How to plan, execute and support your Salesforce.com CRM project -
How to plan, execute and support your Salesforce.com CRM project
- written by Sam Shane, Managing Partner of One Planet Associates, LLC
What makes a Salesforce CRM project different from other projects? This whitepaper focuses
on the following key areas that require refreshed thinking when planning, executing and
building a support organization for your SaaS based solution:
Refreshed Thinking in
Refreshed Thinking in
Refreshed Thinking in
traditional planning and
Real time design and
build through conference
room pilots and frequent
support with business
and IT resources
SFDC is delivered as a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) model. The infrastructure loaded with
the software is housed and maintained in SFDCʼs data center. This setup alone drives many
of the innovations in projects that deliver capabilities based on the business processes
delivered by SFDC. This paper focuses on Customer Relationship Management - SFDCʼs
initial offering, but can easily apply to Partner Relationship management, Customer Service or
any other SaaS offering from SFDC or their partners.
(Note: There are many papers and internet posts that you can read to learn about the benefits
of the SaaS model. What this paper focuses on is how the SaaS model changes the way you
plan and execute your project, and how you support the solution after you turn the users
Salesforce CRM is usually positioned with the Sales organization, not the IT organization.
This makes sense because this is really about automating and standardizing sales processes
and sales data. Salesforce.com delivers these capabilities on the Force.com platform that can
be used immediately. In fact, many small companies are up and running within weeks. (For
larger organizations, there are usually “global” standardization issues and integration
challenges with existing systems.) Also included are security capabilities, administrative
functions, backups, virus protection, 24/7 availability and other functions typically delivered by
IT. The initial cost can be very low - starting with a small group of users if desired. There is
little infrastructure to worry about (mostly in the network setup and possible integration
servers). Users activate their licenses through an internet connection using most any
browser, even mobile devices. And since SFDC offers sandbox environments, users can
literally begin “playing” (and learning of course) immediately.
But if you want to have a successful project moving users to the new CRM solution, there are
aspects of project planning and execution that you need to think differently about. Also, you
will want to begin planning for a support team that can support and extend the solution you
implement. The following sections dig into these areas.
You need a well documented business strategy with associated goals and a business case.
This is necessary to ensure the project stays focused on the right priorities to deliver the
documented business value. It is very easy to get distracted with various CRM “nice-to-haves”
that might be sexy but are not supported by the business case. Since the project team cycles
through the requirements in an iterative fashion, it is even more critical to ensure everyone
understands the business strategy, the associated goals and how they support the business
A SaaS platform lends itself to an iterative plan / design / build / implement process. This
is partly because all of the functionality exists on the platform, you are just activating those
data fields and processes you want your user community to use. So with an iterative delivery
process, you develop a high level program plan that lays out the detailed business processes
and features according to the release they will be delivered. This gives both stakeholders and
users a clear view of what is coming when. It also facilitates the unavoidable discussions of
puts and takes that will move features from one release to another. For example, it is not
uncommon for a desired transformational business process to require a business policy
change. It may take longer to get the policy change approved, and that process with
associated features may need to move to a future release. In that case, you may be able to
pull another feature in earlier.
The Force.com platform enables you to make frequent releases into your production
environment. Your overall plan should include quarterly, monthly and weekly releases.
Quarterly releases are for major deliveries of new or changed business processes and the
introduction of new data fields. Not every individual user sees changes every quarter (maybe
account executives see changes in release one and marketing professionals see changes in
release two.) But the company will see regular major releases and feel confident that the
program will deliver according to the business case. This instills confidence that userrequested features will be delivered in future releases. Quarterly releases usually require a bit
more focus on training capability. Monthly releases are for minor enhancements and the
addition of new users. A brochure or web article are usually good enough training guides.
Weekly releases are for bug fixes and data cleanup (more on data later). They can be
communicated via an on-line message or email.
Next consider the makeup of the project team. You do not need the level IT support as with a
convention software project. You do need business resources either familiar with the current
sales processes, or the new sales processes you intend to implement. These resources
should exhibit qualities such as progressive thinking, leadership, collaboration and
accountability for the solution. The project must find a way to infuse leading practices into the
business design, and engage people who have done this kind of project before. This can be
done via business resources or consultants. Do not underestimate the need for an outside
champion or facilitator who can challenge the current thinking on how things are done. As for
project management, that capability is typically found in the IT organization, but not always.
You still need competent program management to define and execute the project plan,
manage the resources, manage issues and risk, the change control process and other project
management activities. Of course, IT resources are needed when you begin to discuss
integration with other enterprise systems.
A SFDC project can be structured into the following tracks of work:
1 - Business process & policies track - this group is responsible for defining the business
processes and associated data elements that will drive the processes - collectively referred to
as business requirements. The business requirements are documented and published.
Changes to existing processes are noted and passed to the User Adoption team. (Note:
Many companies have a separate function called change management. I recommend rolling
that up in the User Adoption Track.). What makes this project different is that this is also the
team that “configures and prototypes” the solutions. So ensure that you have SFDC
knowledgeable people in this track, either from your IT organization, SFDC professional
services, a third-party integrator or from your existing business team.
This team plans out the design / prototyping workshops and invites selected resources.
Invitations are focused on progressive thinkers, people who can align on a vision of a
simplified, effective business process without concern with “how things are done today”. There
will be plenty of time for feedback from the naysayers. Based on the new business processes,
there will probably be some business policy changes required. This team takes up the cause
with company leaders to address those changes.
2 - Data - this track is responsible for the data quality in the SFDC system. Working with the
business process track, they define the fields to be used along with valid values. If data
needs to be acquired from either legacy systems or from third parties (ex: Dun and Bradstreet),
this team drives that process - most likely working with IT data professionals. The data is
cleaned and de-duped before it is loaded into the SFDC system. This track will also define a
process to keep the data clean (thus useful), hopefully working with a corporate data
governance team. The key to success for this team is to develop a list of milestones,
integrated with the business process track and the project implementation plan and make sure
the appropriate number of resources are assigned to hit those milestones.
3 - Integration / Development - only the smallest companies operate their CRM solution
independent from other applications. Medium to larger companies integrate the CRM solution
with master data solutions, order-to-cash solutions, finance solutions, HR solutions and data
warehouses. This requires an integration / interface development strategy and plan. Also,
many companies wish to add new data fields and processes to the standard salesforce.com
CRM solution. While some fields can actually be added by business users, any data that will
be created and shared outside of the CRM solution requires some development. And new
processes, workflows and other features require development using Force.com development
platform. Finally there is the connectivity to the SFDC platform and solutions like single sign
on that need to be addressed. This is the team that takes care of all of these capabilities.
4 - Testing - even with iterative prototyping workshops, there are still testing cycles that are
planned and executed before turning the final solution over to end users. First you develop a
test strategy. For example, how much of the solution will be tested, how much master data is
needed for testing, how many failures are acceptable before a full-retest is required, will the
testing team be co-located or virtual? Next you develop test scenarios - these are built using
your business process design - ensuring that you cover most of the expected variations. Then
you create test scripts which focus on one area of a test scenario. You need to establish a
test environment along with test master data. Finally, you develop a test schedule and
allocate resources to the testing. Most of the testing can and should be conducted by
business resources - especially end users who will in turn become power users in the field.
With a global implementation, extra care should be made to ensure localization requirements
are tested by users local to the region.
5 - User Adoption / Training / Communication - this team is all about communicating the new
solution. Starting early in the project, expectations are set with the user community about
what capabilities will be delivered and in which release - making sure to link to the business
strategy and goals. As the project defines new processes and most likely new data
requirements, this team begins to communicate to the user community how to start preparing
for this new solution. For example, they might ask users to begin consolidating records or
adding a new value to a field now in anticipation of the new solution. Regular communications
are established with stakeholders and users regarding the new business processes and
solutions so feedback can be given to the business process team.
Training often takes on a different flavor when working with a SaaS tool like Salesforce.com.
This is because the underlying design is meant to make the tool intuitive. That does not mean
that you can get by with no training, but opens more options such as self-training, webinars,
newsletters, etc. A training strategy is built based on the scope of the project and the culture of
the company. From that a training plan is developed. This includes both building the training
materials as well as putting a training schedule together. All of these communications and
training should make the “go-live” seamless from their existing solution.
Once you have delivered a set of capabilities, it is wise to set up a user adoption feedback
loop. This includes incentives for using the new solutions, tracking of issues and new
requests, user satisfaction surveys, and user adoption metrics (like # of logins, records
created, etc.) All of this feedback can be channeled to the team working on the next release.
6 - Program Management Office (PMO)- all of these tracks of work do not work seamlessly
without a good program management office working to keep the project on track. The PMO is
responsible for the overall program plan, integrated project plans, risk & issue management,
stakeholder management, change control, quality management and cost management. The
PMO can also be the point for managing the business case - and updating as required. The
PMO also makes sure this program is tied into other corporate initiatives and other projects. It
is important to have resources in the PMO who have experience with this type of project, who
can apply lessons learned and educate others on the opportunities that a SaaS solution
Governance - One of the key functions of the PMO is to establish the governance for the
project. Here is an example of a program governance chart.
SVP Sales, Chief Marketing Officer, CIO,
Director Customer Service, Director Finance
A mix of representatives from:
Sales operations, Marketing operations, Field sales,
Channel operations, Field marketing,
Customer service, Finance, IT
• Establish business success metrics
• Monitor project status
• Monitor/resolve risks & issues
• Approve business process and policy changes
• Approve implementation strategy
• Define Data Governance
• Establish corporate strategy & goals
• Allocate resources
• Resolve corporate issues
• Approve business case
Representatives from business
functions, sales organizations
Sales Lead, Marketing Lead, IT Lead
• Develop project plan and success metrics
• Monitor and review tasks
• Resolve issues, mitigate risks
• Manage executive communications
• Manage project plan
• Track issues
• Track risks
• Track costs
• Project reporting
• Track business case
• Change Management
• Define business
• Define business policies
• Define roles & security
• Define data
• Configure Solution
• Assist data definition • Build interfaces
• Clean existing data • New development
• Load data
• Develop data
• Maintain data
• Manage resources
• Manage costs
• Manage quality
• Develop implementation strategy
• Provide feedback from the field
• Report Issues
• Recommend enhancements
• Build test plan
• Define target users
• Define test criteria • Develop & deliver
• Manage testing
• Manage user
• Coordinate user support
• Monitor user adoption
• Collect & prioritize user
• Fix data issues
• Monitor user adoption • Report bugs
• Support business processes
• Individuals could participate in multiple tracks of work, or could rotate across different tracks of work over time,
• Full-time resources are proven to be more successful on large projects
• Third-party resources are assigned where needed
A successful program starts with the Program Sponsors. These are senior leaders who have
a vision of how the new solution adds value to the company, allowing them to deliver on their
business goals. The sponsors must act as champions, encouraging the program to develop
transformational solutions, resolve differences and drive towards project schedules. If you are
using the recommended iterative approach, then sponsors must stay involved with the project
teams to ensure they do not get bogged down with irrelevant or lower priority items.
The senior leaders assign valuable resources from their organization to the project, either as
full-time project resources, or as part of the Project Oversight team. The Project Oversight
team helps to clear the path for the project teams, handling resources issues, resolving
business process issues and providing overall guidance to the project team. Typically the
project oversight team acts as a proxy for the sponsors and provides approvals for new
business processes, business policies, budgets, implementation schedules, etc.
Regular updates to both of these teams is required - both via electronic means (emails,
websites, newsletters) and via face-to-face meetings.
The project leadership team consists of business leaders representing the functions in scope
and a technology leader. This group defines the success metrics of the project and manages
the day-to-day operations of the project against those metrics. They are also accountable to
ensure the solution delivered is aligned with the business goals, aligned with the budget,
meets the timelines and is of sufficient quality to be successful.
When you construct a project that is using an iterative, prototyping, approach with frequent
releases, it is a good idea to have an active user community. The User Community Team is a
valuable sounding board and is actively used in conference room pilots, user testing and as
part of the user adoption follow-up meetings.
You have successfully planned your project and are now into execution mode. (well, you
never really leave planning - you are always doing some planning and re-planning right
One of the best ways to take advantage of SFDC is through conference room pilots. With
process and SFDC experts, you walk through the standard processes, changing them as
needed for your new processes, and making the changes in the development environment as
you go. (note: the changes could be real-time in the meeting for simple changes, or
overnight / offshore for more complex changes. In any case, changes are reviewed before the
end of the conference room pilot.) This follows some of the good concepts of agile
development - providing instant feedback and validation to the business team about how the
new process will work.
On the one hand you have set up an environment for quick and valuable feedback. On the
other hand, this can create huge change control issues. Now is the time to activate your
change control process. You will find the need to swap out capabilities and features from
time to time, and have a structured approach will keep your program on target. Develop a
change control process that can be activated quickly, and ensures authoritative sing-off on the
changes. Utilize your project sponsors and project oversight team, communicating regularly
so they know what changes you are making. The worst feeling in the world is to hear an
executive announce to a large team upcoming capabilities, when in fact you have moved that
out to a future release.
Maintain your communications to the field - both on the status of the project and more
importantly, on the solutions that will be delivered. To keep program momentum, update both
project sponsors, and their peers, regularly. This helps to prevent unforeseen barriers from
popping up late in the project. Post your project success metrics along with actuals where
people can see it. This type of transparency benefits all projects. Regular communications to
the field on aspects of the new solution allows for different absorption timelines. The key is to
hit the ground running at go-live in order to deliver business value as quickly as possible.
For many reasons, most projects underestimate the effort needed to ensure clean, consistent
data to drive the new business processes. Whether they lack good governance processes,
are a collection of businesses that have been smashed together with proper integration work,
or cost cutting has had an impact, this is an area that undermines many a project. In the
SaaS world of realtime transactions and analysis, having good master data is a requirement.
Large and medium companies will tie their CRM solution back to other enterprise systems like
ERP, HR, etc. It is critical that the master data is synched and clean between these systems.
Ensure you have the necessary number of resources assigned to data cleansing to ensure
You will find gaps in the solution. At this point, you have three choices.
1 - Rework your business process to eliminate the gap. This could compromise the solution or
reduce the expected benefits. On the other hand, you might have a false gap - that is one that
some people think is a gap, but once implemented really is not an issue.
2 - Add a partner solution. Salesforce.com has an AppExchange that is full of partner
solutions that meet niche needs. These are very easy to activate, even if just for demo
purposes (most offer a free demo period.)
3 - Develop your own solution. You have access to the Force.com development platform and
all of the tools that saleforce.com uses to develop their solutions. Any development you do on
your own is easily integrated with the delivered business processes and data elements.
Now is the time to implement a Center-of-Excellence (COE) concept. Sales and marketing
processes have regional differences, and often the supporting data and operational systems
are slightly different. There might even be some regional business process differences. And of
course time zones factor into any support organization structure. Regional COEs provide
support to the users in that region. These centers provide real-time, local-time support to
users, helping them understand the processes, fix data, fix bugs, etc. They can be used to lead
data definition and data cleansing efforts. The centers also allow for early detection of issues,
and can be used to prioritize enhancement requests. They work together with other centers of
excellence to ensure that global processes are followed and are working. Regional COEs
greatly accelerate the adoption of the new solution, and contribute to the overall health and
operation of the systems.
The COEs are staffed with both business and IT resources and linked together as a global,
virtual team. Often the members of the COEs are key participants in either the project team
itself, or in the user community mentioned earlier.
Once you have spent the effort to clean the data necessary to fuel the new business
processes, you must establish a data governance body to ensure that the data stays cleaned.
There will be requests for new data fields, new values in existing data fields, new master data
solutions and new reporting requirements. A governance body is required to ensure that the
data - which is integrated by its nature - continues to support the overall requirements of the
company. There should be a high-level, corporate owner responsible for master data quality,
and a dedicated team of people working to ensure the data is accurate and usable.
All projects must follow good, proven project management processes to ensure success as
defined by the project goals and deliverables. But by tweaking your methodology, your project
structure and the resources assigned to your project, you will better take advantage of the
SaaS solution from SFDC. Take advantage of this new platform - design your program and
project methodology with an engaged business community to deliver business value faste
About the Author
Sam Shane is a seasoned information technology executive specialized in leading
transformational projects for global companies in many industries including chemical,
pharmaceutical, automotive, high-tech and consumer products. He has led multi-location,
multi-vendor teams in both cloud and on-premise environments - on projects ranging in size
from $250k to $25mm. The teams he led have delivered extraordinary results in challenging
situations where others have failed. In addition, Sam has made significant contributions to
the transformation of IT organizations: leading strategic partnerships with business
organizations and 3rd-party vendors; delivering strategic solutions based on future-state
business needs; changing personnel mix to ensure long-term success; and driving reductions
in operating costs.
About One Planet Associates, LLC
One Planet Associates, LLC is a team of proven veterans experienced in leading
transformations including business, information technology and cloud computing. Working with
our customers, we identify where your teams need a boost, and match up our resources
supercharging your team. Through this supercharged team approach, your team gains the
experience to move up the maturity model in your transformation. We have broad industry
experience and proven success with cloud computing including Salesforce.com, packaged
software packages including SAP, and Web 2.0 collaboration tools.