Back in the days before we had Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011 available, it was a commonplace customization to show entities related to the parent entity directly on the parent’s form by utilizing an iFrame. Making information such as latest history items (nowadays called closed activities) quickly visible to any user opening the form is often justified, as one key functions of a CRM system is to share information about what interaction has taken place with the customer. Referencing the URL of the related view on the iFrame was not exactly supported, but it was a relatively safe customization to apply nonetheless.
Due to popular demand, Microsoft introduced an official method for achieving this UI customization in CRM 2011 through the use of the form sub-grid element. As a part of the entity forms redesign, the subgrids have now become an out-of-the-box feature on several default entities, such as accounts, contacts and opportunities.
Different navigation points, different views
It’s important to note that subgrids don’t use the entity associated view definition, which is applied when traditionally navigating to the view by using left side menu items on an entity form. Instead they allow you to separately choose a filter to “view only related records”, in combination with any of the system views available for the entity in question (but not the associated views, as those are “special” views). 9 times out of 10 you’ll want to keep the filter on, as showing non-related records on the entity’s form would under normal circumstances defy the standard UI logic of how Dynamics CRM presents records in different windows.
OK, fair enough, so that’s why the columns in a subgrid aren’t updated after you edit the entity related view, like you used to do in CRM 4.0 and previous versions. We can live with that. In order to provide a consistent user experience, I would recommend that these two views are set up so that they have identical contents. This is because an “oldskool” CRM user may navigate through the left side menu by habbit, whereas a person new to Dynamics CRM will probably prefer to just scroll through the form. Sadly there’s no “save as” functionality available on the entity related view, and you can’t promote a normal view to become a related view (since there’s only one of them). This means you have to manually configure the two views to be indentical in terms of attributes, column order, width, sorting and (in some cases) filters.
Rolling up the records
Another thing that may surprise a seasoned Dynamics CRM consultant until he learns the tricks of the latest version is that the aforementioned feature has further implications specific to accounts and opportunities in particular. As we’ve come to know, these entities have special capabilities enabled in the activity views: the roll-up functionality. Instead of being restricted to only activities directly related to a record, we can actually see a bit further. Let’s take a simple example of an account and it’s open activity associated view:
It’s that “Include Related Regarding Records” selection above the grid which allows us to view activities not only related to the account itself but also the ones regarding a contact of the account and an opportunity related to it. Pretty neat, as it’s often the people working at an account that we associate communication and activities to, such as emails and appointments.
Now, let’s take advatage of the new CRM 2011 functionalities and look at the activity subgrid that’s conveniently available in the out-of-the-box configuration of an account form:
Huh? Where did my activities go? They’re still there, but this particular navigation path will not allow you to view them, since you’re on a subgrid and, as we previously concluded, subgrids can’t show the entity associated view. This means there’s no way for you to apply the “Including Related Regarding Records” functionality over here.
I’ll be the first to admit I’ve fallen for this trap in customer demos more than once. The menu anchor for accessing the Notes & Activities subgrid is just too tempting to click, when what you really intended to do was to view the fully featured activity associated view and access a complete list of the related activities. If the difference between view columns was a minor inconvenience, then this is downright misleading to many users I’m sure.
The quick solution for this would be to just remove the activity subgrids from the account and opportunity entity forms where the results can be contradicting, thus forcing the user to navigate through the old fashioned menus into the related activities views. Another option would be to perform the old iFrame trick and just embed this view onto a form iFrame, which does sound a bit 4.0-ish. The last option is to go and vote on Dynamics 365 Ideas site, requesting MS to include the full roll-up functionality for subgrid views in a future version of Dynamics CRM. [Read more…]