Best Practices

Hidden Costs of Technical Debt in Salesforce

Hidden Costs of Technical Debt in Salesforce
Max Maeder
Salesforce technical debt is inevitable. And it's hard to manage. Here are 3 proven solutions for how to tackle it.
Hidden Costs of Technical Debt in Salesforce

Understanding Technical Debt in Salesforce

"Technical debt" is a concept in software development that refers to the cost of additional work caused by choosing a quick and easy solution now instead of using a potentially more time-consuming but sustainable approach that would take longer.

In short, it's what happens when you cut corners or use workarounds when trying to ship new releases.

And technical debt is costing you a FORTUNE.

While these quick fixes might solve immediate problems, meet urgent needs, or hit urgent deadlines, they can lead to long-term consequences that impact the org's efficiency, maintainability, and upgradeability. This is what we call accruing Salesforce technical debt.

As you may already know, technical debt comes in many forms within Salesforce:

Code Debt

This is perhaps the most obvious form of technical debt because using Apex code is complex and should only be deployed by seasoned Engineers. It occurs when custom code is poorly written, lacks documentation, or doesn't follow best practices. Over time, this can make the code difficult to maintain, understand, or modify.

Configuration Debt

Configuration debt arises when your org's setup deviates from Salesforce's recommended practices. This could include things like excessive use of profiles instead of roles, misuse of field types, or overcomplicated sharing settings.

Unmanaged Metadata Debt

Salesforce orgs can accrue metadata debt when they accumulate unused fields, objects, classes, or other metadata over time. These unused components clutter the system, making it more challenging to navigate and manage.

Process Automation Debt

Process automation debt happens when there are too many automation rules (like workflows, process builders, or flows) that overlap or contradict each other. This can lead to unexpected behavior and make troubleshooting issues more complex. In the worst scenarios, it can prevent the system from actually functioning because background jobs may cause timeout issues with flows that are meant to run.

Integration Debt

Integration debt occurs when external systems are integrated with Salesforce in a way that's hard to maintain or doesn't scale well. This could be due to poor API design, reliance on deprecated features, or lack of error handling.

Data Debt

Data debt refers to issues related to the quality and management of data within the Salesforce org. This could include duplicate records, incomplete data, or lack of standardized data entry practices.

Issues Caused by Technical Debt

It's important to note that not all customizations lead to technical debt. If well planned, documented, and maintained, customizations can provide unique solutions that help businesses leverage Salesforce's potential. The key lies in striking a balance between customization and configuration, and making informed decisions about when and how to customize.

Accruing Salesforce technical debt can result in several issues, including:

Difficulty in Upgrading

Salesforce rolls out three major updates every year, introducing new features and improvements. However, excessive customization can make it challenging to apply these updates. The custom code might conflict with the new updates, leading to functionality issues or even system breakdowns. As a result, organizations may find themselves stuck with an outdated version of Salesforce, unable to leverage the latest features.

Increased Maintenance Costs

Custom code requires regular maintenance to ensure it continues to function correctly as Salesforce evolves. This maintenance can be time-consuming and costly, especially if the original developer is no longer available or if the code is poorly documented.

Reduced System Performance

Excessive customization can lead to a bloated system that runs slowly and inefficiently. It can also make the system more prone to bugs and errors, impacting user experience and productivity.

Loss of Agility

One of the main benefits of Salesforce is its flexibility and scalability. However, heavy customization can reduce this agility, making it harder for organizations to adapt the system to changing business needs.

Complexity in Training and User Adoption

Custom features may not be as intuitive or user-friendly as standard Salesforce features, leading to a steeper learning curve for users. This complexity can slow down user adoption and require additional training resources.

To mitigate these risks, organizations should consider adopting a "configuration first" approach, resorting to custom Apex only when absolutely necessary. An experienced Salesforce Developer will help you understand these risks and guide you in making informed decisions about when and how to customize your Salesforce environment.

They can also assist in managing technical debt by reviewing and optimizing your existing customizations.

How to manage Salesforce Technical Debt

First and foremost, you have to accept that technical debt will accrue to some extent within your Salesforce org.

Even the most talented Engineering Leaders and Salesforce Developers understand this fact. Assuming that you have the right processes in place to avoid it altogether will get you into trouble.

That said, there area lot of things in your control that will prevent it from building up at an unsustainable rate.

1. Preventing Technical Debt in the first place

Dev Ops has been lacking in Salesforce for a LONG time and while we’re finally seeing an ecosystem of tools like Prodly, Copado, AUTORabit, and others that help maintain a clean org, the damage has been done to many orgs.

But companies that are building out Salesforce today and scaling a Salesforce Engineering team NEED to prioritize Dev Ops and release management processes to scale a healthy environment.

2. Build a Technical Debt roadmap

Just like you have a Salesforce product roadmap for new feature build (’future state’), you should have a roadmap for technical debt reduction.

  • Identify legacy code causing the most problems.
  • Map out where to work down technical debt as part of new releases.
  • Dedicate Salesforce Engineering capacity to tech debt on an ongoing basis.

You can do this with your full-time Engineering team efficiently by baking it into your ongoing release management process and roadmap.

This is the best way to reduce tech debt that is embedded in the core feature set - functionality, automations, and integrations that no longer serve the business and have become debt in the org. Often, this technical debt requires more intimate knowledge of the business use case or current technical set up of the org, which is why it's best handled by your internal Salesforce Developers.

3. Leverage a Staff Augmentation Model

Which technical debt can be cleaned up in isolation?

As noted above, some of it requires deep business knowledge is best handled by the internal team.

But some of the backlog and refactoring is straightforward. In these scenarios, we’re seeing adoption of dedicated staff augmentation teams (mainly offshore) as a way to tackle tech debt.

This approach involves engaging dedicated Salesforce Engineer Contractors focused solely on cleaning up technical debt, refactoring code, and working through a backlog of bugs / break fixes.

4. Deploy a Greenfield Salesforce Org

In the most extreme scenarios, the only option is going nuclear.

Salesforce orgs that have been around for 10+ years can easily reach the point of no return with technical debt. No planning or staff augmentation resources can get you out of the hole.

And getting anything shipped is impossible.

In these cases, deploying a parallel org gives you a clean slate. Slowly chip away at existing functionality in the org. Move it into the new org piece-by-piece. Eventually, decommission the legacy org.

Do you need help tackling technical debt or evaluating your Salesforce resourcing options?

Book a free strategy call with FoundHQ here.

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