You pass! That’s a sight for sore eyes after staring at 75 grey screens full of Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011 Applications certification exam questions for almost 2 hours. I received 750 points out of the required 700 minimum, so not exactly a walk in the park, but who’s going to care about the detailed statistics of how you acquired your MCTS certification?
During the test I did have to go back to some 15 questions I marked for review during the initial round and spend a fair amount of time rolling the virtual dice in my head. Well, not exactly like that, but rather trying to reverse engineer the process of how the people at Microsoft might have designed the application to function in different scenarios and what reasons and practical limitations lead them to these choices. While many of the questions could well be taken from real life use cases, the way in which you need to be able to solve these problems in the exam is quite far from the normal routines. In real life you experiment, investigate and iterate, whereas here you’ve only got a few words to work on; each of them possibly containing a hint towards the right answer, or alternatively loaded with the malicious intent of leading you astray.
Just because you’ve been working with the Dynamics CRM application on a daily basis for several years, doesn’t guarantee you would pass the MB2-868 exam. Even MVP’s have failed on their first attempt, so beware! The amount of product information covered in the Applications exam is growing all the time as new features are introduced and with CRM 2011 there’s a lot to read, let alone to try out in the application itself. At least when I was going through the training materials, the most time consuming part was when I constantly kept coming up with new ideas about “hey, this is something we must also set up for our presales demos”. Even though I had started digging deeper into the new version functionality already before the beta of CRM 2011 was released (and compiled my findings into two “what’s new” presentations you can find here: pt1 and pt2), preparing for the Applications exam made me realize how much of pre-2011 functionality you also need to keep in mind at the same time.
So, tell me then, how important is it to remember by heart from which menus a particular standard report can be executed, when they’re A) all available from the Reports menu anyway and B) usually available in the right context for the user? Or what about studying all the different record statuses in which certain actions can be performed, when we’ve got a graphical, context sensitive ribbon persistently available in the UI, gently reminding us of the things we can and cannot (greyed-out/hidden buttons) perform at any given time? Like it or not, this is the direction that these multiple choice exams tend to drift towards: detailed information that’s perhaps nice to know, but won’t matter much in terms of real life skills required while actually using Dynamics CRM.
If we look at Microsoft’s target audience definition for this exam, it reads:
This exam is intended for individuals that plan to implement, use, maintain, or support Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011 in their organization. The exam is also intended for service schedulers, administrators, office managers, CEOs, and consultants who want to demonstrate foundational understanding of the application functionality.
Quite a broad definition then. If you as an end-user or administrator are interested in learning details about the default functionality available in Dynamics CRM 2011, by all means do attend the training courses and download the training manuals from CustomerSource. They contain a wealth of useful information and some nice exercises you can try out in, for example, your very own 30-day trial environment of CRM Online (which may offer you quite a different “vanilla” training environment than your customized production CRM server). However, don’t worry too much about “demonstrating foundational understanding” of Dynamics CRM through the MB2-868 exam. The system is far easier to use in everyday life than how the exam questions portray it, so you’re better off in directing that time and energy towards exploring the possibilities that Dynamics CRM gives you in customizing the system to fit your business data and to automate your business processes. That’s where the real ROI of your CRM system is hiding, after all.
For those of you who need to take the exam due to MS partner competency requirements, the MB2-868 exam page section “skills measured” is a useful document to keep by your side when browsing through all the CRM 2011 applications MOC courseware. Checking the topics enables you to better balance your study efforts, to make sure you’re not just diving deep into one module and neglecting another. This is how everything counts:
- Marketing automation: 27%
- Sales management: 30%
- Service management: 24%
- Service scheduling: 19%
For example, service scheduling and service contract management have been standard features of the Dynamics CRM product for a long time, yet I find it hard to discover real life use cases of customers having deployed these processes into production use. Either the organization has initially tried using them, but later given up due to the mismatch of the built-in process flow and solved their problem with custom entities instead, or then they’ve gone down the customization route directly. As a result of this, it’s not necessarily an area that CRM consultants would be too knowledgeable on, when considerably more of their time is spent configuring and training the sales process in CRM.
Does this then mean that these modules should have less emphasis in the exam? Well, at the end of the day, probably not. If you look at things from Microsoft’s point of view, it is in their best interest to have CRM consultants be aware of all the different functionality that their product contains out of the box. Precisely because their common tendency might be to focus on what they already know best and leave out the rest of the story when discussing with potential and existing Dynamics clients, it’s actually a fair exercise to make these specialists step outside of their comfort zones for a while during the certification process. Sure, you may not need the information in the projects you’re working on right now, but you need to have the ability to get up to speed quickly when duty calls.
Finally, here’s a few practical tips from me on how to prepare for the CRM 2011 Applications exam:
- Goal management: understand what values are recorded on which entity, the impact of ownership, fiscal year settings.
- Teams and queues: this is where most of your answers based on experience from CRM 4.0 will guide you down the wrong path, so forget what you know and learn the new CRM 2011 way of working.
- Charts and dashboards: what the user can do vs. what the admin can do, this should actually be pretty much 101 stuff if you’re well in grips with the solution management side of things. However, you shouldn’t forget about SSRS entirely: open each default report at least once and try them out, just to refresh your memory.
- Marketing lists: Try building a few dynamic marketing lists to see how they’re different from the traditional static ones, and also how to mix’n match them.
- Scheduling: you’ll need to understand how capacity management and resource selection rules work from the service and the resource perspectives, there’s just no way around this.
- Record statuses: trust me, things that require no attention from you in everyday life will be very important here, so play around with as many different entities as you have time for and examine what actions are available on the ribbon in which record status.
- RTFM: knowing how the system works is not good enough, as some of the questions are clearly derived from how the use cases are described in the training material, and in these kind of exams every word in the questions and answers is significant. So, don’t just play around with the fun tools built into CRM 2011 or trust what a lecturer tells you – also read through the MOC PDF’s.
And just to close things off, some useful links for seeing what others think about MB2-868:
- MS Dynamics CRM 2011 MOC training courses and…
- MS Dynamics CRM 2011 Certification Tracks and Exams by Adam Vero
- Dynamics CRM 2011 Certifications by Richard Knudson
- Exam MB2-868: CRM 2011 Applications Preparation tips by Mani Ramachandran
Great post (and thanks for the links), and nicely complements my similar thoughts on the Customization exam MB-866 here:
I have not taken the apps exam for 2011 yet, but your overall opinion mirrors my experience of doing the equivalent MB2-632 for CRM 4. Lots of slightly arbitrary questions about functionality, but these are also found in other ‘technical’ exams (I seem to remember 70-270 for XP being one of the worst examples).
I certainly agree that the best revision plan is to focus on the areas you don’t use on a daily basis. If you are not using service scheduling, contracts and all that side of CRM, get a trial version (or the partner VM if you have that available to you) and get practising. Likewise using queues, and newer features such as goal management and dashboards.
I would also suggest that it is very useful to set up a system where you can see and test things like mail merge with and without the Outlook client installed.
Thanks for your comments, Adam. I think the biggest benefit for me in studying for MB2-868 really was having a good “excuse” to assume the role of a system user and experiment with a larger variety of OoB functionality than would ever be requested in demos or implementation projects. The method through which the exam questions verify your skills may not be the most pleasant one, nor practical, but if you don’t take it as your primary or only goal in the learning process, then things don’t look all too grim after all. (Of course if I hadn’t passed the exam, my attitude towards the process would surely be different right now 😉
Thank you so much for the guidance and support in this article. Im am busy preparing for this (my first) CRM 2011 exam. I am working as a technical writer (it’s been 18 years) and I’ve now decided to focus on CRM as a specialist field. Working in South Africa currently.. relocating to Germany (Munchen) thsi coming March 2012.