Image of Sarah Pilzer next to text that says, "Skills for Success: Project Management."

Strengthen Your Project Management Skills as a Salesforce Admin

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A key part of our jobs as Salesforce Admins is to implement solutions that help our users utilize Salesforce more efficiently. Whether your solution is a small thing that can be completed in a few hours or a more involved undertaking that will span multiple months, developing the skills to manage the project’s scope, budget, and schedule is crucial to the successful delivery of implementations.

I began to develop my project management skills when I was a graduate student, well before I had even heard of Salesforce, and have continued to strengthen them as a director of operations at a participatory arts nonprofit. I’ll share some of the wisdom I’ve learned throughout my career and how I apply it to reaching project goals as my organization’s Salesforce Admin. I won’t get into specific project management techniques (such as Waterfall or Agile), but check out the resource section for more information on methodologies.

What is project management?

I like to think of project management as being similar to the role of an orchestra conductor. The conductor doesn’t play any of the instruments but they know the score, and it’s their job to coordinate the efforts of the strings, woodwinds, brass, and percussion to produce a harmonious result rather than cacophony. If this were a Salesforce project, the orchestral score is equivalent to the scope, the musicians and audience are stakeholders, the ticket prices and concert expenses are the budget, and the rehearsals and performance dates set the schedule.

Okay, maybe I slightly overplayed that metaphor, but let’s define each of the four aspects of project management more specifically:

1. Scope

The scope is what sets expectations for the project’s goals, timeline, budget, tasks, and deliverables. Everyone involved in the project needs to agree on the scope before the project begins and it should be documented, but it can be modified later if necessary due to changes in circumstances. The scope should include metrics for determining what constitutes a complete and satisfactory deliverable. The project manager’s role in setting the scope is to convene the stakeholders (more soon on who that might be) to discuss and then decide what needs to happen, by when, and for what price. After the scope is set, it becomes the project manager’s responsibility to make sure the project doesn’t stray too far from the original scope without another stakeholder conversation.

2. Stakeholders

People who have an interest in the project are considered stakeholders. Anyone who is ever going to see, use, build, rely on, or otherwise interact with your Salesforce instance is a stakeholder. This can include a variety of people, from top-level executives to your company’s customers, not to mention admins, developers, IT department staff, and outside contractors. And don’t forget one of the most important stakeholders of all—you!

As the project manager, it’s very important to know who you’re working with and what their goals are for the project. I recommend getting to know your stakeholders through direct conversations, either individually or in a group setting. Ask them questions about what they hope to accomplish by the end of the project, how they prefer to work (solo or as a team), and which communication methods work best for giving and receiving feedback (Slack channels, surveys, interactive demos, etc.). The better you understand your stakeholders’ motivations, strengths, and challenges, the easier it will be to work with them throughout the project.

There may be times, as a project manager, when you’re required to mediate between stakeholders who don’t agree with each other. I find this to be one of the more challenging aspects of project management, but facilitation is a skill you can learn just like any other. See the resources at the end of this blog post for tips on training to develop this skill.

3. Budget

The project budget determines how much money you have to spend on a project and explains how much each part of the project will cost. It’s the accounting of all income and expenses related to a specific project. At the beginning of a project, your job is to get quotes for the various costs associated with it, such as a contract developer’s hourly rate, and how much you plan to bring in, either as return on investment or other forms of income. As the project progresses, you should track how much has been paid for each task and make sure the total doesn’t add up to more than you planned to spend. Often, you’ll need to consult with someone familiar with your organization’s finances, such as an accountant or business manager (more stakeholders!), to build and track the budget. Hopefully, you’re already recording your finances in Salesforce, so creating a report for the project budget should be doable.

4. Schedule

The schedule is a collection of milestone and deadline dates that mark the project’s progress toward completeness. While it’s possible that very simple projects might only have a single deadline, more often than not you’ll want to set intermediate check-in points along the way when meeting with stakeholders to asses how things are going.

One way to approach a project schedule is to work backward from the date by which you must absolutely be finished and add intermediary milestone goals. For example, if a project must be completed by the end of the third quarter, you can set a milestone of having a prototype ready by the end of the second quarter so you have time to test and implement before the final deadline.

As an admin, you might manage more than one project at a time. When that’s the case, scheduling becomes even more important so that you can watch for crunch times if people are overworked. Your developer might be able to code an app in 3 days, but not if they’re expected to rewrite an older trigger and debug a broken Apex class all in the same timeframe. When drafting your schedule, keep in mind the other demands on people’s time that come from outside the scope of the current project.

Why is project management important for Salesforce Admins?

Salesforce Admins are particularly well positioned within their companies to act as project managers. As an admin, you likely have already cultivated relationships with many typical stakeholders such as end users, developers, or executives. You also have a big picture understanding of how your company uses Salesforce. So, when considering a new feature or a change to an existing one, you have the knowledge needed to asses the impact on your instance as a whole.

Project managers are leaders who provide answers to the questions of who, what, when, and how an implementation will go, which gives them a significant amount of influence within a company. For example, if the project manager says a deadline has to shift to accommodate a new development, then the deadline shifts. Cultivating your project management skills can boost your confidence that you belong at a decision-making table, which can lead to promotions and career development.

Furthermore, project management is a highly transferrable skill. For example, maybe you can get involved in planning the next fundraiser event at a local nonprofit or sign up to help the school robotics club compete for the trophy. Add your volunteer opportunities to your resume to showcase the project management skills you used successfully, even if they aren’t specific to Salesforce. Making the connection can help you land a job in the Salesforce ecosystem.

How can I learn and develop my project management skills?

The first real “project management” tool I used was a spreadsheet I built for myself in graduate school that tracked how many minutes I worked on each task per day. By breaking down the larger project (write a thesis) into smaller tasks (perform background research, data collection, statistics, and analysis), I learned how to manage both scope and schedule. Simply documenting how I spent my time, even without a concrete schedule at first, helped me improve my estimation skills so that I could eventually predict how long a particular task would take.

Try this for your next project: Start a log where you record the start and end time for whatever task you’re working on at the moment. At the end of the project, total up all the time spent on each task. This will help you identify which tasks are easily completed and which take more effort. It may not feel like you’re building a specific skill, but the insight you gain about the way work gets done will help you plan your next project with more accuracy.

If you want to boost your learning outside of a specific project, be sure to check out what Trailhead has to offer on the subject. I recommend the following trails and modules to get started:

If listening is more your jam, here’s an older episode of the Salesforce Admins Podcast where guest Vickie Jeffery discusses how she made the transition from admin to strategy leader at her company:

Project management is a skill that takes time to develop but can help you regardless of where you are in your learning journey. The key aspects of being a good project manager are the same as those needed for other Salesforce Admin tasks: relationship building, flexibility, and accountability. You also have to love meetings or at least be willing to initiate and lead them, since that’s where a bulk of the actual managing work happens for a project. It doesn’t always have to be an hours-long Zoom-a-thon, but meeting regularly is how you stay informed and allows the project to move forward smoothly.

I’ve found project management to be a rewarding part of my job and I think every Salesforce Admin can benefit from cultivating these skills. If you agree, check out the resources below to continue on your path to becoming a successful project manager!

Take these three steps to build your success:

  1. Explore the new Salesforce Admin Skills Kit to learn how to represent your skills when applying for admin jobs or preparing for performance reviews.
  2. Share these skills on social media using #AwesomeAdmin, and tell other admins three skills you’re going to commit to developing this year.
  3. Revisit admin.salesforce.com next Tuesday for the next blog post in this series!

Resources

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Why Admins Should Answer Questions in the Trailblazer Community

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How to Make a Career Change to Salesforce Administration

When you’re mid-career, it’s time to start thinking about your next steps. Maybe you’ve worked in the same industry for a while and are ready for change. Or perhaps you’re considering your career path options and want to find something more fulfilling and rewarding. If that sounds like you, then joining the Salesforce ecosystem might […]

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Recap of Dreamforce ’22 for Salesforce Admins

We blinked—and Dreamforce ’22 has come and gone! If you missed it or are unfamiliar with the event, Dreamforce is the world’s largest tech conference—with a healthy dose of magic. ✨ This year’s Dreamforce spanned 3 days and included both in-person and online experiences for Salesforce Admins, Developers, Architects, and Trailblazers. Featuring more than 60 […]

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