One of the best features of Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011 is its ability to fulfill functions that were not designed out of the box, a concept known in the
Since CRM doesn’t have any project management functionality out of the box, this means you can customize and tailor the functionality to suit your needs. At the most basic level, you will want to have an entity (record type) to track a project, and within this entity you can create the fields that apply to you – things like a description, an owner and/or a project manager, perhaps a time entry code, and some custom status values. At this base level, you can just update the fields as the project progresses, and set it as closed when it is done.
You can, however, extend beyond this. Create your project entity with activities, and you can set up specific tasks, assign them to other CRM users for completion, and track project-related emails from Outlook. You may also choose to use those activities to track time spent working on the project, which could either produce time reports or integrate with a time-tracking system. Use the built-in integration with SharePoint 2010, and you can use CRM/SharePoint as the document repository for project documents, signed proposals, requirements documents, etc. I have encountered a number of organizations where project information is known only by the project manager and anyone who is working on it regularly. Anybody else has to ask one of these people what the current status is, which copy of the requirements document on the shared drive is the most current, and other similar questions. When this information is located centrally through CRM, it becomes an easy place for anyone to go to and get a full picture, including the documents. If you enable versioning on the SharePoint library that CRM is integrated with, you can avoid the common “which document is the most recent” problem. Just save over the top of the same file in SharePoint, and let it handle the multiple versions. From the end user perspective, they only have to look for one document. From the PM perspective, if you need to review previous versions, they are all still there.
You can also extend your project process using the CRM workflow engine. Perhaps when a project gets started you wish to alert a salesperson, or an internal accounting person. Maybe when a project is marked as completed you wish to send a closing letter to the customer, or send a satisfaction survey. You can create workflows that are driven by changes in the status to automate these processes so you don’t need to remember to do it manually. You could also automate task creation. In a situation where a certain type of project always requires the same set of preparation steps, have a workflow create those tasks automatically and assign them to the PM or owner of the project.
I also like to extend the project management capabilities to include change orders and bug fixes. This gives you even more extended functionality by simply adding 2 relationships. A change order is just another project related to the first, so a circular relationship works there. Something like a bug or serious issue can be tracked with the built-in Cases, so linking a project to cases works very well for that.
As you can see, using CRM for project management can be a very powerful and useful tool. Keep in mind that if you require a true Enterprise Project Management (EPM) tool, CRM by itself may not suffice. Tracking and managing resources and utilization, stacking multiple projects by interconnected dependencies, and other higher-level functions would be more difficult to create in CRM and probably would not be as user-friendly as some EPM applications, but many of these applications will integrate with your CRM system, so you can still get some information visible to other staff.
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