It’s the little things in a user interface that can drive me nuts – at least when I keep running into them repeatedly.
One such detail in Dynamics 365 CE apps / Model-driven Power Apps is the scenario where you’re creating a new contact record and linking it to a parent account. Filling in the lookup field gives a nice little preview of the matching records. Like this:
Now, look at the first two results: aren’t they actually saying the same thing, but in different order?
At least I have a hard time distinquishing which record I should pick when I want to link this new contact under the account Forward Forever Oy. So, why is row nr. 1 the right answer and row nr. 2 the absolutely wrong choice to pick here?
The underlying dilemma is that this lookup field is a customer field (column). It can reference either an account or a contact record (row). It’s one of those non-simple types of lookups that Dataverse has contained since forever, thanks to it being originally designed for the purpose of being a CRM database.
Now, in a B2B CRM scenario you would almost never want anyone to link child contacts under other contacts. Unfortunately, even after 2 decades of shipping a mighty fine CRM product, Microsoft still hasn’t considered it worthwhile to offer customer organizations a configuration option to force contacts to be linked only to parent accounts.
In this case what I want to do is this: don’t show the Primary Contact field in the lookup view of an account. As we’ve seen, it can be highly confusing, since this very same contact itself can also show up in the list of results. For a contact, it’s very logical that the parent account should be shown in the lookup preview results. (and used as a search field). For accounts, the Primary Contact value would likely be irrelevant in 99% cases when looking up records.
To give Microsoft some credit on the UX front, they have invested in developing a new Advanced Lookup feature that gives the end-users more filtering options to find the right record to link to. Opening up this modal dialog also gives us a way to examine why the previews behave the way they do.
Initially this lead me to scratch my bald head even more. Based on what the documentation says about lookup field behavior, I shouldn’t see the Primary Contact field value in the dropdown preview of the lookup, as there are columns like Account Number before it in the view.
“For system lookups that allow for multiple table types, the first two columns of the table lookup view are shown.”
It turns out this is not true anymore. To demonsrate the real behavior, l added an Account Number “111” for Forward Forever Oy account record. This is what happens with the lookup preview:
Ah. The current lookup in the modern Unified Interface is so darn clever that it shows the first non-empty column from the lookup view.
The solution is simple then. You can just add columns at the beginning of the table’s lookup view that are always going to have data. These will then push further left the lookup fields that aren’t relevant in the dropdown preview. This means you can still keep the other fields visible by default when opening the Advanced Lookup dialog. Even that confusing Primary Contact field can be left there, just in case we need it.