The job titles technical architect, solution architect, and application architect may sound familiar. But do you know what it takes to be a Salesforce program architect (PA)? When I was offered this role over two years ago, I had a lot of questions about what unique qualifications and skill set could help me succeed in the position. Now, after my time on the job, I’ve found that you can thrive with a healthy dose of technical and business architecture know-how mixed in with soft skills. Since I’ve heard from others that their road on the way to becoming a Salesforce program architect wasn’t straightforward, it seemed that demystifying the position was in order.
Exploring program architecture
I’ve worked as a professional services consultant in IT for more than 25 years but was still surprised when I got a call from Salesforce. I was interested in the company but abandoned hopes of joining when a prior application didn’t pan out. This time around I was in consideration for the role of a program architect.
After four interviews, I was delighted to be welcomed into the Salesforce family.
During the first five months on the job, I went through a meticulous onboarding journey. In addition to learning about the products, I mastered the Program Architect Methodology, which teaches you how to engage with clients “the Salesforce way” and become a trusted advisor. Salesforce puts a high value on customer service, so it is a program architect’s job to identify customers’ pain points to prescribe solutions that address their challenges. In this way, a program architect earns trust with clients.
My first Salesforce client was a startup from New York that managed coworking spaces. The same week I joined, I successfully oversaw a Salesforce implementation. This implementation made me realize that Salesforce didn’t require me to intimately know each and every feature that was going to be delivered. A team of experts ensured each aspect of the platform was addressed in the release – from technical partners to product managers to quality assurance. Every step of the implementation journey had experts that were responsible for doing their part.
I was responsible for project management and validating the deployment plan, but could collaborate with support when I had questions. With that initial success behind me, I found my groove.
Over the next two years, I got to work on different challenges with this client. One of the first platform improvements was the introduction of a tool to capture business needs that were separate from the technical requirements. This tool allowed stakeholders to prioritize what would go into the next sprint, and then the tech team would create estimates for completion. These changes helped streamline the company’s delivery process and meet business commitments.
To achieve continuous delivery, we leveraged a tool that identified all changes and new components. This expedited releases, as some of the configuration-only modifications did not have to wait for the final deployment of the sprint. As part of this effort, I helped them evaluate a new Salesforce DX offering. Although DX is a Salesforce product, we decided against the tool as it needed more time to mature for the client’s needs.
This is an important distinction – as a program architect you should not hesitate to do what is best for your client. Remember, you are their trusted advisor, and your primary goal should be to work in their best interests.
On the technical front, I advocated for a platform to better manage integrations between Salesforce and the clients’ other applications. Such a platform would integrate two systems more quickly than writing custom code and enable scalability in the future.
The client’s team was generally at work-load capacity. They had little to no bandwidth to consider how to make the best use of the Salesforce products they had licenses for, or evaluate other products that could create efficiencies. Given how busy the team was, I knew I could help them and drive customer success. I set the team up with Lightning Flows to automate some of their processing needs. We also launched an Einstein Analytics pilot, which was a huge success and had 100% executive adoption. I found it rewarding when we hit upon these types of opportunities to eliminate manual work so that my customers could focus on the strategic work they enjoyed and did best.
How to thrive as a program architect
So, what type of skills can help you be successful in this role? Beyond the foundational skills you’ll see listed on a job description — such as software product implementation, technical architecture, and program/project management — the following traits are useful:
Prescriptive and deft: Being prescriptive means outlining solutions, but not necessarily developing the solution yourself. While you don’t need to know every product intimately, you should understand how to leverage the collective knowledge of the Salesforce architect community.
Enabler and thought leader: Be ready to challenge the status quo and define a roadmap for the future. A program architect should know when and how to recommend features and Salesforce products to solve new and complex problems. You’ll often have to advise on “buy vs. build” strategies, using data insights to help you make your case.
Persuasive communicator: One of your challenges will be to continue educating your client on the value you bring to the implementation. This will be especially true if there is frequent client staff turnover. The ability to influence and explain is a skill you will need to exercise often.
A mile-long(er) and a foot deep(er)
A program architect is an advisory role that helps Salesforce clients get the most from their Salesforce investment. While you may be tasked with frequently solving problems in unfamiliar (but somewhat related) domains, be assured that there’s a well-coordinated team behind you, ready to make your client successful.
An architect’s knowledge is a mile wide and a foot deep. If you want to expand your technical and business architecture experience, a Salesforce program architect role might be just what you are looking for.
Blaze new trails in your career and check out the Salesforce architect certifications on Trailhead.