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Our Approach to Project Management

By: Lisa Gilham

“There are few greater joys than doing work you love with people you care about and achieving great results.”

Kim Scott, Radical Candor


Over the past 15 years, we’ve used a collaborative process to find the right project management approach for our Salesforce implementation projects. What we’ve landed on is a blended approach that combines two very well-known methodologies: Agile and Waterfall. 

This hybrid approach allows us to take advantage of the planning-first perspective of Waterfall and the benefits of iterative building key to Agile practices. Moreover, we’ve designed our project management methodology to align with change management fundamentals, leading not only to project success, but organizational transformation. 

Time and time again, clients have called out our project management approach as key to a supportive and successful experience that met or exceeded their organizational needs.  

“Great project planning and management. Helped us to align our processes to work with Salesforce (instead of against it).” - amfAR (Foundation for AIDS Research)

“This partner ensured we were in steady, knowing hands. All along the journey we felt guided, cared for, and listened to by Idealist. Before our first meeting, they shared a week-to-week plan that served as a roadmap. We were able to check in, dialogue, and adjust as needed. Every minute of their team's resources was managed to be in alignment with our needs.” - Planned Parenthood Federation of America

“They (the IC team) were so diligent in really understanding our model to ensure that the build would fit our needs.” - Fund for Educational Excellence

Here’s a quick look at how our project management methodology plays out over the course of a client’s implementation project.

The Idealist Consulting project stages

Let’s break down the different project stages to show how we put this methodology into practice. At each stage, we’re focused on educating, guiding, and empowering our client teams to build organizational awareness of and desire for the change that is coming.

The first stage: Discovery

The Discovery stage is where we clarify assumptions and expectations and learn more about your processes. Here we use planning components of a Waterfall methodology along with discovery tactics from Agile methodology to create a set of user stories. 

To do this, we define user types or personas and call out what they hear, say, do, think, and need. Through this process, we also start to identify current pain points and areas to add value for the user.

Next, we use a combination of demos and story maps to help us gain an understanding of your current business processes and how those will translate into the design of your new system. 

We distill all of this information into user stories, which give us a common understanding of the requirements that encompass the whole scope of the project. Each story can leave room for more detailed analysis and additional conversations during sprints but should capture high-level goals. Through this process, we’re learning how to speak the same language and work effectively together. 

At the end of Discovery, we organize our user stories into sprints and the project plan takes shape! 

The second stage: Build and Map

This stage of the project, where we’re building your new solution and mapping your existing data to the new architecture, is the longest stage of the project. The Build and Map stage of our projects is supported by a package we install in your Salesforce instance called Story Navigator

It houses your user stories, sprints, test scripts, and feedback submitted during User Acceptance Testing (UAT). In true Agile fashion, your consultant team will lead you in several sprint cycles during this stage, iterating and building as we go. 

A sprint is a set period of time during which specific project work is completed and made ready to review. Sprint schedules can vary in time based on the number of user stories included in a sprint and the complexity of configuration required. Overall, sprints contain the same components of work: configuration, data mapping, and user acceptance testing. Typically sprints are managed with a three-week timeline. Weeks 1 and 2 include configuration and data mapping, and week 3 is dedicated to UAT.

Throughout the Build phase, training is folded in through demos and hands-on learning during testing. Successful client teams identify super users to test configuration tied to their work so that they can support and champion the user adoption rollout at the end of the project. 

Working parallel to the configuration work is iterative data mapping and test data imports. As you decide where your data is going to live in your new system, our Data Specialist imports it over into your Salesforce sandbox so you can test configuration with data you recognize! 

It’s during this phase that we make sure our teams are in sync and communicating effectively about the pace of the project. It’s important that the pace not lag, but also that we consider your users’ capacity to thoroughly test all the new features!

The third stage: Validate

The Validate stage, where we confirm we’re on the right track and continue training and testing, is a nuanced stage that is very closely tied to the Build stage. This stage of the project is focused heavily on feedback and client approval of the work. As you work through sprints you’ll be signing off on configuration and identifying additional work for the backlog (ideas that are out of scope but you want to work on in your next implementation or support project). This stage is crucial for you to confirm that what we are building is going to work for you! Make sure you have the appropriate users testing each step of the way so that they can provide timely and targeted feedback.

The fourth stage: Move

During this stage, we move all of our work and all of your data into your production instance and turn on any integrations. The good news is that you’ve approved and tested everything along the way, so there should be no surprises! 

The final stage: Launch

The Launch stage of the project is when our client's users "go-live" with the new functionality we built. This is where you see your new system fully in action and help users get settled. It’s important to take a breath and celebrate how far we’ve come!

Post-launch, we continue to support the project, working through any issues that may arise and plan additional phases to the project. 

Continuous refinement of our project management approach

We are always looking to refine our process and how we engage with clients. To do this, we conduct a retrospective to wrap up our projects. This is where we discuss what went well, opportunities for improvement, suggestions, and remaining questions from either side.

Part of our ongoing process to help clients and ourselves be successful includes sharing Salesforce inspiration and tips in our monthly Ideation newsletter. Don’t be left out! You can sign up to receive our monthly newsletter below.

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