How to build a DevOps Center of Excellence at enterprise scale

How to build a DevOps Center of Excellence at enterprise scale

Jack McCurdy on

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Large enterprises have more Salesforce staff, orgs and data to manage, which requires greater attention to processes and tools. Establishing a DevOps Center of Excellence, or integrating DevOps into your existing digital leadership center, can mitigate the challenges of rolling out new approaches and help you to implement DevOps successfully.

In this article, we’ll answer some common questions around setting up a Center of Excellence. For more insights into improving Salesforce performance, download our latest ebook, Salesforce DevOps at enterprise scale.

What is a Center of Excellence?

It’s difficult to define excellence — it’s constantly changing and looks different for every team. But today’s business leaders can still learn from Aristotle, who told us: “Excellence is not an act, but a habit.” Excellence isn’t a static goal that can be achieved by following linear steps. Rather, it’s the process of continually striving for better culture, processes and tooling. But how do teams get there?

Teams need role models to guide and inspire habits of excellence, which is exactly what a Center of Excellence (CoE) aims to do: set an example for the wider business. Your CoE will advocate for continuous improvement across the organization and motivate other teams to improve.

This doesn’t mean that a CoE is “perfect” or “always right”. Rather, they show just how much can be achieved when an effort is made to continuously improve.

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What model of Center of Excellence should you choose?

There’s no one way of structuring a CoE that suits every enterprise. Broadly speaking there are a few main approaches:

  • A centralized model means that one CoE provides leadership for the whole enterprise. This model is a good choice if a disparate set of approaches across the enterprise is causing confusion and inefficiency. It can cause friction though, as some teams are more likely to feel that new tools and approaches have been forced on them.
  • A federated model gives different business units or departments their own CoE. This approach is a better fit where different parts of the enterprise are already quite autonomous and have quite different requirements to meet their strategic objectives.
  • A democratized model is one that puts the responsibility for establishing and sharing best practices onto all teams. Some would argue this isn’t a Center of Excellence at all, because it decentralizes responsibility for continuous improvement. DORA would call this a Communities of Practice approach, and found in their 2019 report that it was the best model for achieving elite-level DevOps performance.
  • It’s also possible to adopt a hybrid model, where an enterprise is trying to achieve a mixture of the above — perhaps achieving consistency across several business units while allowing others more autonomy.

Who should join your Center of Excellence?

A CoE should have members of varying seniority and different skill sets — from developers to C-level executives. This will help the CoE achieve, as a range of members will give you a greater insight into pain points and creativity for improvements. It will also help individuals in the wider organization to identify with the individuals in the CoE.

Your CoE also needs to bring in stakeholders from across the business. Different business units and departments with different objectives and constraints need to be represented. Establishing a CoE that includes a variety of stakeholders promotes a business-wide understanding of your DevOps processes, tooling, and objectives for your use of Salesforce.

How does DevOps fit into your Center of Excellence?

DevOps fits naturally with your Salesforce CoE’s responsibilities, including:

  • Leadership
  • Governance
  • Change management
  • Tooling
  • Standards
  • Metadata management

You’ll bring the best DevOps practices to the fore by establishing an effective CoE with a holistic view of Salesforce as a platform. This should include a strategy for your DevOps implementation and a roadmap for how the CoE will act as a force for change.

How should our DevOps Center of Excellence set its goals?

When it comes to change management, you’ll generally need to slow down in order to speed up. Take time to understand the Salesforce org(s) that you look after, understand the long-term strategy of CRM in your company, and build a CoE with roles and responsibilities that support it. The CoE’s goals should be guided by a few key principles.

Aim for continuous improvement

Continuous improvement underpins DevOps practices and philosophy, so your DevOps CoE should always be considering how DevOps projects can make sure that Salesforce stays operationally relevant and drives business growth.

Finding the right DevOps toolset and then rolling it out across the enterprise is always part of this effort, but the CoE mustn’t overlook the cultural aspects of DevOps. It’s inevitable that some employees will be resistant to change, but, with coherent strategy and clear communication, disruption will be minimized.

A great DevOps process supports high levels of change velocity. This keeps end users engaged, and fosters belief that they’re being supported in their operational goals by the Salesforce development team. At the same time, it’s vital to communicate how and why Salesforce is changing in your organization, so end users are included and well informed.

Your Salesforce DevOps CoE needs to model an iterative approach to development and releases — and to improving the release process itself. And it should set an example in communicating the value of new changes to end users and the future roadmap. All this creates an environment where trust and collaboration will flourish.

Align with wider business objectives

Your use of Salesforce should allow you to meet business-critical objectives. The Salesforce platform has the ability to take an organization to atmospheric heights, and DevOps is critical to getting there. Businesses should be looking to serve customers consistently with more innovative and satisfying solutions — Salesforce undoubtedly has the capability to do that.

But the ever-changing commercial landscape makes it difficult to stay on top of consumer trends. The ability to collect, process and store relevant data can allow you to make sound business decisions that drive commercial success.

Your CoE should set an example in planning how to deliver large and strategic projects in increments, demonstrating how to bring agility to the enterprise and deliver the changes needed on Salesforce to achieve business objectives, such as preparing the business for an IPO.

Focus on customer experience

The customer experience should be at the forefront of any great Salesforce implementation, as your business objectives ultimately serve these customers. The faster and more efficiently you can serve them with relevant, coherent services and products that meet their needs, the better. If you’re relying on Salesforce, then you’re relying on your DevOps process to make sure your business meets customer where they are — and before they’ve moved on.

Your CoE shouldn’t become an ivory tower where “best practices” are far removed from the real needs of the customer. The CoE needs participants who will champion the customer voice, and encourage everyone to get a deep understanding of how Salesforce solutions support a better customer experience.

Training needs for Salesforce teams

Salesforce teams need the skills to deliver the features and functionality the business needs, and some team members will be less familiar with new methods and technologies. Failure to address this skills gap limits the success of your DevOps implementation and overall use of Salesforce. According to the latest State of Salesforce DevOps report, 41% of teams say limited experience is a key factor in making it harder to manage Salesforce releases.

CoEs are well placed to identify and address training needs for Salesforce teams. Investing in your process is all well and good, but neglecting team development will massively hinder progress.

Some training and knowledge sharing can be done internally, but there are plenty of other resources available. Salesforce’s Trailhead is a great learning platform for technical and soft skills. For dedicated DevOps learning, you can take advantage of free resources such as DevOps Launchpad. And conferences hosted by Salesforce itself and the wider community will connect your teams with experts and other teams solving similar challenges. We’ve seen the huge value attendees get at DevOps Dreamin’, building networks and gaining specific knowledge and expertise.

Achieve Salesforce DevOps success at enterprise scale

Building a Center of Excellence that promotes Salesforce DevOps within your enterprise is a huge step. But there are plenty of other factors to consider when it comes to a successful DevOps implementation, including the technical and cultural pillars of DevOps, metrics for performance, and evaluating platforms. For our full guide to implementing DevOps, download our free ebook Salesforce DevOps at enterprise scale.

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