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Category Archives for "Develop productive habits and systems"

XRM Toolbox with Dynamics 365 and Model Driven PowerApps

To anyone building model-driven PowerApps, Dynamics 365 for Customer Engagement, or the Common Data Service for Apps, XRM Toolbox needs to be your friend. In a recent Implement This podcast episode I discussed a couple of favorite tools in the toolbox.

Specifically we talk about:

View the full show notes (and the video I mention) at implementthis.org

Cascade Rules in the Common Data Service for Apps

Recently Britta and I recorded and released a podcast episode about “cascade rules” behavior. When building relationships between entities in the Common Data Service, these settings influence the behavior of visibility, assignment, and other system capabilities.

This capability can be leveraged when building model-driven PowerApps and extending Dynamics 365 Customer Engagement.

View the full episode show notes at implementthis.org

 

 

Run more effective meetings by pre-writing your “recap” summary

According to the Atlassian, the average employee has 62 meetings per month and reports that half of those meetings are a waste of time. It’s great if you can reduce that total number but for the ones you do have, try to make them more effective meetings. I have several strategies I use to make the best use of my meeting time.

That said, one of the biggest time-sucks wasn’t just the time spent in the meeting itself, but post-meeting trying to put together summary emails that would go out to my team. It seemed like writing those summary emails would take as long (or longer) than the meeting itself! Does this sound familiar?

I knew there had to be a better way.

That’s when I changed up my process and started writing the summary email before the meeting even took place. At first, this seems crazy (or presumptuous at best) but stick with me, it’s only a draft at this point.

This draft becomes a reminder of what the important topics are and is a reference point to gauge progress during the meeting. As the conversation takes place, I amend my notes to reflect the actual discussion and can add more details where appropriate.

Below are the steps I use, which I offer here as a starting point.

Write up the ideal summary email before the meeting

The genesis of this idea is a simplified version of the “begin with the end in mind” concept, which is Habit 2 from Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. The idea is to start thinking about the actual discussion that will take place, which serves a dual purpose of getting your mind focused on the meeting while giving you a chance to gather your thoughts on each topic.

Doing this is easiest if there’s a clear agenda for the meeting. This becomes a basic bullet point outline. Next, fill in the outcome you want to drive toward (or, if you aren’t exactly sure what you want, jot down the options you expect to discuss).

This doesn’t need to be exhaustive but it should be enough so that if you sent it out as-is you would have a little something to say about each topic.

Now you have your summary email drafted.

During your meeting/call, guide the discussion based on this draft

When the meeting begins, this draft will be an easy reminder/reference point for each of the planned topics. What’s become apparent to me in using this method is just how much “drift” happens during well-intentioned meeting discussions.

It actually becomes easy to see when things have drifted off topic. If something is way out of context with the summary you’ve prepared, consider putting the conversation in the parking lot until the core agenda has been addressed.

Take notes to fill out the additional details and changes

During the meeting, it’s easier to take notes because a decent chunk of the work has already been done. Sure, not everything will go exactly how it was laid out in the draft, but I find it to be a lot easier to make note of where things change rather than have to capture everything from raw.

The notes fall into two main categories:

  1. Changes to the basic summary
  2. Details to provide more specifics

When something is radically different from what I expected, it’s very recognizable, and it’s also much easier to make a logical appeal, rather than an emotional one. This is because I’ve already gathered my thoughts and can articulate what I expected based on my summary draft. This helps drive more effective meetings.

Additional details mostly focus on:

  • Key points/highlights (and who said them)
  • Decisions that were made (and what will be discussed later)
  • Follow-ups/action items (and who is assigned)

Also notice here how the burden of writing/typing during the meeting is reduced. This helps drive focus on participating in the meeting rather than being stuck using that brain power to figure out which notes to take.

Final thoughts

I need to point out the elephant in the room: I don’t intend for this method to be interpreted as a way to railroad a meeting toward the outcomes you’re looking for. The point is to get your thoughts straight so you can focus on getting your point across as well as guide a productive session.

Another note is that this approach isn’t applicable to every type of meeting. It assumes some level of control to know what the meeting is about as well as forming an initial opinion on limited information.

Also, consider the audience and the importance of having some off-topic discussions. These can be really valuable, and remember that, sometimes there are important parts of the conversation that should have been laid out in the agenda (but weren’t).

Do you think that writing this kind of summary could help drive more effective meetings? Let me know in the comments!

Don’t Let Automation Destroy Your Authenticity

One of the most effective ways to become more productive and manage your time is by automating low-value, repetitive tasks. Every week new apps are released that will connect to your online accounts and do some work for you. I’m a huge fan of this progress, however, I get concerned about these services having an unintended effect of trading some of your authenticity away just to save a little time.

There is a growing popularity of automation tools like Zapier, If This Then That (IFTTT), and Microsoft Flow, and it’s becoming easier and easier for average people to build their own personalized automations.

Even easier are tools like dlvr.it which will monitor sites and automatically post to social networks on your behalf. I’ll admit that I’ve tried dlvr.it for a couple of months and it has saved me time because I don’t need to remember a laundry list of sites that I want to further discuss on Twitter (it does the posting for me). Unfortunately, things got weird for me when people re-tweeted and responded to my tweets about articles I hadn’t actually read yet.

That crossed a line for me. As informal as social media can be, people do react to tweets, posts, and shares in a very personal way. As a result, I recently stopped using this automation and decided to find a middle ground I am comfortable with.

This made me reflect on the ways automation can impact the perception of your authenticity. As I weighed the arguments, I expected that my opinion would change if I considered it from the perspective of an individual (e.g. my personal Twitter account) vs. an organization (e.g. my company’s Twitter account). To my surprise, the answer stays pretty similar for both situations.

Be careful which kinds of human interaction you automate

Every year around the holiday season I get greeting cards from friends and family. I also get them from companies that I do business with. I’m never impressed with the generic holiday greeting cards from my insurance agent. It’s a great concept, but I can see that they were printed in bulk (with a mail-merge), include a laser-printed message and signature, and were sent from another state. How many people receive this kind of card and feel warm-fuzzies?

I like my agent, and I don’t think he’s even directly responsible for the cards (it’s the parent company that sends them out). Sadly, the card that’s being sent out on his behalf actually serves as a reminder that I’m not getting a personal card/call/email to wish me happy holidays.

I get plenty of other impersonal mailings from the insurance company, ones that I don’t mind at all. Who in their right mind would expect their billing statement to have a personal touch? The non-personal, but personalized, holiday greeting card is a perfect example of the wrong kind of interaction to automate.

Set appropriate expectations to maintain your authenticity

Take a moment and think about something as simple as an order acknowledgment email for a purchase you make online. Few people today would expect this to be personally crafted and sent by a live person. In fact, for me, and many others I know, that email should be in my inbox right away. It’s a tangible thing that makes me feel satisfied that the order I just placed is real.

However, 10-15 years ago (or maybe even less than that) most people wanted to know that there was a human being looking after their order. Why is this?

Expectations changed.

They may have changed for something like an email that confirms an order, however, the prevailing expectation I see on social media is that people expect (and believe) that posts are coming from real people hitting the Post button. Make sure your authenticity is not compromised by over-automating this kind of interaction.

Setting these expectations grows increasingly important “bots” become more mainstream. Bots (a.k.a. chatbots) are growing in their ability to handle requests for information (through a request from somebody) and automatically respond with an answer (or with a request for additional details or context).

In my experience I’ve seen bots with very wide differences in how successful they are–but little irks me more than a website offering me a live chat with an agent…but then it turns out that the agent is actually a bot.

Final Thoughts

I’d like to reiterate that I am by no means speaking ill of the services provided by dlvr.it, IFTTT, Microsoft Flow, or others. These are very exciting tools that can improve the productivity of individuals and organizations alike. There’s a line when it comes to communication, though, where automating for productivity could compromise your authenticity–and I highly encourage that you take the time to ask yourself where that balance is for you.

Do you automate communication tools like email or social media? Do you think I’m overreacting? Sound off in the comments below.

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8 Essential Skype for Business Hacks free e-book

I would never have guessed that I’d be announcing the release of my new e-book about Skype for Business. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve used it as my primary workplace communication platform and online meeting service for the last 5+ years (dating back before Lync was rebranded as Skype for Business). Still, I’m surprised and excited to share my e-book with you. You can get your free downloadable copy by clicking here.

The early days of Skype for Business were pretty painful. There were compatibility, connectivity, and general usability issues that I’d run into for even the simplest of meetings. I also quickly learned that I wasn’t the only person with these problems (and also that it wasn’t just limited to my company’s use of Skype for Business). Over time, though, something happened.

Skype for Business became a viable option that competes with the other online meeting and voice over IP options

In my line of work, I find myself having to use different screen share/online meeting services. GoToMeeting, WebEx, Join.me, and others (even one called Blue Jeans). For a long time, Skype for Business was simply not on par with the other options. On paper it could check the boxes–sure–but there were lots of little nuances that “you need to get used to.”

Behind the scenes, though, so many Skype for Business users would grumble about features not working how you expect, compatibility issues, and a lack of trust.

In 2015 and 2016 there were many improvements made to the platform, the desktop client, and the phone apps, which have resulted in positive improvements in stability and usability.

These improvement in the Skype for Business platform, in concert with it being included with most Office 365 subscriptions, more and more organizations are using it as their online meeting solution.

With great knowledge comes great responsibility

As a long-time user, I’ve seen and helped people with the most common issues they run into when they start with Skype for Business. Several co-workers of mine have asked me for the last year or so when my “Skype book” would come out. I can finally tell them that the wait is over!

In this e-book, I’m sharing a collection of these Skype for Business essential tips, which fall into four categories:

  • Joining meetings from the desktop app – for internal team members
  • Joining meetings from a web browser – for external parties who don’t use Skype
  • Leading meetings – for scheduling and starting meetings
  • Recording meetings – for capturing meeting audio & shared content

You can get your free downloadable copy by clicking here.

Do you use Skype for Business? Are there any tips or tricks that you’d be willing to share with others? If so, sound off in the comments below!

Some Things I’ve Learned After Writing Over 4,000 Daily Journal Entries

Do you ever have those moments when you realize just how quickly the days seem to pass? Days turn into months and years faster than I can believe, but fortunately I have some ways I manage this. In fact, earlier this week I crossed a major personal milestone: On January 2nd I logged my final entry in the daily journal that I’ve kept for the last 11 years! That’s 4018 entries that span nearly 400 pages of a specially-designed journal that I received as a gift from my Aunt back in 2005.

daily journal pages

Here I am flipping through the pages of the daily journal that I just finished filling up.

Not only does this journal help assemble a chronicle that spans years of my life, but the simple act of journaling forces me to actively think about (and then write down) the little things that make up the many little steps along the way.

As I reflected on my accomplishment, and look ahead to starting the first pages of my next journal, I realized how much I’ve learned through the journaling habit. There are a few that stand out, which I’d like to share with you.

  • There’s something about a written journal that a digital one can’t compete with
  • There’s big value in a DAILY journal habit–and keeping up can sometimes be hard
  • It’s not the destination, but the journey–and the journal lets me look back and remember the little details

There’s something about a written journal that a digital one can’t compete with

When I take out my journal and put it on the desk, I hear an earthy [thud] as I let it go and it lands. It’s the same sound an ancient book would make, except the details inside are ones that I’m very closely tied to.

There’s also something very satisfying about flipping through the pages of a big book and seeing all of the memories that have been captured. Sorting lists of posts just can’t compete with that tactile experience.

Writing the day’s entry down helps better commit the details to memory–and I mean the physical act of putting pen to paper–much more effectively than just trying to remember the experience. The short entries I log in the journal allow me to pick out a few highlights (or sometimes lowlights) of any given day.

Daily journaling can be hard, but leverage some good tools to help make that easier

Typically I find some time on the weekend to look back at the week and scribble out a few lines for each day. Unfortunately, sometimes life gets busy with travel (usually work travel), commitments with family and friends, and other priorities that get in the way. Over the course of 11 years, I’ve fallen behind on my journaling a good handful of times.

Fortunately there are some great ways to piece back together what happened last Tuesday (or any day)–and this is a place where technology can help. Here’s a list of some of the different ways I catch back up:

  • Emails – I’ll sort my email (Outlook for work email, Gmail for the personal stuff) by date and look for the date in question. After reading a few emails I’m usually able to remember some other things that were going on that day.
  • Social media – while I’m not much of a Facebook user, I do use Twitter, Instagram, and other social media services. It’s pretty easy to go back through my timeline to find something worth writing about
  • Evernote – I’ve mentioned before that I love using Evernote–and one of the powerful capabilities it has is its search. I’ll search for items created or modified on the day I’m missing
  • Text messages – I will check the history with some of the important people in my life to see what we communicated about

There are certainly others, but you get the idea. These tools are actually helping me keep my classic paper journal filled with interesting stories.

It’s not the destination, but the journey–and the journal lets me look back and remember the little details

One of the best things about this specific journal is that it represents a very low time commitment each day.

picture showing the journal page format

You can see the layout of the journal with the page-per-day that is built out slowly over the years.

The per-day entry length is only 4-lines of a standard letter-sized page, which most days takes under 5 minutes to log.

Because it takes so little time and effort each day, I’m able to spend an extra couple of minutes looking back at “what happened this day 3 years ago”.

Much in the way Google or Facebook give reminders of old posts and pictures, the journal is set up so each day has its own page, making it very easy to look further up the page at “this day in my history”.

I look back and see entries that span from when my wife and I hadn’t even considered dating, through marriage, cross-country moves, and the birth of our wonderful daughter. I see my progression through different job roles–the many opportunities and lessons learned. I see little moments I captured after making new friends and keeping in touch with old. I see some of my thoughts on current events (and also the trends that didn’t last).

Today (January 5th) 5 years ago I wrote about taking my grandmother to the airport. I remember that time together, and as fate would have it that was our last time together before she had a stroke only days later. Would I remember that car ride, acting as “Matthew the chauffeur”, if I didn’t have this little reminder every year?

Each entry sparks another memory of related stories, some of which I didn’t even journal about, but I still remember when I take that walk back through my own past.

Final thoughts

My aunt, who gave me the Journal 10+ over a decade ago, was over at the house during the holidays and I pulled out the journal to show her that it was nearly complete. After we swapped some stories about journaling, she asked me if I had a new one to continue in the new year. My answer was “of course”!

If you’re interested in the specific journal I use, you can find more information and order it here (non-affiliate link). If you do order one, or if you want to keep a regular journal, I’d love to hear about it in the comments section below.

Spring 14 Update is here

Microsoft has released the Dynamics CRM Spring 14 update (AKA Dynamics CRM 2013 Service Pack 1) and my team has been playing stump-the-chump with each other on all of the new features. PS, there’s a lot of them.

In a previous blog I covered the Microsoft increased focus on the CMO. Dynamics Marketing and Social Listening both drop with this release, but it doesn’t stop there. Below are a few other teasers of the new functionality.

Timers

There have been many situations, particularly in a customer service setting, where we need robust timers that can help manage expectations and highlight the good, bad, and sometimes ugly situations caused by delays.

The great part is that timers can be used all over the place. A couple of sales examples include managing response time and escalation for reseller quote requests or deal registration.

Customer Service Functionality

Microsoft isn’t banking on Parature for all of their Customer Service workload improvement. Far from it. The offering that comes with the spring update brings several key features that have required customization and configuration in the past:

  • Entitlements-This is the logical replacement of “Contracts” in Dynamics CRM (though Contracts haven’t disappeared) that I like to refer to as “Contracts on steroids”
  • SLAs-Set SLAs based on factors such as issue type and time zones
  • Timers-covered above 🙂
  • Routing Rules-Escalation/workflow based on entitlements, timers, and SLAs. Dynamics CRM now builds the workflow automatically!
  • Personal Queues

Other Tidbits

Plenty of detail on Microsoft’s CRM updates website, which I must say has been much improved over the course of the last year or so. A couple of nuggets are the improved integration of the InsideView product (now renamed “Insights” for Dynamics CRM Online customers) and the updated Solution file versioning.

Additionally, Microsoft has released Unified Service Desk, which is a companion to Dynamics CRM to help in specific customer service settings.

Very cool stuff and I’m excited for more.

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