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How to handle and mitigate Salesforce technical debt

February 18, 2022By
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Why managing Salesforce technical debt is the key to success

Before jumping into your next Salesforce enhancement or integration, it’s critical to have a clear understanding of the health of your org and any technical debt that could have an impact on your implementation timeline and desired functionality. Even the best-maintained Salesforce orgs (yep, even our own!) accumulate tech debt. It’s the inevitable side effect of adapting to evolving business priorities on a flexible platform. The good news is, it’s reversible!

Much like financial debt, tech debt needs to be continuously assessed and managed so it doesn’t become an increasing drag on future agility and business growth. Leveraging a Salesforce diagnostic tool like Traction X-Ray can quickly reveal where tech debt may be hiding, sparing you from hours of manual org inspection, frustration, and workarounds.

What Salesforce technical debt looks like

You don’t have to be a technical wizard to notice Salesforce tech debt in your org. In most cases, tech debt is most problematic for everyday users, somewhat problematic for occasional users, and, eventually, creates a domino effect impacting the business as a whole. You’ll notice Salesforce tech debt in a number of ways such as:

  • Being stuck using Salesforce Classic or mismatched user interfaces.
  • Long, cluttered page layouts with empty, redundant, or unclear fields.
  • Lengthy page load times and intermittent errors.
  • Inconsistent results from button clicks and backend automation.
  • Unexpected lack of access to features, records, and reports.
  • Seemingly simple enhancement requests that go unfulfilled.

These frustrating experiences sow distrust in users, greatly impacting their adoption of the platform and reducing the overall value that Salesforce can provide to your business.

Behind the scenes, Salesforce administrators and developers experience their own tech debt frustrations, often having to fight their way through a maze of:

  • Custom objects where standard objects are best practice (e.g. a custom Tickets object rather than leveraging Cases).
  • Overly complex security and sharing models and high ratios of Profiles/Roles to Users.
  • Custom Visualforce pages or JavaScript buttons whose functionality is now inferior to Lightning UI and other native, declarative functionality.
  • An entangled mix of Workflow Rules, Processes, and Flows, as well as multiple Apex Triggers on the same object.
  • Apex Classes and Triggers calling outdated or soon-to-be-deprecated API versions.
  • Abandoned minimum viable products, proofs of concept, or apps.

This backend complexity can not only impede the overall performance of your Salesforce org, it also has a negative impact on the entire implementation and development cycle from planning through deployment and maintenance. The time it takes to release enhancements goes up, the ability to readily leverage new Salesforce features is hampered and your overall success on the Salesforce platform (not to mention downstream systems) is put in jeopardy.

How does Salesforce technical debt happen?

Martin Fowler, in his oft-referenced blog post on technical debt, gives us a simple way of thinking about tech debt; Reckless or Prudent, as well as either Deliberate or Inadvertent. This provides a handy quadrant to use in classifying the ways in which tech debt can occur in your Salesforce org.

Martin Fowler's diagram on technical debt

While we all hope to minimize inadvertent, reckless tech debt by ensuring our technical team is properly trained and certified, tech debt of any flavor can have an equally, if not more harmful impact on your Salesforce org.

Even deliberate-prudent tech debt can quickly accrue “interest” that is difficult and expensive to “pay down” without a proper plan to intentionally manage and remediate it. This often leads to administrators and developers spending the majority of their time patching a fundamentally flawed infrastructure that becomes more fragile with every release, rather than implementing features that, for example, can streamline your quoting and contracting processes or help you provide stellar customer support.

Some other ways you may find your Salesforce org working its way towards accumulating tech debt include:

  • Having a “code first” mentality toward system architecture.
  • Frequent off-cycle enhancements, or no formal release structure.
  • Multiple System Administrators making independent modifications with no centralized governance.
  • Configuring directly in the production org, rather than a sandbox.
  • Lack of process around evaluating Salesforce release notes for items impacting the org.

It should be becoming clear that tech debt can’t really be avoided. What your org needs at a given point in time may require making changes that will inevitably evolve into tech debt down the line. That’s why tech debt is best thought of as something to manage on a regular basis.

Managing your Salesforce technical debt

Effective management begins with a three-phased approach to Salesforce org optimization: Assess, Plan/Execute, and Maintain. This proven methodology not only re-establishes a future-fit foundation that allows for adaptability to future needs and challenges, but also institutes a framework for ongoing measurement and “repayment” of tech debt.

Assessing Salesforce tech debt with Traction X-Ray

To get an in-depth understanding of the health of your Salesforce org without going through the daunting task of manually analyzing every nook and cranny, we developed a tool to do the heavy lifting. Enter: Traction X-Ray. Traction X-Ray drastically speeds up Salesforce technical debt assessments by exposing health and security risks that should be prioritized.

Plan a Salesforce tech debt remediation roadmap

With a clear view of the current state of an org thanks to Traction X-Ray, we can establish a platform optimization roadmap, prioritizing the technical debt that exists in your org based on the functional impact of the identified risk items and your organization's business goals. By considering both the outputs of Traction X-Ray and where your team is trying to go, your organization can speed ahead on initiatives that may be time-sensitive.

Maintain and mitigate future Salesforce tech debt

The reality of technical debt is that the need to manage it is continuous, especially when it comes to Salesforce. With Salesforce’s triannual major release cycle (including feature retirement and API version deprecation) and increasingly flexible platform, it’s essential that teams allocate between a quarter and a third of the time in each sprint cycle to address previous Salesforce configuration and customization. Even better, utilizing Traction X-Ray on a regular basis can make it easier to refactor and ensure adherence to best practices to pay off any accrued tech debt.

Ready to see where tech debt is hiding in your org?

We’re ready to help you identify your biggest technical debt risks and set you on the path toward a healthier Salesforce org.