The Salesforce Architect Role: Moving from Art, to Skill and Blueprints

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A skilled profession is predictable and reliable – art is new and surprising. Salesforce was once an ‘art’ but has become a skilled profession.

This is due, in part, to the unknowns in mature industries become less apparent, and that we can work leveraging the knowledge of others before us by shared best practices. This opinion piece talks about the evolving role of a Salesforce Architect from an art to one that follows recipes and best practices.

I believe a skilled professional applies trained knowledge to solve recurring scenarios in predictable ways. A skilled professional doesn’t necessarily need to understand why something works the way it works, but they do need to know how to apply prepackaged proven solutions.

Sometimes new trends, materials, or techniques emerge, and eventually, these get repackaged and become part of the best practice. Take a carpenter, for example. They build a roof mostly the same as they have done countless times before. From time to time there are new techniques or materials which the carpenter needs to learn, however, the carpenter mostly follows other people’s guidance.

Art on the other hand is creating something new, something original. An artist applies craftsmanship to build something never seen before – for example, an artist draws an apple in a way never seen before.

Most Projects Follow in the Path of Another

There have always been ‘firsts’, building something never built before – in the Salesforce world, there was the first person to implement Sales Cloud for a 5,000 user base, or the first time someone dared to store 30 million assets in Salesforce.

There are still projects which do something completely new, however, these are becoming less common. Most projects follow in the path of another project that came before. These projects require

80% standard solutions and 20% creativity. Standard solutions are not limited to “point and click” or out-of-the-box functionality, but also include everything based on existing knowledge like frameworks, data models, LDV strategies etc. Standards solutions, therefore, are a label for ‘tried and tested’ solutions. Repackaging existing solutions is often sufficient enough. Experience, recipes, and lessons exist.

Projects, which needed an artist 10 years ago, today would need a skilled professional only. Of course, it’s a kind of art to combine the right solutions for our customers, but for the most part, an underlying recipe exists that can be followed.

Art vs. Skilled Profession

The exact ratio that “art” is involved vs. “skilled profession” varies from project to project. Building the Colosseum requires more “art” than a single-story house.

You must ask yourself (and your customer), is our project truly unique (Colosseum) or just like most other Salesforce projects out there. Moreover, make sure you focus your creativity on where it truly adds value to your customers’ business.

One trap I see myself fall into often is to use my creativity for things which don’t set my customer apart from their competition – things which could be as well solved using “recipes”. On the other hand, I should be focusing my creativity on the “never done before” things which will help my customer gain a competitive edge and be the best version of themselves.

Don’t waste your creativity on what can be solved the same way regardless of the origanization.

Many things related to Salesforce Architecture have been done for the first time by Trailblazers. So much that’s been achieved has been thanks to inspiration, rather than knowledge because there was no experience or proven way to do something. This was true art – but the landscape is changing.

Seek Others’ Knowledge before “Reinventing the Wheel”

Many lessons have been learned, recipes recorded, and best practices documented. The last few years, especially, brought along so many sources of architecture knowledge, for example, from Salesforce directly on the Salesforce Architect blog. However, we are not at a place where we can rely solely on established frameworks as other industries can – but we are getting there. Therefore, in my opinion, (Enterprise) Salesforce Architecture becomes a skilled profession (for the most part).

We know that we always need to calculate data volumes for each object with a 5 year future outlook to avoid any unpleasant surprises, we know what to do in cases involving LDV. When it comes to data model design, there are plenty of tried and tested data models for most use cases; there’s no need to reinvent the wheel by building a “contract driven pricing data model”, just take the pre-made one off the shelf! Seek the high-quality recommendations of others, and apply them to your specific scenario.

I consider myself as a chef. I have certain ingredients, and an order from the customer. I could come up with an original dish, never seen before – personally, I would rather take existing recipes and follow them. While it may not be the most original meal, it does the job – and as far I can tell, most Salesforce customers feel safer with a predictable, stable, reliable outcome over having something unique and creative.

What does this mean for the Salesforce Architect role?

The Salesforce Architect role will still require elements of creativity, but the projects that require this will become less common. Our job will not become boring, however.

We will still come across complex elements in projects, for example, an NPSP customer who uses the Household Account model but also wants to use the standard Account and Contact data model. We can hope that when an architect does work on things like this, that hopefully, they will create a blueprint based on their experience for others to use.

This also changes our day-to-day job. For the most part, we can take one of the proven recipes and apply it, instead of discussing the data model in endless Zoom calls.

For some, this may take away the magic of being a Salesforce Architect. But on the bright side, it opens up the Salesforce Architect to be more of a business enabler or change agent. We can help the customer adopt one of the tried and tested best practices to achieve their business goals.

So, we Salesforce Architects will need to spend more time learning the fundamental theories, best practices, and industry standards – and how to apply them. Yes, this work is less creative – even less glamorous – but I am convinced that the more we treat Salesforce architecture as a skilled profession, our work will create stable, predictable, and reliable Salesforce solutions for our customers.

If you enjoyed this piece, you can find more on my blog.

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