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COVID19 is forcing change at Lightning pace

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Home » Blog » COVID19 is forcing change at Lightning pace

Speed and relevance are the most important currencies during a crisis. That means adapting quickly and leveraging technology.


Industry leaders have identified 3 phases that all organizations are going to go through: Stabilize, Reopen, Grow. Organizations are currently adapting in the  phase, which is about reacting to crisis. Forward thinking leaders are digitally transforming their businesses to be effective in the Grow phase. This is due to a change in customer expectations and the markets. COVID-19 has accelerated this agenda. Salesforce will be at the heart of these transformations as they will be centered on a 360 degree view of the customer.

It is unlikely that there will be a “back to normal” scenario. Without a clear playbook, organizations will need to be agile so they can quickly optimize their business models (people, process and technology) in response to very dynamic conditions. However, this needs to be both robust and sustainable with a level of governance.

Many organizations are unprepared for the pace of change that will be required. High levels of technical debt, long Salesforce implementation release cycles and low adoption rates have blunted the agility of organizations. Even the largest and most mature Salesforce customers say they do not have a platform that provides centralized documentation and impact assessment to allow them to make Salesforce Org changes at pace. Without it they suffer from an increased level of technical, business and governance (regulatory) risk. They are not exploiting the power of Salesforce.

The Salesforce implementation lifecycle needs (itself) to be digitally transformed. There should be a natural flow of documentation along the lifecycle. Every phase uses documentation from earlier phases. Currently, vital time and information is lost transferring from document to spreadsheet to app and then back to document. There is no reuse of information, in context. The power of the Salesforce metadata APIs is not exploited. There is no impact analysis. There is no traceability or governance.

It does not have to be this way. The power is in building on the previous release.

The Salesforce Org should become more valuable with age – rather like fine wine or classic sports cars. It should get incrementally better every hour, every day, every release.

What is required is a centralized platform designed to support rapid business change and Salesforce releases. It coordinates the development and reuse of all documentation around the lifecycle and provides impact assessment to reduce risks when making changes.

Diagram of the centralized platform

The overall benefits of digital transformation are unequivocal, and organizations that can respond quickly in the Grow phase will ultimately emerge as the overall winners. The tactical benefits of using a centralized platform to drive more rapid and controlled change release cycles can be as high as 25% process improvement savings, 80% reduction in impact assessment effort and 20% increased user adoption All of these underpin and accelerate the digital transformation agenda which is the far larger prize. So, there is an immediate return, that will keep paying back long after we have forgotten COVID-19.

Elements.cloud has been designed as a platform to accelerate digital transformation that can scale to the largest organizations worldwide. It can support such rapid pace of change, with confidence and governance. It is tightly integrated into Salesforce and is based on 20+ years of proven projects in Fortune 500 companies.


What is clear is that the future is not clear. But, what is certain is that companies that adapt to the new post-COVID19 world to stay engaged with their customers will survive and thrive.  Speed and relevance are the critical metrics.

Brian Solis, Global Innovation Evangelist at Salesforce describes this as the #NovelEconomy. “Novel represents a new strain of market conditions that are not fully identified or understood. Thus, we have no pre-existing defenses or experience against this level of astonishing disruption. We were all simultaneously thrust into a melee of panic, fear, confusion, and disorder. There’s really no widespread expertise, playbooks, or best practices to guide us. Nor, is there a preventative business vaccine to protect us from this or future disruption…yet.”

Salesforce sets out the 3 Phases to get to the Next Normal which are Stabilize. Reopen. Grow.

  1. Stabilize: Mitigate short-term risks and stabilize operations. This has been the last few weeks for everyone. Companies are doing what they can to shore up business, throwing apps together, making changes on the fly. It has been a reaction to changing circumstances which are not expected to be the long-term norm.
  2. Reopen: Plan and orchestrate a return to the workplace. The next phase is getting organizations back working. Leaders need to put in place the planning, logistics, and communications to resume operations while protecting employees.
  3. Grow – Accelerate change to grow in the next normal. This phase is building a highly agile business to be able to adapt to changing business models and priorities in the short to medium term. The forward-thinking leaders are already planning for this phase. Their focus will be on delivering digital transformation which is robust, agile and compliant.

Most organizations are in the midst of the Stabilize phase and are planning the Reopen phase. But leaders should be looking how to be best positioned to Grow.  So, the focus has to be on optimizing business models that are relevant now and sustainable over the next few years. Digital transformation is at the heart of this, plus picking the best from what was thrown together in the Stabilize phase.

A Salesforce points out, some organizations there will be overlap in the phases as business units operate at different speeds based on geography, markets and the maturity of the operation. But what is clear is that every organization needs to get to the Grow phase in the best shape possible.

Diagram of phases showing time and readiness


Many industries recognize they are going to have to change their business models permanently- not just a stop-gap for the next few months. For some, this has been a function of demand evaporating which will be very slow to come back. For others, customers have had their expectations of delivery or service changed. Finally, for yet others, the prodigious demand has been surprising.

As The Economist put it, “Sometimes change is so vast and dislocating that it is hard to tell disaster from opportunity.” In March, Ocado, a British online grocer, saw its servers so overloaded that it suspected hackers. “We thought that we were under a denial-of-service attack,” says Tim Steiner, the company’s boss. “In fact, Britons were desperately trying to arrange to get food and drink deliveries for the weeks ahead. “

All of this is massively disruptive and also a huge opportunity that should not be missed. That opportunity is to accelerate the pace of digital transformation inside organizations. According to research in Harvard Business Review, of the $1.3 trillion spent on digital transformation in 2018, an estimated $900 billion was wasted when initiatives didn’t meet their goals. COVID-19 is forcing every company to embrace digital transformation. Although they understand its importance, many are overwhelmed by the idea of having to redesign their entire operation and do not have a blueprint to implement a transformation. But they also realize that if they don’t do anything, they run the risk of being sidelined…or worse!

Who led the digital transformation of
your company?

Digital transformation means streamlining processes and enterprise applications to improve not only the customer experience but also the partner and employee experience. Digital transformation needs to be led from the top, endorsed by IT, and supported by all business units. The promise made to the customers at the front end needs to be able to be delivered by the back office.

Salesforce is perfectly positioned since digital transformation will require a far more customer-centric perspective than seen in previous business models. Salesforce can become the single master view of customer data: Customer360.

Digital transformation will take investment and every industry will be different. Clearly some industries are on their knees, but others will be investing heavily. Here is a view of the predicted changes in IT spend by industry from Constellation Research from their post-COVID-19 playbook.

Graph of how IT spending will shift by industry


What makes the Grow phase even more challenging is that organizations have a limited view of the exact shape of the new business models that will work. Digital transformation cannot be a simple digitization of pre-COVID-19 business models. So, the challenge will be for organizations to iterate their way towards the right answer.

A core skill for organizations is change management – at pace. This is the ability to rapidly change the business operations (people, process, technology), whilst keeping everyone on the same page, realizing that the page could look different tomorrow. This level of change will put a huge strain on all areas of the organization. A business process-led approach supported by an agile systems development cycle is required. Furthermore, the lack of oversight and governance which was acceptable – or at least ignored –  during the Stabilize and Reopen phases will not be tolerated in the Grow phase.

People, process, technology

The organizations that will come out on top will empower talented and motivated people, who are consistently following easily understood business processes, supported by intuitive, integrated applications.

Back in 2004, the founders of Elements wrote a book called Common Approach, Uncommon Results which has a simple formula R=I x A2 (Results = Initiative x Adoption squared). The book made the point that adoption is the end goal and is far more important than launching yet another initiative. Adoption of new working practices (processes). Adoption of new technology/apps. Adoption of new skills. That message is the same today, except COVID-19 is driving extreme urgency.

That book had several examples of companies in every industry taking a process-led approach to drive user adoption and getting remarkable results. This concept has not changed. However, in the 16 years since the book was published, we now have cloud based apps that are built for rapid innovation, with the ability to configure using clicks not code. This should make it easier to drive change, yet, there remain a few barriers….


The emergence of highly configurable cloud applications has enabled applications to be built at a previously unprecedented pace with limited technical skills. And the business has taken matters into its own hands, often as a reaction to the amount of time it takes the IT Department to deliver new applications. But the business is building applications without the rigor and oversight of a formalized delivery approach, so it is often at the expense of adoption and compliance.

In the interests of speed, the business is tempted to take shortcuts or leave out key steps. For example: rushing straight into build without bottoming out the requirements or thinking through the architecture. Whilst it feels like time wasted on design, it ultimately undermines user adoption because the apps are not what the end users really need. Worse, changes are routinely made without any type of risk assessment or impact analysis so they end up breaking the app. This takes time to debug and roll-back, killing user productivity and undermining user confidence. Finally, since nothing is documented, future impact assessment is compromised.

Yet, the overall implementation activities for delivering business change and the underlying applications have not dramatically changed over the last 20+ years. Cloud and agile changes the cadence, not the core activities. Application development has become more agile, yet the implementation approach is still supported by a set of disparate tools and a patchwork of documents. This is the greatest source of friction that introduces risk and prevents rapid releases. The faster releases can be delivered, with confidence, the more agile the business. A recent study of 372 Salesforce implementations by 10K Advisors has shown that more frequent releases leads to a far higher ROI. COVID-19 is yet one more reason to drive faster release cycles.

Ironically, the implementation lifecycle is in dire need of its own digital transformation to be able to support the larger digital transformation agenda. It must provide rigor and governance without losing the power and agility of these cloud-based apps.

Here are the 4 Phases of the implementation lifecycle: ANALYZE, BUILD, DELIVER, OPERATE

Diagram of the centralized platform

There is a natural flow of information around the lifecycle. Every phase uses information from earlier phases. Vital time and information is lost transferring from document to spreadsheet to app and then back to document. There is no reuse of information, in context. There is no impact analysis. There is no traceability or governance. Finally, this is a continuous cycle with multiple releases. The power is in building on the previous iteration.

Even the most sophisticated Salesforce customers will admit that they do not have the coordinated platform to support their agile implementation lifecycle. This is the greatest source of friction that introduces risk and prevents rapid releases. There are point solutions such as JIRA for User Stories and DevOps tools. For the rest of the implementation lifecycle teams rely on GoogleDocs/MOffice and a few utilities with possibly some process diagrams thrown in.

Salesforce Orgs should become more valuable with age — rather like fine wine or classic sports cars. They should get incrementally better every hour, every day, every release.


What is required is a platform designed to support rapid business change and application releases. It coordinates the development and reuse of all documentation around the lifecycle, as you can see from the lifecycle diagram. It eliminates friction and improves collaboration at every phase. The platform comprises:

– A list of requirements and user stories

– A library of process diagrams

– A metadata dictionary for every metadata item in the Salesforce Org, with metadata automated and manually added documentation

– Library of end user help topics and feedback

Let’s look at how the platform supports each phase of the implementation lifecycle in the context of Digital Transformation:


In a live workshop, engage stakeholders to design new end-to-end business processes. These are documented as easily understood, version controlled, process diagrams using the simple, proven UPN (Universal Process Notation). These diagrams describe how to deliver a digital experience that will wow customers, that can be delivered by the organization, and are scalable. The process diagrams will be reused for testing and training. Process mapping can now be delivered very quickly, collaboratively and remotely. Think hours and days, not months.

In these workshops, you bottom-out the requirements for the new apps or changes to the existing apps. Requirements are linked to specific steps in the process diagrams to give them context. From these requirements, you can create user stories. These are prioritized into Sprints which are then synced to Jira, Salesforce Agile Accelerator (or an alternative tool) and used in the next phase.

Platform capabilities: Process mapping, requirements capture, user stories. Integration with Jira

Benefits: Up to 25% process improvements will be identified in workshops. Time saved in process design through interactive workshops.


User stories are related to the metadata items in the Salesforce metadata dictionary that are going to be changed or that have been created. The metadata dictionary is kept in sync with the 10,000s of configuration items that make up the Salesforce Org: objects and fields, page layouts, automation, reports, Apex, Managed Packages etc. The metadata dictionary will sync with production and all sandboxes and track metadata changes and documentation through the deployment pipeline. This provides traceable documentation with minimum effort.

The approach supports both Salesforce declarative tools and code.

The metadata dictionary evaluates the impact of changes on other metadata items and external systems to establish the risk and delivery timelines. This is an important step that is often missed because it is so hard to accomplish manually. But skipping this step has dire consequences. The metadata dictionary understands all the metadata inter-relationships and can automatically generate “system” documentation — metadata summaries, dependency maps and impact assessments.

In addition, the metadata changes need to have some manual documentation to improve the impact assessment. What the automated/system documentation provides is “what was done”. You can link metadata items to process diagrams, requirements, user stories, dictated notes, photos of whiteboards and screenshots or any URL link. This provides the “why we did it”. It also provides information about external relationships, such as interfaces to 3rd party systems that cannot be built automatically by the metadata dictionary. This could be as simple as a quick note, link or photo.

Field impact assessment will identify the key fields that can be safely removed from page layouts to improve user adoption and save user time and frustration.

The process maps are used for User Acceptance Testing because they are a description of the desired business operation that the app needs to support. Catching problems here is significantly cheaper than after go-live.

Platform capabilities: Metadata data dictionary, impact assessment, automated documentation, manual documentation.

Benefits: 80% reduction in time spent on Org Analysis. Centralized Org documentation developed more quickly.


The metadata changes must be driven through the deployment pipeline; Dev, UAT, Training and finally into Production. Tracking these migrations improves traceability while ensuring auditability. This is the final chance for an impact assessment of the changes. Prior to the final deployment a backup of metadata should be taken to enable roll-back.

Deployment can be done with Salesforce change sets, but these are time consuming. Readily available commercial DevOps tools can accelerate this phase.

Platform capabilities: Release documentation.

Benefits: Reducing time to build release manifest by 80%. More rapid releases.


Formal instructor-led training courses can be minimized or even eliminated. In-app self-help is what users now expect. The aim of rapid cycles is to be able to quickly iterate change, responding to the market needs. Minimizing the fields on screens, hiding complexity with automation and providing in-app help in page layouts increases user adoption, reduces user frustration, and reduces training time and cost.

The field impact assessment will identify the key fields that require help to improve data quality. Documentation in the metadata dictionary (video, notes, process diagrams) linked to objects, fields and record types can be made pop-up help in user screens.

For highly regulated operations, tracking the training that users have accessed can provide governance as training records. Completion of training could even control user access to fields or page layouts.

Capturing feedback, soliciting or encouraging users to rate help, and then responding quickly with improved help or new releases of the app will keep the organization responsive.

Feedback must to be captured in context and managed centrally. Some feedback can be resolved in minutes with tweaks or additional training content because it is not tied to the Salesforce implementation cycle. Other feedback will generate new requirements and the cycle starts again.

As organizations iterate and try to optimize their business operations they need to rely on solid metrics. Existing dashboards and reports will have to be updated for the new operational reality. Executives will want to try and find leading, not lagging, indicators so that they get early warning. Looking at the process will help identify the key upstream metrics.

Using the metadata dictionary impact assessment of dashboards and reports can validate the accuracy of the data that is feeding them, giving executive management confidence in their decision making.

Platform capabilities: in-app feedback, in-app help topics (documents, URL links, process diagrams), help rating, metrics.

Benefits: Improved user adoption, better data quality, more responsive to user feedback.


The overall benefits of digital transformation are unequivocal and organizations that can respond quickly in the Grow phase will ultimately emerge as the overall winners. The tactical benefits of using a centralized platform to drive more rapid and controlled change release cycles can be as high as 25% process improvement savings, 80% reduction in impact assessment effort and 20% increased user adoption All of these underpin and accelerate the digital transformation agenda which is the far larger prize.

The kicker is that none of this requires a huge change in the way that teams are currently working. It is just putting in place a centralized approach for management of the flow of documentation. So, there is an immediate return, that will keep paying back long after we have forgotten COVID-19.


Elements.cloud has been designed as a digital transformation platform that can scale to the largest organizations worldwide to support rapid pace of change, with confidence, collaborative oversight and governance. It is tightly integrated into the Salesforce platform and is based on 20+ years of proven projects. Free trial. elements.cloud/freetrial


Salesforce COVID-19 Response Playbook


ZDnet — Get ready for the ‘Novel Economy’ and recovering from COVID-19 fallout


The Economist — COVID-19 is forcing business change


Harvard Business Review — Digital Transformation is not about technology


Constellation Research Post-pandemic (COVID-19) Playbook


Gartner — Increase Sales Productivity With Digital Adoption Solutions


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