Power Chat with Neil Parkhurst

Neil Parkhurst  is based in Dudley, United Kingdom. He is a consultant, trainer, project manager & Microsoft MVP (Business Applications)

If you have any interest in D365 CE, USD and even relevant certification exams chances are, in one way or other, you have been benefiting from Neil’s community work. He is an absolute legend, it was a pleasure for me to attend Neil’s session (about Omnichannel) last year and later meet him at a community event in Melbourne. Here are my questions and Neil’s replies.

For the success of a Power App or D365 CE project, what are a few things (practices or steps) you do when kick-starting a new project?

 With large projects there will often be a formal kick off meeting but with small customers / projects this step can get missed. If you have a formal kick off or not it is important to get to know the people involved. Projects pretty much always involve some challenging points so getting to know everyone involved and building strong relationships with them is important. Go out for a meal, have a coffee, whatever …. But get to know the people involved on a personal level.

 Another important step is to meet with some real end users of the current system and understand their pain points. You need to feel their pain to be able to create a solution that will ease it!

 What delivery methodology you have found useful in projects?

 Which methodology works best varies so much with each client …. The time they have available, the clarity of their vision and existing processes can all influence which methodology works best. I do favour an Agile (ish) approach simply as I find working in small iterations (sprints) to be more logical. But often you need to be guided by the customer, if they are already running successful projects it can make sense to simply adopt their existing approach.

 What is one thing that can make a project successful or vice versa?

 People. A slightly glib answer but people make projects successful. Having a skilled and motivated team that works well together is absolutely the most important thing. I believe if you get the people right all other problems will be solvable.

Give me two (or more) tips that will enhance the performance of my applications?  

 Include performance as a requirement and think about how it can be measured up front. So often performance is considered an implied requirement that nobody considers until late in the project.

 If you do this, you’ll be forced into thinking about not only how to make the system performed as needed but also how can you demonstrate this during testing.

 Tell us two things (or more) which will improve the quality of deliveries?

 Involve testers early. How many projects do we work on that the testers don’t get involved until late in the build phase. Involving testers in requirements gathering helps ensure they are fully aware of what to expect and also helps give quality a focus right from the start of a project.

 Tell us about a canvas app that you have built or seen which was awesome?

I wouldn’t say they are awesome but I have written a few canvas apps now. Not being awesome might (to some extent) be the point, they are simple apps that just get a job done. Generally these have integrated in with Dynamics 365 model driven apps or Unified Service Desk. For example, a canvas app that gives reminders to my contact centre agents when call backs are due.

Have you seen an impressive AI application recently, preconfigured or custom which you want to mention?

I do like the preconfigured sentiment analysis in the webchat of Omnichannel for Customer Service. I also love how easy creating applications that use AI is starting to become. For example, creating a Power Virtual Agent that has linguist skills is child’s play. But just a few years ago creating an “intelligent” BOT would have been a hardcore developer job.

Managed or Unmanaged?

Both!! 

 No code/ low code or hardcore development?

No code first, low code second. Only dev stuff if you have no other option. Keep the system as simple as possible and use as little code as you can. It will make future upgrades so much easier.

For example, a customer of mine has a very “good” bespoke system for recording time against cases and a custom case resolution process. The custom controls look great and have been well written. But now they are moving to the Unified Interface this custom approach is failing. When I got them to revisit the original business drivers for having the customizations it became apparent that a simpler (out of the box) solution always would have worked. Which would have saved them the original development costs and now would allow a hassle free upgrade.

 If you are selling D365 just by one feature, what that feature is?

Sorry this doesn’t really make sense to me! You could pretty much develop any single feature in Dynamics yourself for less cost …. I would suggest the point is that you get a massive number of features that just work without needing to develop anything.

If I was to “sell” just one feature it would always be the next new feature. Which again is the point as Microsoft are constantly giving us new “toys” to play with!

What will you suggest to someone who wants to be a D365 professional?

Do it …. It is a great career! Focus on getting some certifications and also then some good experience. Working for a Microsoft Partner can help as you’’ll be exposed to multiple projects and technologies very quickly!

What advice will you give your younger self who is already working as a D365 professional?

I’m over 50 now! Yet I’m enjoying my working life more than ever that hasn’t happened by accident. Working as a D365 professional (or in any career) needs to be something you REALLY love. If you aren’t enjoying what you do …. change it! I took a number of bad career decisions when I was younger. I worked very hard to move up the corporate ladder without once stopping to think if these “upward” moves were making me happy. So my advice to the younger me would be to not chase status and instead to focus on enjoyment. The former may lead to more money but the latter leads to a happier life. Which do you want?

What are a few things you do to be efficient in working?

Sleep, listen to music and fish! When I am at work I am very focused and work really hard. But relaxing is massively important to give you the energy you need. So get plenty of sleep and take time out to relax. For me that means listening to music or fishing. (Other pass times are available!!)

What is the best way to keep up with technological advancements and changes? 

I wish I could easily answer this. In my career I have seen the pace of change get faster and faster. Therefore it has become a bigger and bigger challenge to keep your skills current. The truth is pretty much nobody can stay totally current with everything. This means picking topics that interest you and investing time into those. For me, keeping my certifications current, blogging and being active in the Dynamics community all help me.

Thanks Neil.

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