Create a User Management Super App with Andrew Russo


Today on the Salesforce Admins Podcast, we talk to Andrew Russo, Salesforce Architect at BACA Systems. Join us as we chat about the amazing user management super app he built and how you can approach building apps to be an even more awesome admin.

You should subscribe for the full episode, but here are a few takeaways from our conversation with Andrew Russo.

Ramping up a Salesforce org

Andrew, like so many people we interview on the show, started out as an accidental admin. He started out needing to pull more and more things from Salesforce to support his company’s email marketing efforts, which put him in the position to get his admin cert when they wanted to roll out Service Cloud. Now, the entire business is run on a massive org, and Andrew’s main challenge is making sure it’s scalable to handle everything that might come down the pipe.

Once they brought their entire manufacturing department onto Salesforce, they needed to take a second look at how they handle user requests. “Before it was as simple as sending an email or a text and we could have a quick chat,” Andrew says, “now, we have to manage a lot of users and also document it so people can do their jobs well and also make requests for features to help them do their jobs even better.”

Managing user requests and scaling up

When the user requests started flooding in, they knew they needed a plan to handle the large increase in volume. The first step was switching over to cases, but they needed to do a lot of customization to account for the different ways they handle internal vs. external cases. The biggest bottleneck they identified was when they had to ask for more details, so creating a structure for both the person filling out the request and the team member looking at it helped immensely.

They specifically needed to create a structure around requests—which is really important because it’s needed to understand the business need that’s driving it. For example, they could be asking for a checkbox because they want to run a report when there’s an easier way to do that. Instead, Andrew and his team have opted to send users a link to fill out a user story. “Then when we go back in a year and are trying to figure out why we made something, we have a record of why it was created,” Andrew says.

At the end of every flow they build, there’s a subflow that runs at the end. It tracks every time the flow runs and compares it to how long it took them to build and how long the previous process took. What they end up with is a lot of specificity around how their team is saving everyone time throughout the organization which is a powerful and effective way to prove RoI.

Andrew’s tips for user management

Andrew’s main tips for improving user management in your org are pretty simple to understand, but hard to master. For one thing, learn when to say no. Some user requests are going to be unreasonable and learning how to work with them to uncover the real business need can help you find a solution that fits.

For another, if you can find core Salesforce functionality that gets you 90% of the way to a solution, it’s far better than building everything from scratch. “Custom equals it’s yours and you own it,” Andrew explains, “not only do you own the development of it—you own the problems could have in the future with it that you can’t foresee.” Less is more.

Finally, stay curious. Always keep learning and follow your curiosity because you never know where it will lead you. Salesforce has so many amazing resources and you never know when something you were browsing or an issue you helped someone with will suddenly give you your next great idea.

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Full show transcript

Gillian Bruce: Welcome to the Salesforce Admins Podcast, where we talk about product, community, and careers to help you be an awesome admin. I’m your host today, Gillian Bruce, and we are going to talk about how to create a user management super app.

So, a few weeks ago, you may have seen a blog post that we put out on the Admin site talking all about how you can create an app to manage your users. Well, one of the amazing, awesome admins that I met in that process is Andrew Russo. He’s a Salesforce architect at BACA Systems. I wanted to have him on the podcast because the app he built is just next level. It’s awesome. There are so many elements of it that I think we could all use at different parts of what we’re building as admins at our own organizations. So I wanted to get him on the podcast to share a little bit about his overall strategy of how he approaches building apps like that, and in general, how to be an awesome admin. So without further ado, let’s welcome Andrew on the podcast.

Andrew, welcome to the podcast.

Andrew Russo: Yeah. I’m happy to be here. I think this will be awesome, to be able to talk about some of the stuff we’ve built for our company and see how other admins can learn from what we’ve done.

Gillian Bruce: Yeah. So let’s talk a little bit about you first, before we get into some of the app building advice and great strategy that you have to share. Tell us a little bit about what you do and a little bit about your Salesforce journey.

Andrew Russo: Yeah, so I started doing Salesforce stuff as an accidental admin. So in college I was working for a company and I started helping with some of the website stuff. And then that transitioned into email marketing, which involved getting email lists from Salesforce. And it slowly kind of climbed into working more and more on Salesforce stuff. So that was about 2016. And then in 2017 and ’18, we started looking at rolling out Service Cloud, which is really when I started to go into learning a lot more about Salesforce.

And then once we did the Service Cloud, I really took over as the main admin and started learning more and more and I got my first Salesforce certification, I think it was about 2019. And then I have grown more. Now we have a massive org where we have an entire business that’s fully on the Salesforce platform, which became really challenging to learn from. We have a small, just very basic, standard, out of the box org to now having to manage complex user requests, documenting stuff, and really creating something that’s scalable since the entire business depends on everything running properly.

Gillian Bruce: So, how many users do you support?

Andrew Russo: Right now, we have about 70 users inside of our Salesforce org. If you asked that same question in Fall of last year, we had about 30. So we brought on our entire manufacturing, which is really where we started to have to look at, how do we handle user requests? Because before it was as simple as an email or just sending a text and we could have a quick chat. Now we have to manage a lot of users and also document stuff properly so people can do it, do their jobs and make requests for features to help them do their jobs easier.

Gillian Bruce: Well, okay. So, clearly you are an awesome admin plus. I think it’s really interesting that you only got your first start a couple years ago, I guess three years ago, 2019 seems like forever ago, but it’s not, and how you’ve been able to grow so much in your knowledge and your abilities within Salesforce. I mean it sounds like a lot of it was kind of hands-on experience, any other external sources or what kind of things really helped you hone that skill so that you can really build, I mean the massive growth that your organization has had just within the last six months?

Andrew Russo: Yeah. I think that really where the big thing, and it’s really weird to say, but I think becoming a Master Googler has really helped. And I think that’s a skill that’s almost vital because there’s so many resources out there. You’ve got the Trailhead community, which there’s a lot of questions that get answered on there. There’s a lot of information with even guides. There’s thousands of different admins who have blogs that have stuff generally who joined the Salesforce team with all of her flow blogs. There’s all the different resources out there. So becoming a Master Googler to think, “Okay, how do I want a Google link to get the response of what I’m looking for?” And you can get a lot of different resources, that really helped.

I think though Trailhead was the other thing. I’ve done a lot of trails in Trailhead, the super badges are super helpful. And then really when I go to try and look at taking another certification exam, Focus on Force is pretty helpful for that last little bit of studying and thinking, “Okay, where do I need to focus some effort towards?” To see where you’re lacking, because you don’t really know what you’re lacking until you take a test, but the Trailhead’s really where I do it and hands on, I think where I’ve learned most of this stuff is trial and error in a sandbox of our current org. If it doesn’t work, start over and try another way.

Gillian Bruce: Okay. Well, that’s great. We want everyone to use sandboxes. So let’s talk a little bit more about specifically some of the solutions that you’ve built. Now, I know you, thankfully, helped me out with a blog post we did not too long ago about how to build a kick ass management app, which you demoed some of what you’ve built and shared some of that in our blog post. Can you talk to us a little bit about your approach to building that app and how you think about how to best structure it? Because you got a lot going on there. There’s a lot of complexity and clearly, I mean it kind of blew my mind when you were sharing all of the details that you had involved in that, but it also sounds like it is incredibly helpful to you and your team as you’re building. So talk to us a little bit about an overview of that app and then how you approached building it.

Andrew Russo: Yeah. So it was something that we had thought about earlier this year of, we need a better way to handle internal user requests because they started off as emails and then we would lose track of emails. If it doesn’t hit your inbox for the day, you kind of forget about the request, even though you might have needed to do something. So that started throughout the year and we’re like, “We really want to look at cases.” And then I posted on the Trailhead screen, has anyone done… Actually it was on Reddit I posted and I just asked if anyone’s done cases internally, just to get an idea of it. People responded, “Okay. Think about record types.” And I was like, “Okay.”

So I let a couple weeks go by and I started to think about it more. And then really once we started to get an inbound rush of emails with different requests that we needed to handle, we’re like, “We need cases to do it.” So we refreshed one of our full sandboxes so we had everything that was in production. And then we really built out in a matter of a week, we changed all of our current processes that were based on our external service that we use Service Cloud for our customers, we had to customize all of the processes and automations we already had to not apply to our internal cases because it’s two different ways that we handle internal cases versus external. There’s different fields that we want to track. But we also want some similar things like the status or the case type that are default fields, we want to keep those as the same so we don’t have two status fields to report on inside of Salesforce because that doesn’t feel right.

So customizing that and really separating it out was that first step. And then we looked at, how do we want to help our users? And what are the different things that we want to track from a reporting standpoint later? Because you can’t report on stuff that you don’t actually capture. So the first thing that we rolled out was just pretty simple, we’re going to use Email-to-Case and we’re going to use cases with record types and we added some different fields, like steps to reproduce and expected outcome, actual outcome, things that were helpful for us to right away be able to troubleshoot without having to ask for more details, because that was the biggest thing that we would have through email is they would send one request, not give enough detail because there’s no structure to it.

So giving that structure for them to record their request and guide them through, it was really helpful just for that initial problem. Versus we really, in the beginning, we keep it as just, “What do you want?” We don’t distinguish. There’s an area that they can choose if it’s a new feature versus a support case, but past that, it’s the same stuff that they’re recording and then we can handle the case once we start to look at it.

Gillian Bruce: So, let’s pause right there for a second. So you said putting some structure around the ask. What do you mean by that? Because a lot of people will be like, “Oh, can you just add a checkbox to this page?” And I’m sure you have a little bit more structure to help coach them out of that kind of ask. Can you talk a little bit more about that?

Andrew Russo: Yeah. So we used the case initially to gather the, “Hey, I want a check box,” because a user just looks as it as, “I want a check box to record this,” because they got some type of request from their boss and they need to show something, but then once we are able to review it, it might be, “Oh, that’s already there.” Or, “Oh no, that’s something that’s new. We need to gather the requirements. What is the business case supporting it? Why are we trying to do this?” To make sure it’s not overlapping with something else or it’s not a one-time thing where they want to go make a check box on records and then run a report of the check boxes, because seen that recently a few times where it’s like, “Oh, we want to see all accounts with this so let’s add a check box,” which is not the right way for us to handle that.

So, gathering those type of things, we created a flow that’s called a user story and we’re able to send out a link from Email-to-Case to the user. When they click on that link, it actually launches the flow in Salesforce and they’re able to, it’ll kind of prompt them, “Hey, here’s a trail you can go take from Trailhead if you don’t know what a user story is.” It’s not required, but it’s recommended. Then they’re able to go through the steps and do the as a role, I want to, blank, so that I can, blank.

And then we also have another field of, how do you know that this is there and successful? So we can measure the actual outcome of it and say, “Yes, this is successful. No, we were not able to meet what the requirement was.” And we like to get that for a single field from really anyone who that touches, not just the person requesting it in their role. So if accounting wants a field, we also might want to look at having sales do a user story that if it impacts the sales or the service side of it to get a full picture, because then when we go back and we look at why did we make this in a year? We have something to support why it was created.

Gillian Bruce: You built in the documentation. Yeah.

Andrew Russo: Exactly. So we have documentation gathered right away while we’re building, which is super helpful.

Gillian Bruce: That’s awesome. So I mean, what I really like about this is you built it so that it helps you be successful as things are being built, right? You built documentation into the process, you built the coaching of like, “Hey, this is how you properly make a request. This is what a user story is.” And I love the promotion of Trailhead in there, I think that’s great. But what are some of the other things that you’ve built into the app that help you and your team be successful? I know one of the things that you had mentioned to me before is having some metrics of the impact of some of the apps and some of the features that you’ve built. Can you talk to us a little bit more about that?

Andrew Russo: Yes. There’s actually two really awesome things that we have done with it. So one of which is for measuring the impact of automations, we have a couple different objects that run. So inside of any of the flows that we build, we add a sub flow that runs at the end and what it does, it tracks every time that the flow runs and then there’s a master record that’s created that we’re able to see, “Okay, this is how many times it ran.” We can put in how many hours it took us to build and how many minutes the previous process that was getting used is, so it actually calculates how many hours and minutes are saved by users running it. So if it used to take 10 minutes to do a process and it took us three hours to build it, we can see at what point has the breakeven been met that, “Hey, we’ve actually just saved the company time?” And then in the future we can say, “This is how much time we’ve saved with the automation on an ongoing basis.”

So that’s one of the things that we did to track really the ROI that we bring to the company for our performance. So when you go to look at, Hey, what did I do the last quarter? How did I perform? Yeah, this is the money that we’ve actually brought and saved the company. So I think that’s one of the things. And the other is about tracking the time on cases, because we started to realize, a lot of these cases for internal people make it, then they get busy, they stop responding, and it doesn’t look good on us if we want to report on our metrics of, “Hey, how long did it take for this issue to get resolved?” So we actually built out a custom object called Case Time and every time that a case changes status, it records how long it was in that status.

So when a case enters a new status, it creates a new record for that status with a start time. And when it leaves, it puts the end time and it creates the new record for the next status that it’s in. So we can go back on any case and look at how much time it spent in statuses. So we can say how much is waiting for the customer, our internal customer, and how much is us working on it, which really is helpful for reporting on our metrics.

Gillian Bruce: Okay. So those two ideas are amazing and I feel like every admin is going to want to implement those in their own org. I mean the fact that you have real, tangible hard metrics on the ROI that you bring to the organization in terms of time saved, I mean you can directly link that to basically money saved. That’s awesome. And then the second one about like, “Hey, a lot of people track how long it takes to resolve a case, but it’s not always on us.” It’s actually, “Hey, you make this request, we’re waiting for you most of the time on this.” So I think that’s really, really amazing tips for how to break down and really put hard data and metrics behind the work that you do as an admin or building apps.

So talk to me, I want to learn how to think like Andrew. Because you have come in and clearly, very quickly learned about how to master lots of parts of the Salesforce platform, how to really take that mastery and use it in a very effective way in your organization. What are some overall strategies that you think have really helped you and that maybe some other admins can glean from what you’ve done and what you’ve learned?

Andrew Russo: Yeah. I think that really, it’s a couple things. One of the things that I think is really important and some people really have a hard time doing is learning to say no, because there’s some requests that you get that you just have to say no, and put your foot in the sand and say, “I’m not going to do this. This does not make sense. It’s not best practice.” Really implementing a strong governance.

It doesn’t have to be a written governance over Salesforce, but having this ability and empowerment to say no to some request, to say, “No, that doesn’t make sense.” Having that, I think is really one of the important things, because I do have to tell users, “No, we cannot do that. No.” Today even, I’ve had a user request to get the ability to modify the homepage layouts on apps and I say, “No, if you’d like to, we can do a working session and in a sandbox we can make the changes to push to production, but I can’t just give you access to change the home pages,” because that comes with a lot of other access that they don’t need to have as an end user. So really learning to say no and be willing to say no is one of the things.

The other is thinking about less is more, I think is one thing. And maybe it’s kind of that architect mindset that architects are supposed to have where thinking, does this already exist somewhere in Salesforce that’s core functionality? It might not be 100% exactly what I want, but if it gets to 98% and it’s already standard functionality, use that rather than trying to build something that’s perfect custom fit, but custom equals it’s yours and you own it, so not only do you own the development of it, you own the problems that you could have in the future with something that you don’t foresee.

So just thinking about less is more, being willing and able to say no, and also spending time researching different Salesforce stuff that you’re just curious and interested in. That’s where I started to learn different things, that just go build some fun stuff, might be related, might not even bring value, just on your own learning Salesforce has been super helpful for that.

Gillian Bruce: Yeah. So those are three great tips. The ability to say no and hold the line. And then less is more, I think that architect mindset is super important. And then I think that last one you talked about, researching and just basically playing with Salesforce is really important. And it’s that learner’s mindset idea, right? Is that there’s always something to learn. And so, “Hey, if you’re curious, go try it out, go build it, go build an app for some one-off use case that isn’t necessarily part of your job.”

I think that’s one of the things I’ve seen be very successful in the community is folks that are especially looking to demonstrate their skills to maybe even get their first Salesforce job or demonstrate that they have a higher level of mastery to catapult themselves into a different more senior role, building an app that they purely have built to demo to potential employers or to show off what they know. I think that is one of the strongest things you can do. It’s like the ultimate Salesforce admin resume, right? “Cool, so I can write all these words, but look what I can show you. This is what I built. This is why and this is how it works.”

Andrew Russo: Yeah. Building on that too, one of the things that I think is super helpful is because in my org, I see what I see. We don’t use, for example, CPQ at all. We don’t use other… We don’t use Marketing Cloud. We have Pardot, but we don’t have full Marketing Cloud, so thinking about some of these different areas that we don’t really use, but understanding them is really helpful. So one thing that I think really helped open my eyes to see different areas is going on the answers and actually helping other users because it exposes you and you can look at a question someone else has that could come to you in the future and you can help answer their question. You might even have to research. You might not know the answer, but being able to see different use cases in other orgs from other people, answering their questions helps to expose you to new ideas and things that you’ve never looked at, but now when you come across it in the future, you already have an idea of it.

Because like me, I learned from experience, really that is the best way. So if I can go and do that, the amount of flows I’ve built for other users that want to see stuff, and then I actually have implemented some of those internally after I saw that on the thing of, “Hey, I want to do this. When an inbound email comes in on a case, I want to change the case status,” I helped someone build that and then I was like, “We want that.” So I built that for our org after. So, those kind of things really help to open your eyes and see different things.

Gillian Bruce: Yeah. Okay. I mean, so now I’m also going to out you for something you told me that you were doing and I know that you are in the midst of it, you had a goal of becoming one of the top answerers in the answers community, I believe. And tell me a little bit more about that. Clearly, I understand why, you’ve learned about things that then you’re putting into your own org, but what is it about doing that that drives you? Or why do you want to do that?

Andrew Russo: I think it’s just fun, honestly. So during COVID I got bored and I started answering stuff when I was working from home doing it. And that was 2020 March and I did a good amount of questions and answer stuff, and it was kind of fun doing it. And then two weeks ago I just got bored and I just was like, “You know what? I’m going to go answer them.” And then it’s kind of addicting because people reply to them and then it draws you back, you go and you help while you answer the questions. The amount of things that… It’s a satisfaction you get.

It took me 15 minutes to respond to someone, but they would’ve spent an entire day trying to learn that thing. So, for me to give 15 minutes and it’s going to make their day or their week, it’s an awesome feeling doing that, but it also helps me learn more. So it’s a mix of both and I ended up in a matter of probably about 20 days moving somewhat high up from not having answered a question over a year or two in the top five in the answer community, so…

Gillian Bruce: That’s awesome, Andrew. Okay. So that’s the vibe that I love about the admin communities. Everyone just loves to give back and help each other. And here’s the thing, clearly you are passionate about solving problems and helping other people solve problems, both in your actual day job, and then clearly this is just part of who you are, because you’re doing it externally out of your normal day job for the broader community as well, which is so great, so awesome. You’re inspiring me. I’m like, “Maybe I should go try and answer some questions.” Don’t worry, I’m not going to threaten your leaderboard status, I promise. I have a long ways to go, but that’s great.

So Andrew, before we kind of wrap up, I would love to hear if you have any overall tips for someone who’s really looking to flex their admin skills or get a little bit more experience under the belt. We heard already some great stuff from you about strategies when you’re building apps, about governance, about less is more, about going and tinkering and researching different parts of the platform. Talk to us a little bit more about maybe some of the things that you would tell someone who’s maybe a brand new admin or looking for their first admin job. What is the number one or two things that you’d recommend to them to help them beef up their skills and get prepared so they can get that awesome role?

Andrew Russo: Yeah, I think that really some of it, I think there’s two different parts of it. There’s that new admin and then there’s that current accidental admin who works at a company that became the accidental admin. For a new admin, I think really Trailhead is a really great place to start, and then moving over to trying to apply to jobs where they might be a small org with Salesforce that doesn’t really have an admin and come in as not an admin, but become the accidental admin. Because I think the accidental admin is a really great place to start because you start to learn a lot of little different things that help you grow.

And then for someone who becomes an accidental admin, I think one of the biggest things, which is actually where I started during COVID and I got experience was, go on different platforms that you can do some small just freelancing stuff after hours at night, stuff that exposes you to other companies, orgs in different areas. I know I’ve done a big project for a nonprofit that does acupuncture for low-income senior citizens. And we built out an entire community in six different languages. So I did that during COVID. That was massive with a lot of flows in six languages. It was crazy, but now that’s really where I became a flownatic, I guess, having massive flow.

So doing that and just getting some experience. It doesn’t have to be big projects. Sometimes companies just need help with reporting and being able to help them with reporting, you could make someone on the side do it, but it opens your eyes to see more stuff, because if you don’t see stuff or have experience, sometimes it’s hard to understand the different things that you don’t even know exist. I learned new stuff in Salesforce exists I’ve never seen almost on a daily basis. Like, “Oh, that’s there?” For example, 15,000 character limit for formulas. No one realized it was there, but overnight we all found out on Twitter that it was there.

Gillian Bruce: Yeah. Oh gosh, Andrew, this is great. I so appreciate your time. I think it’s so cool that you are so generous with sharing what you know and what you’ve built. I will, for sure, put a link in the show notes to that great blog post that you contributed a lot to and showing some of the different elements of the part of your user management app. And I really appreciate you imparting your wisdom with the admin community and answering so many questions. I can’t wait to see you on the top of the leaderboard. Let’s just be clear, we’ll have a little celebratory “Andrew made it” and then the next person will try and dethrone you. It’ll be great.

Andrew Russo: It’ll be Steve Mo who comes to dethrone. We already know it.

Gillian Bruce: I mean he does have a very long history of answering most of the questions.

Andrew Russo: The second that it’s a formula question, I’m always hesitant because I know that he’s going to step in and he’s going to have a better formula way. And it’s also cool to see, “Okay, this is how I would’ve answered and done it. Oh, this is what Steve Mo thinks about it.” And generally Steve Mo comes with pretty clean formulas that are really well thought out and work super well, so…

Gillian Bruce: Well, and that’s the advantage of participating in the community, right? Is you see all these different ways of attacking the same problem. So I love that. That’s great. Well, Andrew, thank you so much. I really appreciate your time and I appreciate everything you do to give back and thank you again for sharing all of these amazing pieces of wisdom with the community.

Andrew Russo: Yeah. Thank you. I think this was really fun.

Gillian Bruce: Well, huge thanks to Andrew for taking the time to chat with me. I don’t know about you, but I am definitely inspired to go tinker a little bit more and maybe go answer some questions of my own on the answers community. Now, some of the top takeaways from my chat with Andrew, I hope that you heard these as well, but first of all, it’s always good to say no, have some kind of governance strategy when you are building apps. You got to set some boundaries, you got to set up some structures that enable you to actually build something that is effective instead of just building everything that people ask you for.
Next, less is more. I love that he talked about that architect thinking, right? Let’s use the existing functionality before we create something super custom because it’s a lot easier to maintain something that is on core functionality, because if you build it yourself, then you are also responsible for making sure that it works for the rest of its life. So, let’s take some of the load off there.

And then finally, tinkering, researching. Go play with the platform, build something. I think that is one of the best ways to learn and there’s an easy way to do that, as Andrew pointed out, by answering all those questions on the community. So if you have not delved into the answers community, do it. It’s You can access all of it there. If nothing else, it’s a really good place to hang out and just see what people are asking so that you get a sense of the breadth of the platform and the kind of problems that people are solving using Salesforce.

All right. Well, if you want more great content, you can always find that at where we’ve got blogs, videos, and more podcasts. You can find our guest today, Andrew Russo, on Twitter @_andrewrusso. You can find me @gilliankbruce, and my co-host, Mike Gerholdt, @mikegerholdt. Hope you enjoyed this episode, stay tuned and I’ll catch you next time in the cloud.

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