Goal management is one of those features in Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011 that has a relatively high barrier for utilization. The initial thought of measuring the business results of your organization through a built-in mechanism in your CRM system resonates with almost any customer that you tell about goal management, yet the excitement tends to wear out quickly once they discover the effort required in configuring and maintaining the goals. Sure, if you’ve only got a small organization and set goals on annual or quarterly level, it’s not such a big burden to key in the goal records with metrics and targets. But what if you’d like to measure something on a more real-time basis, like monthly or weekly? Even daily? Not such a fun thought anymore, now is it?
There are creative workarounds available for generating goals for a larger number of data points. The most practical tip I’ve come across has involved copying goal records by creating a dialog process to streamline the steps required for reproducing existing goals. I originally read about it from a presentation by Richard Knudson on Scalable Goal Management in Dynamics CRM 2011. You can view the slides from eXtreme CRM 2011 Las Vegas in PowerPoint Online or alternatively read this blog post by PowerObjects that walks you through the dialog creation process.
A different way to define goal time periods
Sometimes what you need in terms of process measurement isn’t down to the detailed level of setting individual target values for each week or each user. Maybe you have a steady weekly target of X records in a particular state and you’d just want to easily see how you’re currently performing against this target. Here’s were a more recent article by Richard comes in handy: Goal Criteria and Dynamic Goals. The big message here is that you’re not actually forced to use the From and To dates of a goal record to determine the measurement period. You can basically set a goal to be running for 20 years and instead limit the number of records evaluated by the goals Rollup Query through a dynamic date criteria like “last 7 days”.
Whit this little trick, setting up a dashboard that shows the current performance is super easy, no matter how short your goal time period is. The charts will update once per day based on the default roll-up recurrence frequency, so displaying the difference between the target and the actual value for metrics like leads qualified or calls made requires you to only set up the goal once per each variant (owner, status, type…) but not the different dates. Just stretch the goal period to be as long as you like and control the dates in the Rollup Query definition.
The downside of this approach is that the goal measurement is completely dynamic, meaning past values will leave no trace. Sure, you could enable audit on the goal entity to keep some form of results history, but since the audit data is not available for views, charts or even custom SQL reports (without some hacking), it’s not quite as easy as with the traditional method of creating goals for each time period separately.
Tracking historical results without manually creating goals
Another recent Dynamics CRM blog post favorite of mine comes from Yaniv Arditi. In his three part series (part 1, part 2 and part 3) Yaniv presents a model of how to implement an asynchronous batch process in Microsoft Dynamics CRM. Best of all, in his final post he provides a solution file that you can download and apply in your CRM organization.
What does the solution do then? Basically it is a way to implement a much needed but currently missing feature of Dynamics CRM: easily scheduling recurring workflows on a group of records. With this solution you can specify a batch process that runs every X days, performs a query of the required CRM records and then initiates a workflow process for each of those records found. You schedule it once, leave it running and the related process will always create a new waiting instance of itself once it stars at the defined intervals.
What’s the Fetch XML in there? It’s the Target Records Definition that determines for which records the workflow process selected in the Action Workflow lookup field will be executed. Where do you get the Fetch XML then? That’s easy: from any Advanced Find view, just by clicking the “Download Fetch XML” button on the ribbon.
To put this solution into work together with the concept of dynamic goals, I’ve got the following sample use case: track the number of active cases on a daily basis and compare it with a target value. This is an example of a status metric that’s not so simple to directly calculate from the records in CRM. To produce a figure like helpdesk queue length you would need to not only retrieve the number of cases created on any given day but also compare it with the closure dates of cases. It would be much easier if we could just take a snapshot of the currently open records on a set interval and store the information into CRM. So, why don’t we do just that?
First, let’s set up a custom entity called “Snapshot” to hold the data for us. We’ll establish relationships to both Goal and Goal Metric, then add the necessary fields for holding the types of data we want to track, in this case integer values for target and actual.
Next we need an on-demand workflow process that will create these Snapshot records for us from the goal data.
The batch process record shown previously has already been configured to perform the task we want: based on a daily schedule, retrieve all the goal records for which we want to be tracking the snapshots. All we need to do is set its Status Reason field to Scheduled, save the record and the process kicks off. The Asynchronous Batch Process Pattern solution will run every day (unless residing on a shut down virtual machine, like in my example image below), triggering the Take Goal Snapshot workflow, which in turn will create a daily snapshot of the actual and target number of active cases in the system. You can naturally visualize the history data with a chart, too. If you have different goal owners or several different goals to take snapshots of, just create the necessary views to filter the data shown.
To summarize, in this solution we use the Goal record as merely a “calculation machine” that produces the Actual Integer value we need. It also holds the data for the Target Integer, with the ability to update this figure if the targets should ever change. The scheduling is managed by the Batch Process record. It takes care of initiating the Take Goal Snapshot process for the selected Goal on a daily basis, which results in the creation of the Snapshot records you see above. All we had to do was to create each record once and we can leave this solution running for as long as we need.
I think this is quite a wonderful example of how you can mix’n match the different functionality of the Dynamics CRM platform to come up with a new feature that doesn’t exist in the product right out of the box, yet it can be implemented by using the platform components and supported extensions developed on top of it. Thanks again to both Richard and Yaniv in providing me with the building blocks for implementing the recurring goal solution.