Build a Leading Salesforce Platform Capability

Jerry Huang
7 min readJun 14, 2020

Salesforce is always purchased with grand expectations, bold marketing, and transformational intentions to elevate companies into the digital revolution. Almost all organisations, however, follow a very similar, arduous journey towards Salesforce maturity with varying degrees of success, setbacks, delays, replanning, and unfortunately for too many… failure. Achieving transformational success can not be just about the technology. This post will talk about what is required to build a market leading Salesforce capability / competency centre.

Salesforce Capability Maturity

  1. Initial / Minimal — Most organisations start here. They’ve just purchased Salesforce. They have no internal expertise, have little idea how to use the platform, let alone maximise value from their investment. Success is largely adhoc owing to the brilliances of individuals or pure luck. Failures are more common, projects are delayed, and processes non-existent. With the Salesforce SAAS (Software as a Service) subscription licensing model, this is the highest risk for attrition due to inability to launch and adopt the platform for all its glory.
  2. Emerging — Salesforce capability exists to a small degree and is developing within the organisation. It’s not yet mature and the organisation is still learning, developing processes along the way. There’s sufficient knowledge, repeatable steps, and adequate support to roll out features as needed. The lack of platform expertise commonly leads to “lift and shift” approaches where legacy solutions are simply copied over to Salesforce without thought or knowledge of how it would be best done leveraging out of the box or with a “Salesforce” design.
  3. Practising — The capability is mature, governance structures are in place, the operating model is defined and teams are capable of delivering to consistent value for their customers. Roles & responsibilities are known, people know where / who to go to to seek guidance and support. Issues are resolved promptly and solutions are thoughtfully architected. The organisation knows how to deliver and deploy Salesforce. However, there is room for improvement. It may be that releases are too long and rate of change is not adequate to meet business needs. There may be too much bureaucracy, too many chiefs that need to be part of the decision making / approval process, too much organisation aversion to taking risk / innovating on the platform.
  4. Optimising — There is deliberate and continuous focus on optimisation and improvement. Processes are streamlined, teams are autonomous and self contained, able to deliver features largely themselves. Salesforce DX is adopted, CI/CD is largely automated, quality assurance is high, routine tasks are automated, operational support is built into the demand pipeline and feature teams. Metrics and dashboards are defined and used effectively to proactively & reactively monitor the platform.
  5. Leading — The capability sets the industry standard and delivers significant value. Other organisations are looking and using your learnings as models for their own ways of working.

Core competencies for Excellence

When you have a well oiled Salesforce capability machine:

  • Solutions are delivered in days not months. From ideation to production. Perfection is a process. By delivering early and fast, real user feedback helps drive meaningful iterations and increase user adoption.
  • Customer first design approach. Solutions are not designed in isolation by IT teams but instead, co-created with business teams with an understanding of the real customer / user pain points & value.
  • Everything is automated. Testing automation, deployment automation, code scanning, data loads, everything that can be automated is automated. This builds repeatability, consistency, and quality into the solution, freeing up time for other more complex tasks.
  • Collaboration between IT and business, as partners, as one team. Everyone is working to a common vision. Teams are fully accountable and empowered. Quality is everyone’s responsibility.
  • Continuous Learning Culture. The world around us changes at a rapid pace and individuals and teams need be continually learning and adapting. There is strong leadership support and understanding that maintaining excellence takes time and effort. Individuals feel empowered and safe to voice opinions and concerns.

Each of these competency topics deserve its own series of blog posts.

1. Vision and Strategy
Too many “transformation” programs are started with just putting Salesforce in without a common understanding across the program of the “ WHY”. What are the key business drivers we are trying to achieve? What are the pain points we want to remove? What is the vision? Setting up the foundation, the ‘north star’, for the program is integral to success. Without this, teams often fail to see the value of what they are doing, feel disconnected from leadership, key decisions are made with incorrect basis, and the end result does not deliver on the value and expected return on investment.

2. High Performing Team & Culture
I’ve always been an advocate for people and team. Methodologies and processes can change but with motivated people, working together as a team, amazing happens. The successful teams that I’ve been involved in had high engagement, constant collaboration, willingness to help each other, and people with the right attitude. You feel like you want to work that extra bit harder because everyone is backing, supporting, and looking out for each other. You don’t necessarily need the best and brightest minds. You need a highly collaborative team in alignment to a common goal and a collective thirst for learning and improvement.

3. Solution Design & Platform Expertise

This is almost too obvious but too often the solution design fails. Non-intuitive processes, too much customisation, not aligned to Salesforce roadmaps, or it just will NOT scale! One of the common pitfalls is for IT designers / developers to see Salesforce as just features and functions. Who is the user and how will they use the system? I’ve seen solutions rolled out but only to have sales teams continue to stick with old Excel spreadsheets because it was just easier and faster. Millions wasted in rolling out a Ferrari when a Toyota was fine. See Design Thinking.

4. Code Quality & Security

If all you had was a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Many developers entering Salesforce come from coding (eg. Java, Ruby, Node, PHP, etc) backgrounds and an apex coded solution is too often the easy first option. Everything can be solved with code. This, however, doesn’t bode well with feature rich, packaged platforms like Salesforce. Custom solutions risk deviating from the core, missing out on feature innovations, and unused out of the box configuration options that were the very reasons for purchasing the platform. Development teams need to have a solid understanding of Salesforce features, best practices, and continually keep up to date with each release 3 times a year in order to take a Configuration First “Clicks before Code” approach.

Code / customisation, however, will always be required because Salesforce is built to meet such a wide range of use cases. Every Salesforce implementation will inevitability have scenarios that need to be specifically customised. It’s knowing when to use it and understanding of best practices in doing so, and ensuring your solution is secure (important!). Have the right tooling, peer reviews, automated static code analysis, and a general pride in ensure basic code hygiene and quality.

5. Build & Deployment Automation

Achieving excellence in this domain will see massive realisation in business value through increased ability to adapt and roll out changes, decreasing TCO (total cost of ownership), and decreasing production risks with increased feature quality. It is typical to see an emerging team spend days or even weeks just on merging branches and resolving conflicts from concurrent projects. Teams need to skill up and develop the tooling & processes to automate the routine tasks like environment setups, integrating release branches, deploying code, running static code analysis, and testing. Automating these steps and refining the associated processes frees up a developers time to work on actually developing features. See Salesforce DX, CI/CD, and devops.

6. Testing & Quality Assurance

Salesforce mandates that all code must have 75% test coverage as a pre-requisite for deployment into production. This is a good foundation for building quality into the development process. The more the team can automated for progression, regression, and security testing, the more time can be focusing on more complex business scenarios. Relying on manual testing for everything creates a huge bottleneck for releases. By employing and developing the toolsets for automating as much testing as possible, even complex scenarios, quality can be more consistently delivered. See TDD (Test Driven Development) and Test Automation tools like Provar, Selenium, Pupeteer, and Testim.

7. Program & Release Management

Program & Release Management at enterprise scale is a complex art. Regardless of everything else, great people, great tools, great process, a leading Program / Release Management team is needed to unify the program across silo’d business units, provide governance & oversight across strategic, execution, and operational needs. Release Management teams walk the tightrope on balancing business and IT needs, stakeholder management, scope, resourcing, cost, and timing. Executive stakeholders need visibility across programs, see value from investment, and dive in when needed to expedite decision making.

8. Operational Excellence

BAU (Business as Usual) and Operational support is unfortunately often an afterthought. The processes and structures for supporting users in real world production issues needs to be operationalised well in advance of changes being deployed onto users. Have a defined communications strategy, operational readiness, change management for rolling out features to users, proactive and reactive monitoring, operational metrics and dashboards for governance and understanding org health, and prescribed levels of support for responding to events.

Key Takeaway

Maturing from initial setup of Salesforce to becoming a leading capability can not be achieved in a matter of days just by dropping in the tools and processes to the delivery teams. This is a organisation wide journey of learning, continuous improvement, and adapting to what works well. Having seasoned trusted advisors who have “been there, done that”, to coach and advise your team can help expedite this journey. Discuss your Salesforce transformation needs with professional services like Salesforce Advisory and Salesforce strategic consulting partners to help fast track your experience, leverage learnings from other successful setups, and increase your platform expertise to maximise your investment in Salesforce.