If you asked most companies why they bought Salesforce, “speed” or “agility” would probably top the list. Companies gravitate to a platform like Salesforce because they want a tool that will help them automate time-consuming manual processes and capitalize on new opportunities faster than what is currently possible with their existing systems.
If a company’s goal is to move fast, it’s easy to see why many might resist the idea of a Center of Excellence. To these resistors, COEs = process, and process = bureaucracy. Few people think of bureaucracy and think speed, however, I can tell you from experience that Salesforce COEs — if done right — can in fact help an organization increase their pace of innovation.
The Value of a Salesforce Governance Model
One of the primary jobs of a Salesforce COE is to establish and enforce an effective governance model around the platform. In essence, to provide the structure – the systems, principles and processes – that a growing organization needs to take full advantage of a platform like Salesforce.
Salesforce has become a sophisticated platform that can now cross multiple functions and touch nearly every role in a business. Without some kind of governance model in place, IT teams and their business partners will spend more time dealing with conflicts and managing rework than making sure the organization is using the system to its fullest potential. A governance model helps in three ways:
It aligns system decisions with business priorities. As requests for new features, fixes or components come in, a governance model can make sure they are evaluated and prioritized in a way that will have the greatest business impact, and will ensure the appropriate people are involved in making decisions.
It speeds decision making. A governance model lays out who is responsible for what, establishes decision criteria and dependencies at the outset to make sure decisions can happen fast and not get stuck in limbo.
It increases system usage and adoption. The processes and principles laid out in a governance model make sure executives and stakeholders are involved in key decisions and milestones, which not only helps identify issues early on but also increases support and communication around changes. More on change management later in this blog.
Establishing a Governance Structure That Works
A governance model can’t be created in a vacuum. It needs to be a collaborative effort between the business and IT. However, the enforcement of it ultimately rests with the COE lead, or in larger organizations, a governance board. Below is an example of how a medium to large organization might structure its governance model and the groups who are involved. In a smaller organization you might have members spanning multiple committees, roles, and responsibilities.
For more details on the specific roles within a COE and these steering committees, check out part 2 of our COE blog series.
A COE’s Role in Communicating and Managing Change
Change management is something that needs to be thought through for any major business investment, and it is a critical function of any Salesforce COE. I separate change management into two areas — managing change with people and managing change within the system.
Let’s start with the people side as that’s typically the more difficult aspect of change management. Plenty has been written about humans’ natural resistance to change, and how change triggers our instinctual fight or flight mechanism. However, research also shows that if you can help people understand what change is coming, why it’s happening and how they might benefit, they are much less resistant to that change. Even better if you can get them involved early on. Once people are bought in to what’s coming and why, giving them the tools and time to deal with change in their own way can make the difference between success and failure.
Salesforce COEs play an important role in evaluating how new features or changes to Salesforce will affect an existing implementation and the users who depend on that functionality. A COE should establish a two-way communication structure to communicate changes early and often, and make sure feedback from affected parties reach the appropriate decision makers. Unfortunately, many companies take the Field of Dreams approach of “If we build it, they will come.” That only works in movies, and there is no such thing as too much communication when it comes to change management.
Once changes are decided upon, communicated and built, it’s time to take them to primetime and release them. This gets us into release management, which is essentially the process by which you introduce change into your Salesforce environment.
Move Fast But (Try Really Hard Not to) Break Things
Release management relates to planning, scheduling and managing a software build through different stages and environments, including testing and deploying software releases. Some companies release continuously, which means as features are developed they move through different testing and production environments in near real time. Others stick to milestone release schedules where features are released in bulk on a scheduled basis. You can read more on how leading organizations handle release management in our Salesforce Best Practices research.
Whether you are a large organization releasing continuously, or a small organization with a few external developers releasing once a year, it’s critical to establish a process for how you are going to move changes into production. We see too many people not using the developer sandboxes that come with their Salesforce licenses, and working directly in production. If you do this, 10 times out of 10, you will get an error or will end up overwriting or breaking something in production.
There are a range of tools to help Salesforce teams manage releases – from Salesforce Change Sets at the basic level to more sophisticated tools like 10K Connect which can instantly simulate a deployment and validate changes before they are pushed to production. The important thing is to pick a tool and process, and hold to that.
All of this takes a certain level of time and preparation. A governance model isn’t established overnight, and it should be evaluated on a regular basis to make sure it’s still working inside the organization. Change management and release management processes take time and forethought to establish and enforce. But I guarantee you that a small investment up front will pay dividends down the road for your users and the overall health of your Salesforce system.
Speaking of users, the next blog in our COE series will talk about how to give end-users the support they need and how to ensure their feedback is incorporated into your Salesforce roadmap.
In the meantime, we’d love to hear about your own COE experiences on social media using the hashtag #SFDCCOE or if there’s a topic that you’d like to see us cover in more detail.