No matter if you’ve been in the Dynamics business for over a decade, there inevitably comes a time when you’re unqualified for your job. Not necessarily from a real life competence perspective, but by not having any valid certifications for the Microsoft product you’re working with. This was the fate that I was facing as the year was coming to an end and my CRM 2016 era certificates were about to become worthless in the eyes of MSFT.
Not that there’s anything wrong with a fine product like Dynamics CRM 2016 yet, but if you’re working for a partner organization then the exams for that particular version no longer count towards your company’s competency eligibility. It’s Dynamics 365 all the way now, no more CRM. It shall be interesting to see how the validity of these certifications will be defined in the new world without any year numbers in the product name, but let’s not worry about that just yet. If like me you are in risk of becoming uncertified, then here’s a bit of information on how to turn things around.
Welcome to Cloud Business Applications
Since CRM isn’t a thing for Microsoft anymore, also the competency that MS partners now need to target is called Cloud Business Applications competency. Compared to the earlier and soon retiring Cloud CRM competency the requirements for number of certifications as well as certified professionals have gone up significantly. Silver requires 5 individuals with in total 15 exams passed, whereas Gold is a whopping 15 & 45.
Alongside this change there has also been a formal MCSE certification introduced for Business Applications. The way this works is that you’re supposed to first take the two required exams for MCSA: Microsoft Dynamics 365 certification: Online Deployment (MB2-715) and Customization & Configuration (MB2-716). Then you have a choice of completing one of the application exams, either Sales (MB2-717) or Customer Service (MB2-718). Now, this conveniently aligns with the Cloud Business Applications competency requirement, so you could simplify them by stating you need 5 (Silver) or 15 (Gold) MCSE’s working for your organization to qualify.
I chose to complete the first three exams and was automatically awarded both the MCSA and MCSE during the process. Compared to the last time when I did Dynamics CRM exams, there’s now an integration between Microsoft’s exam records and the Acclaim badging platform (yes, that’s an actual thing in today’s world). This means you can easily set up a public profile page displaying all those Microsoft certifications you’ve earned. For example, if you for a second doubt that I might have Photoshopped the above image of my MCSE then HAH! There’s the proof!
(It’s nice to discover that I now have bonus skills I didn’t even know about, like Dynamics AX.)
Find Your Way Around DLP
We now know the why (attain competency) and what (MCSE Business Applications) so let’s talk about how. Dynamics Learning Portal should be familiar to anyone who’s done any homework about how the Dynamics 365 training courses are offered these days. If not, read the friendly FAQ. Now, once your organization has arranged you to have access to DLP, the next hurdle will be how to find the relevant material from this ever growing maze of training content.
Searching with the exam code like MB2-715 is one convenient way of finding what you’re after. Another nice shortcut is to use a Learning Plan that someone has built and shared with you. Here’s an example of a Sales based Learning Plan that contains the courses for achieving MCSE: click here to add it to your plans.
Another route to MCSE would be to complete the MCSA foundation courses and choose the Customer Service track instead. That is also available as a shared Learning Plan built by me, which you can access via this link.
One nice thing about those Learning Plans is that they also show the total duration of all the videos in all the courses that prepare you for the MCSE. In these examples the Sales track contains the Introduction to Microsoft Dynamics 365 course, the Service track doesn’t. The net weight of these packages are 34 and 37 hours. One week’s worth of just watching the course video materials. No practice included.
Passing The Exams
That’s probably what you’d really want to learn from this post, right? Unfortunately, no one can be told what the right path to MCSE is. You have to see it for yourself.
Obviously if this is the first time you’re studying for the exam area there’s going to be a lot more to digest compared to just refreshing your certification to the latest version. If you haven’t even touched the features in an actual Dynamics 365 / CRM environment before, then be sure to reserve a lot of time for poking around the application UI, entering dummy data, changing configuration options and examining their impact, building brand new areas into the application via customization tools, managing user and environment settings, installing solutions, browsing through the documentation, and so on. That’s how you actually learn the skills, not via memorizing the course material contents.
Even people who have extensive experience on working with the XRM platform are unlikely to do well in the exams just based on the customer projects they’ve worked on. There’s going to be questions about features so ancient and so rarely used that you may not have touched them for 10 years, like discount lists. Then there’s the new stuff that’s still in Preview mode but included in the exam area anyway, so you’ll also have fairly little experience on using it in real life projects, like Relationship Insights. Those are the areas where even an experienced consultant will have no choice but to spend time studying how the product actually works.
I’ll admit that I didn’t watch the videos while studying for my MCSE, since the areas in my chosen path (that include the Sales certification) were something I’ve spent quite a lot of time with – both in Preview programs exploring and testing the new features as well as designing and implementing solutions to meet customer needs. This meant that I was able to collect the information I needed from reading through the slide decks of each course, as well as glancing over the companion guides providing the text from the videos. These documents can serve as a “refresh pill” for your mind to help you recollect the things you’ve already encountered earlier, but they are obviously not designed to be a full user guide. You cannot replace a healthy learning diet with these pills alone.
There’s The Exams – Then There’s The Real World
The application exams are always the ones where I find myself drifting furthest away from my everyday work tasks. The reason is that they sometimes describe an alternate reality where customers actually use the built-in CRM features in a very deep way, with no mention of the customizability limitations and user experience challenges that in reality will steer many organizations away from them. Well, actually it’s the implementation consultants that get burned by an OoB feature and then THEY steer the users away from ever even knowing it exists.
Making these two worlds collide is actually a positive thing in the end. In the midst of busy project work you rarely get to explore the way that Microsoft designed the application to be used, so you’re likely to focus a lot more on the limitations and differences to the customer’s specifications, not so much on the opportunities hiding within the product. I bet if you never study for the certification exams with the DLP materials then you’re going to miss out many areas where standard features could be applied to solve a real life problem – even if a bit of creativity would be needed in crafting the end solution.
With multiple choice questions to measure the amount of knowledge crammed into your head, there’s unfortunately going to be some questions in the exams that focus on details you’d normally have very little need to memorize. With a customizable platform it’s not very essential to know a list of default views included or the specific terms used in the (English language) UI – unless you want to get your MCSE certification. In that case you’ll be partially evaluated by how well you recall theses type of details, not only based on what’s your understanding of the big picture and the context in which these details appear in the XRM platform. Oh well, such is life. You’re only going to need a score of 700/1000 to pass the exam anyway, so perfect memory is not a requirement.
Probably the biggest challenge with the certification system is the pace at which the cloud platform is evolving. There’s just no way that the exam content could target the very latest release available for Dynamics 365 with the way new functionality is rolled out. As the platform and the applications on top of it are further separated from one another (App/Plat separation), potentially leading to an ever more agile delivery practices for new features, this will very quickly make the DLP course content details in conflict with what’s the actual product functionality that (new) customers have available to them. Solving this dilemma would require Microsoft to also move to a more agile process in delivering training materials as well as measuring the skills of the MCSE candidates, since regardless of the DLP delivery channel the exam format still remains very much founded in the era of on-prem software. It remains to be seen if new innovations in this area could eventually transform the certification process in a more profound way than merely making existing the classrooms and test centers virtual via tools like DLP and online proctored exams.
Imagine All The People, Sharing All The World ?
If you’re working on the customer’s side of the business, then Dynamics Learning Portal won’t be accessible for you. Sorry, this is a private school that doesn’t accept just anyone interested in Dynamics 365. One reason behind this must be that DLP is also the primary portal these days for Microsoft to deliver partner presales training courses and product announcements.
There is another way to get to many of the Dynamics 365 training courses, though. Not many people might have heard of the Microsoft Imagine Academy, but now that it’s been featured on the prestigious CRM Tip Of The Day blog, I’m sure eager students are lining up behind their login page door already.