Most successful managers are on a continuous journey to find ways to improve their employees' efficiency. This goes for all aspects of business, especially in the use of software.
I work best when I can see several applications and documents at the same time. In any given day, I have my email open, CRM, a Word document (sometimes multiple), an Excel spreadsheet, and a browser window. Over the years, I have realized that I work much more efficiently when I don't have to continuously toggle between (and resize) my windows and applications. Typically, I arrange my windows so I can see most/all of them at the same time to easily and seamlessly move between applications without them moving out of focus. The drawback is that sometimes I have to reduce the size of a window, which introduces additional scroll bars, among other annoyances.
How can I see more without having a drawback? In the photography world, there's a term called field of view. A wide angle lens allows more content to be framed into the picture. For a software user, the equivalent is a larger display area. If cost effective and physically possible, I would have a couple of 30" monitors on my desk with 2560x1600 resolution on each (roughly 6 times the real estate of most users' display area). Think of how many applications I could see at the same time!
OK, let's back up. This is neither cost effective nor feasible for any company I've ever worked with. So what can be done to help? There's an alternative.
Enter Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2013. The newest version of CRM features some really useful options to give the user more, without sacrificing the user experience. The new version of CRM does not come with a larger monitor; it only feels like it does. So how did they do it? Let's take a look.
Minimization of white space
In previous versions of CRM, users would often find a fair percentage of white space in CRM forms. The white space (any area of a form that does not contain data, labels, links, controls, or some type of graphic) is real estate on the screen that is often useless. Granted, some level of space that is absent of text or graphics is needed to better organize the view, but there was room for improvement in past versions of CRM. By incorporating just one of the enhancements listed below, Microsoft was able to increase the useable form area by ~30%. Let’s dive into each of the enhanced areas in more detail.
Removal of Left Navigation Bar
If I have to scroll, I find it easier to scroll vertically as opposed to horizontally. A mouse with a wheel is the key advantage. In addition to that, although CRM 2011 a did a good job of resizing the width of fields when horizontal real estate is limited, it also made the fields unusable if you ever needed 4 columns or 3 columns (with a smaller screen display). CRM 2013 mitigates this by removing the left navigation bar and putting the links across the top of the screen with the use of a pull down style menu. This menu across the top, not only hides many of the seldom used links from a normal field of view, but also gives the user an easy method to quickly access them. This saves a good bit of screen real estate and allows more flexibility with using three or four columns.
The standard account form using the pull-down style menus (below)
Addition of Tool Tips
One of my favorite additions to CRM 2013 is the ability to add and customize tool tips. A tool tip is a block of text that appears when you hover over something on your screen with your mouse. An example is when you hover over the Save button in CRM 2011 and the text appears with "Save (CTRL-S)". When building/configuring a form in CRM 2013, an admin can apply a custom tool tip for a given field. Instead of having a long field label that takes up valuable space, such as "How did you hear about us?", now the label can read "Survey Response" and add the longer text to the tool tip. You can also add formatting recommendations in the tool tip. Instead of "Business Phone (555-123-5678)", you can simply display the label as "Business Phone" and put the format in as a tool tip.
Form Sections and Field Label Orientation Options
CRM 2013 provides more flexibility when configuring forms. One of the new enhancements is the ability to create vertical sections (columns) and resize them on a form. The previous versions of CRM, field widths were limited to the number of fields displayed horizontally and auto-justified. As mentioned above, having 3 or 4 fields located vertically across a form caused display issues for those with a standard resolution and/or a non-wide screen monitor. It is practical to have several columns of fields in varying widths and it is not possible with CRM 2013. To complement that, the orientation of field labels become more important. Many studies have been conducted on the location of (field) labels in context to the field where a value is entered. Results of most of these studies prove that the closer the label is to the field, the easier it is for the user to process what they are seeing and flow to the data entry point. Taking this a step further, when a label is on top of the data entry point, this process and flow timeframe is shortened even further. Based on those studies, CRM gives the option to move the location/orientation of the label from the side to the top and how you would like it justified (left, right, center). This optin was available in CRM 2011 and is arguably more important with CRM 2013 when configuring forms. This is another example of not only the additional flexibility of CRM, but also achieving more efficient data entry and readability of its forms.
New Quick Forms
Microsoft has given the ability to add Quick Forms within CRM 2013. The idea behind the Quick Form is to give the user an expedited method of creating new records without opening/navigating to/from the full form. When the user chooses the type of record to create, the Quick Create form will overlay it on the existing form. An example of this is when you are on the Account form, you can quickly create a new contact, case, competitor, etc. without leaving the Account form. The Quick Form is customizable (just like a standard form), but the intent is to keep it a more boiled down (only the most important/relevant fields) version of the main form. See below for an example of a Quick Create Form.
The user experience and usability of CRM 2013 is only getting better. CRM 2013 allows forms to be more densely populated without the drawback of data overload. The forms are still organized, but with less wasted space and a quicker, more efficient flow. The end result is the ability to more quickly and easily view your data while minimizing the need to scroll around the screen. Kudos to Microsoft for enhancing another one of their market leading products.
Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2013 has many other user interface improvements over previous versions, but let's save those for another blog.