Wednesday, 19 September 2007

Blow your users' socks off with your CRM requirements spec and prototypes

A few years ago I started studying for a ISEB Diploma in Business Analysis because I was interested in finding better ways of writing requirements specifications for CRM systems. Unfortunately, the course was a waste of time, but during my research I came across the concept of wireframe prototyping and bumped into a tool called Axure RP Pro.

Most requirements specifications I've seen are a long list of feature requests. But a requirements list is often ambiguous, incomplete and impossible to respond to or test against. Well-written Use Cases can help sort out some of the ambiguity, but not everyone's keen on reading pages and pages of text. I'm still a big fan of Use Cases and often write Summary Use Cases in the early phases of a projects. Check out Alistair Cockburn's work on Use Cases at http://alistair.cockburn.us/index.php/Main_Page.

If a picture paints a thousand words, then perhaps a web-based prototype paints a million words. Screen design prototypes communicate requirements much more clearly than requiremets lists and use cases. But Microsoft CRM's customization tools don't lend themselves well to requirements prototyping. Others have tried Viso or even PowerPoint for screen design, but the design specification has to be maintained separately in Word or Excel.

That's where Axure Pro RP comes in. It's a specialist program design for prototyping rich internet applications. From the wireframe prototype you can easily generate a Word document requirements specification that your users can easily read to approve their requirements or developers can use as a design specification. Axure can also generate a full HTML prototype so that you can demo your designs to a room full of users, and really blow their socks off.

Over the last few months I've built up a library of Microsoft Dynamics CRM 3.0 screens in Axure PR Pro covering about 50% of the standard screens. I've used these to generate requirements specifications and prototypes in a couple of projects. The results speak for themselves: clearler requirements, easier approval, tighter change management, quicker development, fewer defects and more addicted users.

You can find out more about using Axure RP Pro for Microsoft CRM from Axure's website: http://axure.com/CS/blogs/axure/pages/Axure-RP-Pro-for-Microsoft-Dynamics-CRM.aspx.

If you'd like to check out the standard Microsoft CRM Leads wireframes, you can download them from our website at (http://www.increasecrm.co.uk/downloads/microsoftcrm3_leads.zip) and use them with the trial version of Axure RP Pro (http://www.axure.com/downloadsform.aspx).

Have fun and let me know how you get on with prototyping Microsoft CRM with Axure.

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