eXtremeCRM is an event for Microsoft Dynamics CRM partners to come together and learn about their respective products and services. It’s also an excellent opportunity to share tips, tricks, and best practices with partners that leverage other technologies or work in different vertical markets and bring that knowledge home to better your practice and help your customers solve problems they didn’t even realize they had. In keeping with this spirit of knowledge sharing and collaboration, eXtremeCRM holds a pre-conference “Innovation Challenge” where CRM experts with varying areas of expertise across different industries have the opportunity to come together for an entire day, share ideas for useful CRM solutions, and work together to ultimately develop a functional product by the end of the session.

Let me start by saying that the session was really fun, and it was pretty awesome to just be there discussing cool solutions with a roomful of CRM experts, CRM MVPs, and members of the Microsoft Dynamics CRM team. This being my first time attending extremeCRM, and therefore my first time participating in the Innovation Challenge, I was unsure of what to expect going in. I didn’t know if this session would be a roomful of developers working on one-off add-ons, or a mixed group of functional and technical CRM professionals that collaborate to solve real problems. It turned out to be a mix of both scenarios, with the general makeup of participants being developers sprinkled in with a few people (including me) rounding out the teams as either marketing, product management, or project management professionals.

We formed our teams based on the ideas that interested us, and immediately started planning our solutions. Our team’s proposed solution, at an extremely high level, was a portal for CRM admins to manage all of the various forms of automation in their deployment from a single area – at least that was my interpretation of the solution. This is where we encountered our first challenge…

Challenge #1: Product Definition

It took us a pretty long time to realize that not all of us were on the same page as to what we were setting out to build. We were each individually very excited about the solutions we had come up with in our heads, but once we started actually digging into the details, we realized we were all envisioning different products. Some of us were designing an admin tool while others were working on a developer tool and then others were envisioning a logging tool. All three of these ideas were complementary solutions that, once clearly defined, we saw as coming together to become an ultimately more robust solution than we’d initially set out to create. Our team’s excitement was reignited and we set off with renewed vigor to create this solution. It was going to be AWESOME. Or so we thought…

Challenge #2: Scope Creep

Being the only one with a project management background on the team, I had to be the wet blanket and caution that we were biting off way more than we could chew. Truth be told, it was a very weak and unconvincing caution because I was equally excited about the solution we had. The developers on the team were giving estimates in the form of “sure, that’s easy” or “yeah, yeah, no problem… that’ll be quick” – words that have come back to bite me more than once in the past, a fact I seemed to conveniently and easily forget during the excitement of the challenge. Predictably, at the end of the day we did NOT have a fully functioning solution…

Lessons Re-learned: Focusing on a Minimum Viable Product

As a product manager, this isn’t a new concept to me. Focusing on the minimum viable product for the Innovation Challenge is actually a core requirement to actually completing the challenge. Instead, we started with an idea that multiplied to several ideas that we tried to bring back together into one solution. We were attempting to launch the product with several disparate features that would have been great roadmap items but ultimately weren’t necessary for the first release.

In all honesty, we were pretty aware as a team of all of the stereotypical product development traps we were falling for, but it was fun throwing caution to the wind for this session. Even if we didn’t end up with a functioning solution, it was a valuable experience for reinforcing the discipline we usually employ when we’re not building something just for fun.

Suggestions for Next Year’s Innovation Challenge

This was a really fun session, but I did come away with some ideas for how to make this a better experience. I think the Innovation Challenge would have been more productive by either pre-defining problems to contain the scope of the proposed solutions so that they can be completed within the allotted time, or forming the teams ahead of the event so we could begin collaborating and planning to make sure we complete our objective and spend the session time working with the MVPs and Microsoft Dynamics CRM team to execute our idea rather than coming up with one. It also would have been interesting to see some or all of the teams working to solve the same problem so we could see the various approaches in the final solutions.

That being said, my suggestions are subjective to my experience and there were teams with final solutions at the end of the day. Regardless, I had a great time working with creative individuals that live and breathe CRM every day just like me. I look forward to next year’s Innovation Challenge!