You just completed your rollout of Salesforce. Bravo! Soon enough, your entire organization will be using the new shiny tool to its potential. You also paid a lot of money to attain the value that a CRM implementation brings. You may be wondering how to maintain this value. Instead, you should be asking, how do you increase the value?
Applications like Salesforce that are deployed in the cloud have a unique blueprint for continued maintenance and management. Gone are the days of staying on a version for a few years and then planning another big uplift to get to the next “.0” release. These days, version releases are governed outside your organization—and outside your control. You might be able to skip a first round of updates, but eventually, your system will change over. (Plug: Are you on Salesforce Lightning yet?) Here enters the world of product management: a way that you can continue to increase the value delivered by the Salesforce platform.
What is product management?
A lifecycle, not a onetime event. In our client work, we often find that organizations grant requested updates and changes to a small group of complainers who kick and scream the loudest to get their new feature in place. Other times, a backlog of requests might be documented, but without a process in place to execute on them the list just keeps growing.
Product management around Salesforce focuses on tying together changes with the Salesforce roadmap and how those changes and new features will affect what has already been deployed. This is very important if you have made customizations and built new features or integrations, and critical if you have done everything “out of the box.” Salesforce will not manage your organization’s customizations as they make updates to the system. As a result, you may not be in a position to leverage certain functions—thus, you are paying for software that is not being used, and decreasing the overall value.
Let’s paint this picture: Your strategic roadmap is made up of pulling together new features from the three major annual updates from Salesforce along with key business requirements that align with the direction of your business. In addition, you have an active end user submission process for enhancement requests that are vetted by a product management team, reviewed for ROI or business value and prioritized into the roadmap. Before you go live, this process should already be in place so you are prepared to field requests and act with proper resources in place. By doing this upfront planning, you are able to set proper expectations with leadership and end users, which is crucial to their belief in a system that is able to change with the business.
Are there hurdles to getting product management right?
Sure. Sometimes, key business users might really want a particular feature. Are you really going to tell them no? Probably not. We have found that a properly communicated and strategic product roadmap can actually alleviate issues: Instead of saying no, you are pointing to where in the roadmap this exciting new feature will be deployed. This takes discipline, as do most effective management processes. But it works because you are proactive about end user needs and are proving you can help them get the most value out of the platform.
In our experience managing applications for organizations, there are six critical components to make product management successful and increase value:
- TAKE TIME TO DEVELOP A STRATEGY, ability for end users to provide input and requests and do this before you go live. We all know every feature does not make it into the first version, so you already have a backlog before you release for the first time.
- BE VISIBLE. Openly prioritize features and indicate why certain asks are higher on the list. This openness prevents grumbling and confusion around why change is being made and why certain requests are lower on the list.
- PUBLISH THE ROADMAP AND BACKLOG. Some might think this is risky, as things don’t always go as planned. But we have found that bringing awareness to the roadmap early in the process means you are more likely to have the resources and time to properly deliver.
- APPOINT A PRODUCT MANAGER. This person, or people, are responsible for this process and can bring in the right involvement from the business and leadership. Don’t expect this to be someone’s side job.
- DON’T PLAN TOO FAR OUT. Things change. Have details for the current year, and high-level targets for the second and third years.
- KEEP A HISTORY OF SUCCESS and what has been completed and deployed. A “year in review” document is expected, but it is better to have more frequent updates to keep track of progress.
Product management around Salesforce takes work. But the result is informed users and leadership, the ability to change with the business needs, and effectively leveraging features in the software that you are paying for. With each passing month, this will increase the value of your Salesforce platform to the organization and exceed the expectations of your user base.