What It Takes to “Own It”
New initiatives are very shiny. They garner lots of attention, tackle big problems, and jumpstart an organization towards positive change. However, more often than not, once the new initiative has been established, interest in “owning and managing the solution” tails off dramatically at all levels of the organization. It becomes an afterthought even though the cost of managing and maintaining the solution is often orders of magnitude higher than the cost of configuring and developing it.
Seasoned leaders recognize that ongoing ownership is a challenge and needs to be planned for and adequately funded. Speaking from a Salesforce project perspective, it is vitally important to understand what is needed when the last person is trained and the end-users start using it in earnest. Organizations that starve this critical phase of the project will often find their initiatives failing over time.
Why is this important?
The fact is your business changes daily. When your business moves, everything else must keep up. Your very competitiveness depends on your ability to act and react to new challenges and potential opportunities. From day one, all of the assumptions you used to build the solution may be affected. These include:
• New users may be added including new types of users
• New data may be inputted, some you may not have expected
• New use cases may be created that change process and data (such as a new product line, an improved customer service process, etc.)
And countless more data and structure changes. Changes to the system are interrelated and can cause cascading effects if not managed properly. The more complex the system the more likelihood that an unintended consequence will occur. Salesforce has a number of different ways to accomplish any one capability – some are more complex than others. In addition, the Salesforce platform is large with solutions for sales, service, marketing, partner management and for application development in general. While complexity should be minimized, it is inevitable. In addition, the larger your user-base the more any one problem will be magnified.
Business systems are critical to day-to-day operations. Outages can severely impact productivity. Just as with any website that services customers, downtime should be measured in minutes. In an organization where employees and partners are your customers, uptime is extremely important. One should never rely just on hope that things will turn out right.
A Couple of Best Practices
Ongoing management is not something you think of as you get closer to launch. You start planning and designing for it from the very outset of the project. Here are a couple of tips:
Push for simplicity
As it has been said, any fool can create a complex solution – it takes a genius to make a simple solution. Resist the temptation to add bells and whistles. It just creates complexity that makes the solution less flexible when it needs to be changed later. Oftentimes, a good process tweak is much better than trying to go for full automation. In addition, one must understand that software is not one size fits all. Thus, it will likely not have all of the features and work the way you think is should. Adding complexity to force it to your process has repercussions. Sometimes you have to change your process too.
In addition, a common temptation is to only look at design from the end-user’s perspective. You also need to look at it from the administrative perspective. Having an end-user’s dream of a solution is no good if it can’t be administrated or administrated cost effectively. That is why we always push for native Salesforce configurations and resort to development only when the business priorities justify it. Adding development means adding development support which increases costs.
Only build for what is minimally required to be released. Anything more is truly a “nice to have.” These days, applications can be built quickly so that you can get them out to the end-user base for quick feedback. It’s often a best practice to build for minimum viability and then iterate from there based on feedback. In this way you align much faster to the end-user’s needs rather than building a lot of extra things that will eventually not be used. Prioritization and only sticking with “must haves” is critical for speed and budget management. Even among the “must have” list, you should really examine each requirement carefully – is it really a “must have”? Will our business really not operate without this?
When working with consultants, it’s a great idea to learn while watching and then gradually transition to learn while doing. Having the consultant do all the work and hand it over at the very end can be a very risky transition. Salesforce is a powerful and complex enough tool that you can’t expect to learn it in just a few days of transition. The best practice is to be involved from the beginning – to ask and learn how things are done and to even take on some of the administrative tasks ongoing. If you need reports – learn how to build reports and work with the consultant to help build some of them. It not only mitigates the risk during transition but also may help save you some dollars.
Round out the Team
Learning by doing has many other benefits too. It enables the consultant to evaluate your skills and to suggest areas to improve or areas to invest in to shore up your ongoing administrative capabilities. Rarely can one person handle every possible scenario. A best practice is to make sure you have a competent Salesforce admin who can handle the day-to-day blocking and tackling. Then figure out where you need more specialized expertise such as a consulting partner that you can pull in as you need it. For instance we offer support buckets of hours that you simply can draw from when the need arises. Premier support is also another option to help with the day-to-day administration.
Getting to Competence
Everyone has gaps. The key is to understand where your gaps are and to fill them at the right time and cost. Ideally before the project begins, you should start to view the multitude of Youtube videos out there on Salesforce. Salesforce has a variety of great company-provided and third party provided content out there – whether in blog, forum or video form. Get familiarized with the Salesforce structure so that you can align yourself quickly to the technology during the discovery and design phase of the project. Start playing with the system. If you have a sandbox it’s a great way to get started. Salesforce offers free Developer orgs that you can sign up to really play around the system without damaging anything.
Managing and Growing Your Skills
As you start to get more sophisticated, take a class. There are online study groups and courses offered by Salesforce directly and by third party companies such as StonyPoint, one of our partners. Once you get some education and experience under your belt, go get certified. It makes ensure you know your stuff but also makes your skills much more marketable.
Additional options include attending Dreamforce and attending industry events and user groups dedicated to Salesforce. You’ll be surprised at how many meetups and forums and LinkedIn groups are out there that are specifically focused on Salesforce. The growing community is active and shares knowledge.
Fund it Adequately
Budgets are tight and we all have to make do with less. Still, you should benchmark your organization with others to make sure you aren’t starving a critical function. How much admin investment depends on a number of factors including:
• how many end-users you are supporting
• how many components you are using
• how much development you have in place
• how mission critical are your systems to the sales, service and marketing process
• what skill levels your team has
• how quickly your business changes
There are many rules of thumb regarding number of users to number of admins. Salesforce recommends 1 full-time administrator per 31+ users. In other cases, companies use 1 full-time administrator per 200 users. As you can tell it is highly dependent on the skills, complexity and business environment that you are in to adequately resource the administration role.
People Process and Technology
A common framework for looking at most anything in a business is people, process, and technology. Ongoing management is hard and the right infrastructure needs to be established to make it successful.
On the people side, think about the roles and organizations needed. Some of these suggestions are best practices:
• Line up continued executive sponsorship. Someone needs to be accountable for the infrastructure at the executive level
• Responsible owners need to be established and have adequate training
• Look for outside assistance to help – some of this can be part-time. This includes internal people who have the right skill sets, premier support, consultants, and an outside network of industry assistance
• Ensure your end-users are well trained too. Successful ongoing management means having good end-users who not only have the correct skills to make for a successful partnership but also the right expectations for what the system does and can do for them
On the process side:
• Create a change control committee in order to get representation from all who may be affected by the system
• Establish a charter for the committee that includes brainstorming of new initiatives, evaluating change and conducting and supporting initiatives
On the technology side, well, the system is the technology but in addition:
• Rightsize the technology. For some organizations it’s vitally important to leave no loose ends and to have a highly limited system to protect end-users from making mistakes. In other organizations it’s more apropos to have a looser trust model.
• Look at administrative tools that will help you. Fieldtrip is a great application to measure usage. Other third party tools will help you administrate the system more easily and more scalably.
Of course there are many more tips and tricks not even touched upon that should be considered. One last piece of advice is to always think OPPORTUNITY versus PROBLEM. Yes, you will need to solve problems as they come up, but also do not forget that a platform as big and as expanding as Salesforce affords new opportunities to gain advantage in the marketplace. Oftentimes, problems are much smaller in importance than the ability to capture a new benefit. Focusing on opportunities is also way more satisfying and fun than focusing on problems and helps the organization focus on the big picture.