Making Friends with A Mess: The Value of A Strategic Diagnostic for Salesforce

At BrightStep we get a lot of phone calls from nonprofit leaders who are struggling with a Salesforce database that they’ve had for some time. We call these “second-phase” implementations – those in which a nonprofit revamps its data tracking to reflect its evolving metrics, programmatic work, and theory of change – or in many cases, a nonprofit needs to upgrade to get on the latest version of a managed package like the Nonprofit Starter Pack or just clean up messy data.  The beauty of this is that Salesforce as a platform is dynamic enough to evolve with an organization – something I’ve called before the Salesforce Approach.

When organizations call us with an existing Salesforce instance – and a handful of pain points – it’s time for what we call a “Strategic Diagnostic:” a moment to pause and consider what’s happened, and what’s next.  This scalable approach for both large and small organizations ensures that we have both a vision for where we are going and a diagnostic plan of how to fix what’s not working.

So how do we approach what can be a messy process, and how can you apply this to your organization? Here’s our step-by-step process for our Strategic Diagnostic – an in-depth plan for an organization with an existing use of Salesforce:

1) Know the Why: We’ve worked with a number of organizations lately that have built a number of custom objects that work in theory, but aren’t able to give them the data they need when it comes to reporting. In another organization, they were having trouble with reporting that I assumed was a training issue, but upon digging deeper I realized that multiple record types for each year’s application cycle were causing some of the issue. Another org was having trouble producing labels, which led me to uncover that their data was really messy and mis-categorized.

    1. What types of information do you want to report on, but have trouble doing so?
    2. What are the pain points of staff, in terms of using the system?
    3. What feels like it takes longer than it should (i.e you know there is a better way!)

2) Know the Where: You can’t start to clean up something unless you know where you’re going. So every strategic diagnostic process we do at BrightStep takes a bigger-picture look at the organization, and where it’s going. This is especially important because often clean-up may involve a data reorganization – consolidation or restructure of custom objects. We want to make sure that whatever we build takes into account the scalable needs of the organization. Do you do site visits now, but next year you will be doing another type of outreach? Let’s create an architecture that accounts for future growth – even if we’re not going to build the nuances of that out yet. This is especially important when one department is on Salesforce, and the others are not. It’s vitally important to take those other departments’ needs into account to make sure we are not making decisions that will impact the ability to address the way that department works and needs to report and track data.

    1. Where are you going as an organization, programmatically in the next one to three years?
    2. What kinds of impact tracking are you discussing with your funders and your board?

3) Know the What: This is the stage in the process where it’s important to know what customizations you have in your system (and what you don’t). Legacy person accounts? Old pre-Nonprofit Starter Pack packages for managing people and households? Apex that no longer passes code coverage requirements? We’ve seen it all. This is where my co-founder Tracy will assert that there are a lot of “special snowflakes” out there. For the nimble admin at heart, here’s a few good tools to start to uncover some of the what (once you’ve understood what landmines you’re looking for):

    1. List of Managed Packages:  Careful though – some are not meant to be “un-installed”
    2. Field Trip: We love this free app on the appexchange to analyze what fields are populated in your org
    3. Schema Builder: This will help you visualize the mess of objects in your Salesforce org

4) Know the How: Here’s where the rubber meets the road in our strategic process. We always like to produce a roadmap document – outlining in a visual way the clean-up, new functionality, and potential third-party applications that a nonprofit could implement themselves or with the help of a consultant – superimposed over a proposed timeline. Often these diagnostics will require a detailed project plan (and later, a deep-dive into business processes) to go along with this birds-eye view to be used as an execution plan for getting the needs addressed. Finally, many organizations will want a narrative to accompany this – particularly to address the technical nuances in everyday terms so that the whole team is on the same page.

Megan Himan has over fifteen years experience in the nonprofit sector and over ten years working on the Salesforce platform. She has a unique combination of deep technical skills paired with an ability to strategically convene groups, coach executives and leadership through transitions, and execute on project deliverables. She is Founder & Principal of BrightStep Partners - solutions with strategy for Salesforce success. In September 2017, she was named a Salesforce MVP.

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Posted in Change Management, Implementation Success, Planning, Strategy
2 comments on “Making Friends with A Mess: The Value of A Strategic Diagnostic for Salesforce
  1. Sergey Erlikh says:

    Excellent post! I love the idea of producing a roadmap attached to an organization vision. I believe a roadmap is a critical part of greenfield project as well. The nonexistence of roadmap in a first place can lead to a messy situation you describe above.


  2. Megan Himan says:

    Thanks Sergey – I think it also helps not only avoid the mess but gives future folks working in the system a bit of the thought process behind previous work. Thanks for reading!


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