Secret Lives of Project Managers

Project management is one of the most puzzling roles in a team, because we do not produce tangible outcomes as most of the other members do, well, except for the project plan and tons of reports. But we are not directly building the final product and therefore a lot of people have difficulties understanding what it is that we do.

However, this article will not unhide this mystery. Instead, I will share some aspects of the project management role that no one talks about, those “secrets” that are not revealed in books or Confluence pages, nor taught in the academy.

“The PM is always available”

Project managers’ availability is usually taken for granted by other teammates and this is particularly challenging when we need to write a complicated communication or even produce a report or a task that requires concentration. I tend to assume that when a team member writes to me, they need an input for continuing their work right away and I don’t like to make them wait. But at the same time, I get easily distracted from the task I was doing. To minimize these distractions, I have developed a strategy of sometimes shifting my schedule to early in the mornings or late at nights, when I know people are not online and I will have some space for deep concentration. However, this particular option wouldn’t go well if one has personal or family commitments. Switching your status in chats to ‘Away’ while you need to be immersed, may be helpful as well.

“Changing lenses”

The second aspect that I have found there are few or none specific training programs for a particular skill that throughout my career has been essential, is to be able to change lenses.

This skill is to have the ability to deeply understand the day-to-day project dynamics, how things are advancing piece by piece, how healthy the relationships are, how dependencies are being tackled and balance this detail orientation, with the understanding of the bigger picture, and accurately assess how each event impacts the project as a whole and its final outcome.

To improve on this, I have trained myself to listen carefully to all my peers, try to put all the pieces of the puzzle together with different approaches (tech view, creative view, client management view, etc) and always ask questions. Sometimes it may be perceived as a lot of consultation, but at the end of the day, this collaborative approach gives you the reliability for making the right decisions on the project.

Perceptions of the PM’s work

This is a tricky one because it has the factor of the ego involved. However, my concern is more related to how I make myself available and trustworthy when supporting the rest of the team members.

One way I have found to relieve this, is by not trying to solve everything myself. Rather, by knowing who to go to in different situations, facilitate a channel between the person that needs the support and the one that may provide it and very gently make follow-ups on how the situation is advancing. It is also very helpful to have tools that outline the roles and responsibilities within the team and share them with all the members, so it is clear for everyone what you as PM are accountable for and what aspects of the project are out of your scope. But then again, this last one can always be supported by proper communication.

I would advise you to not get offended when someone tells you something like: “PMs only make Excel sheets”. This is coming from a place of misinformation and maybe from bad experiences in the past. Instead, try to be available for the team, express your willingness to provide support and do not force the relations. Take it one day at a time, until you have authentically gained their trust and respect towards all the activities we perform.

Relationships within the Team

One of the biggest challenges for PMs, is to cope with different types of personalities, ways of work and communication styles and maintain good relationships with all team members. When troubles come knocking on the door, of course that also affects us, especially when things don’t go as planned and this may cause frustration in the team, among stakeholders and within oneself. But as a friend once told me, “PMs should be the grown-ups on the team”, so we need to have great resilience, patience, kindness and be creative on how to approach each person and each situation, to effectively be a proxy of interactions and achieve to orchestrate the dynamics of a project.

Hidden challenges of project management are those subtle aspects that are not clearly identified in a guide or a textbook. They require years of learning, listening, asking, sharing and caring, to overcome them with the best possible result for all and become a strategic ally for your colleagues.

My final takeaway would be this quote from Nelson Mandela: “It never hurts to think too highly of a person, often they become ennobled and act better because of it”.

The Scoop on Salesforce Developers

The position of a Salesforce Developer is often confused with that of an SFCC Engineer. What is the difference between them, what exactly does a Salesforce Developer do on a project, and what’s it like to work as an SF Developer at Astound Commerce?

To answer these questions, we’ve talked to Ilya Yefremov, who has been part of the Astound Commerce family for almost 2 years. He himself is a Senior Salesforce Engineer, and at the moment is looking to extend the team of SF Developers at Astound.

First things first, what does a Salesforce Developer do and how does this position differ from an SFCC Developer?

Salesforce Developers, unlike SFCC Engineers, don’t create ecommerce stores. They customize the CRM platform that includes Salesforce Service Cloud, Salesforce Sales Cloud and, since recently, the Order Management System. This CRM platform helps companies automate their sales, marketing, and customer service processes.

The Sales Cloud allows a company to manage the entire sales process from capturing a lead to closing a sale. It includes features like Web-to-lead, with an opportunity to create auto-response rules so that no lead is left unnoticed. There is also a business analytics function that lets anyone with access create reports using all the information from the cloud.

The Service Cloud is about automating customer service and support. There is a customizable user interface for support agents, with productivity tools and analytics, a service console — to manage multiple customer service cases simultaneously, and other features like the Public Knowledge Base and service process automation.

And then, there is OMS — Salesforce Order Management — a recent development. It’s a huge brand new application that includes about 25 new objects and its own automated processes. Companies can use it separately or together with, for example, the Service Cloud, so that support agents have access to order data along with the information on service cases and customer profile. The system is highly customizable, where an admin with a few clicks can set up a user interface and tailor the business logic according to the business needs.

Has Astound already started working on the OMS projects?

Astound, being the Salesforce Platinum Partner, was the first company to get OMS clients. At the moment, we are working on three projects, implementing this new functionality.

In which cases exactly does our company involve a Salesforce Developer on a project?

It depends on the client’s needs. When a client orders only an ecommerce site, our SFCC Developers work on implementing the Commerce Cloud. In such cases, a Salesforce Engineer is not needed. But, if a client wants to process all the cases and orders through the Service Cloud, a Salesforce Developer is employed to customize the Service Cloud according to the client’s needs — to process sales, orders, to set up the work of a call center, or work with customer service cases.

Mostly, we implement an ecommerce solution, and the Service / Sales / and now OMS Clouds come as a secondary task, but sometimes a client doesn’t need a site, but only a data management system — to manage leads, opportunities, sales, call centers and others. In such cases, SFCC Developers are not involved in the project, since Salesforce Engineers will be performing the customization here.

If Salesforce Developers are not involved in every Salesforce project, is there really a big demand for this kind of IT specialists on the market?

In the US, more and more companies are switching to Salesforce. At the moment, Salesforce is like the Apple of the ecommerce world. So, software provider companies are opening SF / SFCC Developer positions, hiring a team, and taking in clients, since indeed, there is a huge demand for SFCC and other SF Clouds implementations.

Meanwhile, the number of Salesforce Developers on the market is small. This technology is relatively new, so people usually choose to study more standard ones like Python, Java and JavaScript.

What technologies does a specialist need to know, to work as a Salesforce Developer?

Basically, full stack. For back end they need to have the knowledge of Apex, a Salesforce programming language, which syntactically resembles Java. So, if you know Java, with minimum effort you can train yourself in Apex. We even have one Engineer that switched from Java to Salesforce development.

For the front end part, for UI, Salesforce Developers use JavaScript. And, also, there is a Lightning Web Components framework. In SF development, other front end frameworks can be used, but LWC is the newest one. And we at Astound use only new technologies to provide the best solutions for our clients.

Apart from that, what an SF Developer needs to know, is the configuration opportunities of the Salesforce platform. Primarily, you have to be a Salesforce platform administrator, since lots of stuff can be configured manually.

Do we at Astound expect the candidates to be Salesforce certified?

We require that a candidate has Salesforce Platform Administrator and Developer I certifications.

Now, what about you? How did you become part of our team as a Salesforce Developer? What do you like about working at Astound?

I completed a Salesforce Developer course in another company and then applied for this position at Astound. One of the reasons for choosing this company was that it provided solutions for such clients as Adidas, Puma, Jimmy Choo and others.

I love the fact that we have Business Analysts and Solution Architects that communicate with the client, so I don’t have to. I receive a clear set of tasks that I can work on and not worry about misunderstanding the client and what they meant by this or that requirement. It’s all been handled by my teammates, so I can focus on my code.

The processes are well set. We have multiple SDLCs that we can tweak based on the project.

And, our Solution Architects work closely with Salesforce. Once our client wants to add a specific feature that can’t be implemented without the help of Salesforce, our architect can contact the Salesforce team directly and influence a lot of aspects. This is not the case for many other companies.

You are a Senior Salesforce Developer now. What’s the next step for you here?

I can grow to become a Solution Architect. It would be exciting to work closely with Salesforce on their newest applications.