Microsoft Dynamics Sure Step – Overview of Phases

I recently passed ‘Exam MB5-705 Managing Microsoft Dynamics Implementations’ so I thought I would draft a blog post or two to provide an overview of the Microsoft Sure Step Methodology. For this post, I will provide a high level overview of the phases within Sure Step.

Microsoft Dynamics Sure Step is a full customer lifecycle methodology for all Microsoft Dynamics solutions. This includes Microsoft Dynamics CRM, but also all of Microsoft’s ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) solutions including:

The methodology provides guidance, tools, templates and best practices to help increase the consistency, quality and success of Microsoft Dynamics engagements.

Sure Step has 6 phases, and while the approach, activities and specific deliverables depend on which ‘project type’ (e.g. ‘Standard’, ‘Enterprise’, ‘Rapid’, ‘Agile’ or ‘Upgrade’ – more on these in a future post) you’re implementing, the next section will cover the Sure Step phases in broad strokes.

Sure Step phases

Diagnostic Phase

Diagnostic phase

The Diagnostics phase is the only phase within ‘Solution Envisioning’. Its objective is to understand the high level solution requirements in order to help the customer determine the right solution to meet their needs. The Diagnostic/Solution Envisioning phase begins with the ‘Solution Overview’; an overview of the various MS Dynamics products and their capabilities. This is followed by the (optional, though highly recommended) ‘Decision Accelerator Offerings’, designed to assist the customer through their due diligence and decision making process and greatly reduce the risk when for selecting a new CRM or ERP solution.

The decision accelerators are typically low-cost, one-to-four week engagements that help the customer understand the ‘degree-of-fit’ between their needs the available solutions, before making a major investment. The decision accelerator offerings include:

  • Accelerated Proof-of-Concept (POC) with CRM Online
  • Requirements and Process Review
  • Fit Gap and Solution Blueprint
  • Architecture Assessment
  • Scoping Assessment
  • Proof of Concept (POC)
  • Business Case
  • Upgrade Assessment

The Diagnostic phase typically concludes with customer acceptance of a high level project charter and project plan as well as a clear understanding of the business drivers and key metrics for the project to unite the team behind a common vision for proceeding to the implementation phases.

Analysis Phase

Analysis phase

The Analysis phase represents the official beginning of the project implementation. Using the outputs from the earlier Diagnostics phase (e.g. reports from the decision accelerator offerings, high level project charter), this phase defines the activities required to initiate and effectively plan the rest of the project. A few of the milestones and deliverables typical in the analysis phase are:

  • Project kickoff meeting
  • Project plan and charter
  • Risk and Issues register
  • Fit/Gap Spreadsheet
  • Functional Requirements Document (FRD)
  • Business Process maps/workflows
  • Data migration requirements
  • User Training Requirements
  • Environment specification

This phase culminates with the customer’s approval on the documented requirements, as the basis of the scope for the implementation. Sure Step advocates for formal ‘toll-gate’ reviews at the end of each phase – including the Analysis phase – to ensure that the milestones and deliverables have been provided as per the earlier agreed quality standards and that any risks and issues are proactively addressed before proceeding into the next phase.

Design Phase

Design phase

The focus of the Design phase is to define how the business requirements will be implemented. Using the outputs and deliverables from the previous Analysis phase as inputs, the design phase is where the various design documents are created for use by the implementation team to build the solution. These design document deliverables include:

  • ‘Fit’ Design Document – to document the configuration and settings required to fulfil requirements deemed as ‘fits’ during the Fit-Gap analysis performed during the earlier phases.
  • ‘Gap’ Design Document – to document the design of the custom code required to meet customer requirements deemed as ‘gaps’ during the Fit-Gap analysis.
  • ‘Technical’ Design Document – the purpose for this 3rd design document is to design and document the technical details of each system modification or enhancement. This document includes items such as user interface design, security as well as business and data layer components.
  • ‘Solution’ Design Document – this document provides the overall solution description in business language and includes the capabilities being abled by the solution

These documents provide the roadmap for development and reflect the approved customer requirements for implementation.

The design phase is also when the non production environments (e.g. development and test) are set up to support the configuration and customization work. Core team training is also completed in the design phase, beginning the knowledge transfer process to the customer.

Project Management continues to play an important role in the design phase through activities including updating of project plans as required based on the approved designs and associated timelines, as well as change control management, communication, status reporting and financial management.

Development Phase

Development phase

The development phase is where the implementation team will build the system components defined and approved in the design phase, including configurations, customizations, integrations and interfaces and data migration processes. The development phase is also where the solution is fully tested by the project team before the customer performs their user acceptance testing (UAT) in the Deployment phase. Solution testing includes process testing, integration testing as well as data acceptance testing.

The development phase is also where the infrastructure team completes the production environment specification and provides to the customer so that they can start the procurement process for necessary hardware and software components.

Training documentation is completed in the development phase as is the creation of UAT scripts that the customer will use in the subsequent phase for their testing and acceptance activities.

Project risk management is an important facet of the project management activities at this (or any) stage of the project, to ensure that risks and issues are being monitored and analyzed, with mitigation and contingency plans being created accordingly.

Deployment Phase

Deployment phase

The deployment phase is where the solution ‘goes live’, but there is much more to it than that. As noted in the development phase, the deployment phase is where the user will perform their testing and acceptance activities to validate that all of the requirements for the project have been satisfied. Prior to this step, the customer has to be trained on the system – as adequate training is one of the most important steps in any successful implementation.

The user training aligns closely with Organizational Change Management activities that would have been executed all throughout the project phases [more in a future post] in order to ensure that the users are not only trained on the new system but are also fully aware of all of the business drivers and benefits being brought about as a result of the implementation.

Sure Step recommends short, directed training sessions that begin with a broad overview and then narrow to a role-based approach specific to business processes and job tasks for the various role types. Sure Step also recommends conducting the training as close to go-live as possible in order to mitigate against knowledge erosion.

When all training has been completed and all deliverables have been completed and signed off, the solution is deployed to the production environment and transitioned to the operations team.

Operation Phase

Operation phase

The operation phase is where any final activities to officially close out the project are performed and where the solution is officially transitioned to the customer including providing any remaining knowledge transfer. Additional activities and deliverables include a final project closure report, provided to the customer for sign off and a project closure meeting to discuss and document project lessons learned.

This has been a high level overview of the phases within the Microsoft Dynamics Sure Step methodology. I will focus on other aspects of the methodology in future posts.


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