a regular basis both with and without my customer by simply dragging and dropping to re-order.

Along the way, if order can’t quite be achieved, items  (stories, tasks, random notes in no particular place) are tagged for follow up with other resources, as needed.  When a resource is in front of me — either by invitation or accident — I quickly locate all tagged items needing their input. How sweet it is.

When a story is Done …

it’s status is changed and it’s moved to the Demo area.   As Demo Day approaches, the stories in the Demo area are combined into a cohesive set of business scenarios grouped by User Role. Momentum rules. Distractions distract.

During the Demo …

another round of chaos begins (er — feedback) and everything is documented in a “scratchpad” area.  Once the Demo is done, each story’s status is changed to Done and it’s moved to the Done area.

After the Demo …

the recent round of chaos is processed back into order by transferring from the scratchpad area to the backlog and reordering priorities accordingly. Pick up next on the list and keep moving forward.  The cycle continues and sleep prevails!

Ah, the beauty of order and structure brought about by OneNote.

The back story:

This series is focused on how I use OneNote to bring order to a ridiculous yet exhilarating Microsoft Dynamics project managed using pieces of the Agile methodology.  I perform in the roles of business analyst, project manager, scrum master, and Dynamics configuration specialist (with no prior Dynamics knowledge or training).  That’s the ridiculous part.  The exhilarating part is seeing the final solution come to life and delight the customer.

Agile purists would argue this isn’t Agile done well; and it’s not. It fails on many of Agile’s principles, including establishing a sustainable pace.  Not many could sustain the pace I’m working at for any length of time, but I have tons of flexibility with when I can work both from my personal and work life perspectives.

It is what’s working for now to get feedback early and often given my unique circumstances; my time with the customer is limited; funding is limited; tolerance for change is limited; and technical understanding by the customer is limited.  My customer (and employer) is a US governmental agency, so I either I jumped in and took it on or it wasn’t going to get done — for a very long time.

Given these circumstances, one either figures out a way or comes to their senses and bails out when presented with such a challenge.  I chose the former, and am blessed to be supported by an incredibly awesome manager who stands back and steps in, as necessary.   As well as a husband who gets it when I’m in the zone and has become quite the “Call of Duty” warrior as a result.

Oh, and the Microsoft Dynamics Community.  Go there — early and often as they say in testing circles.  The resources are gracious with their time and swift in their responses.

Feeding your cat as the carnivore they should be

Yesterday morning I watched as my 1 year-old cat puked up a log in a way I’ve seen my older cat do on a regular  basis.  I always thought the older cat, Cookie, just did that “because.”  When I saw it from the baby I knew there had to be more to this.

Our home “feline” profile

We have four cats; each unique in their own way.

  • There is Cookie, the vocal, attention demanding black long-hair.  She is probably close to 10 years old and projectile vomits at least three times a week without discriminating as to where, including our bed.
  • There is Helen, the pure white, blue-eyed cat my kids call the devil.  She is probably a little younger than Cookie.  We adopted her from the SPCA about five years ago.  She’s a refined huntress with an incredible sense of bravado and fight. She will nip your toes to let you know she’s done being inside and ready to be let out.  Helen will eat ANYTHING and everything.  She suffers from skin issues on her nose and the tips of her ears.  The vet believes it’s sunburn from her coloring, and all biopsies have come back negative for cancer.  She also has a perpetual drainage from one of her eyes.  I believe these are manifestations from allergies.
  • There is Charlie, a 10-something year-old rescue we adopted three years ago from a local cat rescue organization and discovered quickly he was incurable sprayer.  Short of putting him down due to this issue, we’ve relegated him to be 100% outdoors.  He is such a lovable, wonderful cat, but his history precludes him being an indoor cat.  He also has intestinal issues and often has to visit the vet to have his anal glands cleared.  He has diarrhea, a recurring UTI and is currently plagued with ear issues which cause him to fall over when he shakes his head.  He’s on his second round of antibiotics to see if it’s middle-ear related before moving on to blood work to see if it’s something else.
  • Then there is Mia.  We adopted her from the SPCA last year as a 3-month old kitten.  She had been with a feral colony prior to arriving at the SPCA.  We have coddled and kept her close to us so she would learn to be an indoor cat.  We’re succeeding

Prior to adopting Charlie we had a 17 year-old family cat who got diabetes and for three years we administered insulin, veterinary-prescribed food, and struggled to the end when he was put down.

All of my cats are fed Purina One dry cat food “at will.”  Leaving a bowl outside for Charlie has attracted many a raccoon and neighborhood cat to our front porch, which is not a good scenario.

Yesterday I learned how to feed them to *thrive* not just survive

A search for cat vomiting yielded this website: http://catinfo.org/?link=makingcatfood by Lisa A. Pierson, DVM., a graduate of the University of California, Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.

This philosophies shared on this site speak to me.  You see, I eat naturally and respect the relationship between food and health.  I’m not sure why I’ve never related this to my cats.  I guess I just never knew how bad dry cat food was until I stumbled upon Dr. Pierson’s site and then continued researching the topic.

To summarize the information she shares:

  1. They’re meat-eaters
    • Cats are carnivores.  In the wild they eat raw met and bones of their prey.
    • Cats in the wild do not eat carbohydrates or plant-based proteins like we see in commercially-prepared foods — grains and vegetables are for humans, not cats.
    • Cats need a diet with a balanced ratio of meat (phosphorus) and bones (calcium), and less than 10% carbohydrates.
  2. They expect water from their diet
    1. Cats inherently have a low thirst drive and need to consume their water “with” their food.  A cat’s normal prey is 70% water.
    2. A healthy urinary tract system requires flowing water.
  3. Dry Cat Food
    1. Is devoid of water.
    2. Wreaks havoc on insulin/blood sugar because of the carb load.
    3. Is synthetically supplemented with plant-based proteins.
    4. Is cost-effective to the producers by using “by products” rather than muscle meats (chicken, turkey, beef, rabbit)
    5. It’s processing removes the beneficial moisture and alters the biological value of the protein sources, as well as damaging vital nutrients.
    6. Is not refrigerated and sits in warm warehouses, on pet store shelves, and in your cupboards for weeks or months before being consumed, leading to bacterial growth and rancid fats.
    7. Is a prime source of contamination and illness.  Just look at how many pet food recalls we’ve had recently.
    8. Any canned cat food, regardless of price, is better than dry cat food for your cat’s overall health.  If you do nothing else, GET THE DRY CAT FOOD OUT OF THEIR DIET.  Buy any kind of canned food instead.
  4. Justifying the effort
    • All cats appear “fine” until they demonstrate outward signs of disease from poor commercially-prepared diets.  Diseases are brewing long before outward signs.  Common results:
      • Obesity
      • Diabetes
      • Blocked urinary tracts
      • Cystitis
      • Food intolerance (IBD)
      • Kidney/bladder stones
      • Cancer
    • The time you spend feeding your cats a species appropriate diet will pay off in time and money spent dealing with an illness.  I know the heart, soul, and $ I put into taking care of a diabetic cat for three years.  If this makes them healthier and happier, I’m in.

Today is the first day on a species-appropriate diet for my cats

Last night I visited our local gourmet pet supply store (Redbridge Pet Supply Market) and picked up canned food with zero carbohydrates to help us in the transition from dry food.

Today we went shopping for chicken thighs and drumsticks with bone-in and skin on, chicken livers, and the required supplements and made our first batch of home-made food.  It was a lot easier than I thought.

Here’s our first batch:

 

Richmond Area Digital Library Sites

This post is referenced in the series titled “Enjoying Library Books on Your Mobile Device.”


In partnership with Overdrive, the following public libraries in the area surrounding Richmond, Virginia have digital library sites.

Click your library’s name to go to it’s associated digital library site. If yours is not listed below, find it here.

Chesterfield County Public Library

 

Henrico County Public Library     Richmond Public Library           Virginia Community Colleges     masthead-large.jpg-2       masthead-large.jpg

Enjoying Library Books on Your Mobile Device – [4] Download

This is the 5th post in a series titled “Enjoying Library Books on Your Mobile Device.”


DownloadAfter you’ve added a book to your Bookshelf on your library’s digital website, you need to confirm your desire to download it, then have it delivered to your mobile device.

Note to Self:  After confirming the download and clicking the Confirm & Download link, you are transferred to Amazon’s website.  This site controls the delivery to your mobile device.  Don’t panic.  It’s supposed to be that way!

Download

The e-book series: OVERVIEW –1- Go to Library –2- Find A Book –3- Found A Book –4- Download > Read > Return

Enjoying Library Books on Your Mobile Device – [3] Found a Book

This is the 4th post in a series titled “Enjoying Library Books on Your Mobile Device “.


Check OutOnce you have found a book you’re interested in reading, there are four things you can do with it:

 

  1. Borrow it.
  2. Put a Reserve (Hold) on it because it’s already checked out.
  3. Add it to your Wish List.
  4. Share it with your friends on social media.  (this feature shares the book’s information, not it’s content)

Found a Book

The e-book series: OVERVIEW –1- Go to Library –2- Find A Book –3- Found A Book –4- Download > Read > Return