Model your Dynamics 365 Solution (Part 3) - Conceptual Diagram

Introduction

One of the diagrams that I use the most is the “Conceptual Diagram”. Which is a graphical representation of the building blocks or features that we are implementing using Dynamics 365.

As consultants, one of the challenges we face is trying to understand the client requirements as quickly as possible. Reading requirement specification documents or discussions will only get you so far. Communication is key and you need powerful visualisation techniques to help your clients articulate their ideas and requirements. Similarly, you can use the Conceptual Diagram to explain to your client how you understood their requirements and get their feedback as quickly as possible.

What is a Conceptual Diagram?   

The conceptual diagram is like a blueprint for building a house. The blueprint will show you where is the main living room, how many bedrooms there are and how the bathrooms are placed in the plan configuration. Same applies for your Dynamics 365 implementation. What are the main features and how are the other features related to it? Ex: If we are implementing Dynamics 365 to help us attract new students to study in our school, then the main feature might be “Student Management”. Other related entities could be “Activities”, “Opportunities” or “Cases”.

The Conceptual Diagram is a constantly evolving diagram, that we tweak along with the build and the lifecycle of the system.

Why use it

The main driver for using the conceptual diagram is to help you get to a shared understanding of the high-level features required by your system to meet the requirements.

Starting with the conceptual diagram will help you identify the components that will need additional detailed analysis.

When to use it

Conceptual Diagrams help me explain how I understood the solution to others. I use the Conceptual Diagram in the following context:

  • At the start of most of my workshops to explain and remind the audience what the solution is about and show, on the diagram, what the workshop will be focusing on. Ex: If my workshop is about the Enquiry Process, I will spend more time showing the part of the system that will be discussed during that workshop.
  • As a tool to get a shared understanding and stimulate the generation of ideas.
  • To describe the solution to my team, as it helps me structure my thoughts and narratives when I explain the system.

Steps to create a Conceptual Diagram

  1. For the first iteration use paper or a whiteboard: Your first draft will be messy, so use something where you can quickly make changes.
  2. Start with the main feature(s). If we are implementing a student management system, use the “Student” as the main feature.
  3. At the top level, draft the features that will be available throughout the system. I usually put “Searching & Reporting” and the “User Interface”.
  4. Continue by adding the related features. Ex: for your Student management system, add in “Activities”, “Cases”, “Opportunities” or any other relevant entities or features.
  5. Finish by adding an extra layer of details to your features. I usually add extra entities or functionalities related to the parent feature. Ex: “SLA” is under “Cases” or “Queue Items” is under “Queues”.
  6. [Optional]: If there are important Business Process Flows, I add them under the features they belong to. Ex: If we use a Business Process Flow to manage Cases, and it’s an important part of the system, I add that Process to my diagram. 

Insider tip

I recently discovered “Draw.io” which is a free online diagram software for making flowcharts, process diagrams, org charts, UML, ER and network diagrams.

You can easily share them with others or convert them in HTML pages to store on your SharePoint and use as official documentation for your Dynamics 365 solution.

Summary

A conceptual diagram can be an extremely useful ‘blueprint’ to foster common understanding between you and your client. By using a tool like Draw.io and simply following the steps outlined above, you should be able to quickly draw up a diagram that can form the basis of future discussion topics and will allow you to proceed in a structured way to maximize your efficiency and client outcomes. Although creating your first conceptual diagram might seem daunting, even an imperfect one can add massive value and since you learn as you go it will get easier and your diagrams will get better every time you move forward.

Check out my previous article on an introduction to some of the other diagrams I use. Model your Dynamics 365 Solution - Overview (Part 1).