Salesforce: An Agile Case Study

Key Takeaways: What worked for Salesforce 

  • Organizational culture and established values prime an organization to be ready to take on an Agile framework.
  • When Agile values are communicated from the top, they are infused into the organizational mindset to occur organically without enforcement as “rules.”
  • Finding the right language to explain Agile to un-transitioned departments encourages teams to use Agile frameworks in a way that works for them.  

In 2006 Salesforce decided to go all in with agile and transform their entire R&D department from traditional “Waterfall” SDLC — a top-down software lifecycle process — to Scrum, an iterative agile framework. At the outset of the transition, company leadership knew they would face roadblocks if they couldn’t make clear to employees the compatibility between Scrum principles, their company’s mission, and their individual employees’ values. Without this critical first step, the same lightweight, adaptable quality that makes Scrum successful could also render it susceptible to misinterpretation. So, Salesforce began its agile transformation not by blindly adopting the Scrum framework, but by first educating employees on Scrum’s alignment with preexisting company values. 
Their “Educate Without Enforcing” strategy generated positive results, in part because upper management and staff already shared a coherent sense of the company’s overall mission and each employee’s individual purpose and could easily explain how the Scrum framework was uniquely suited to achieve those ends. 
“We are fortunate that our founders were as intentional about the culture they wanted to create as they were about the products they wanted to build,” says Arun Ramanna, an Enterprise Agile Coach at Salesforce. “Agile frameworks such as Scrum, XP, and Lean face less transitional challenges at Salesforce than at others, because Salesforce has an environment of trust, customer success, diversity, equality, and innovation.”
It was in 1999 that Salesforce founded their popular V2MOM Process. The acronym stands for vision, values, methods, obstacles and measures, and is used as a management tool for organization wide communication and adaptive development.V2MOM had pre-established transparency throughout the organization, so the company had a cultivated sense of trust vital to successful Scrum practices. And as a result, Salesforce proved to be better prepared for Scrum than many other pre- or partially agile organizations.
Yet challenges remained. Project managers feared losing the accurate timetables and deliverables on which they relied, and it was difficult to explain to them the purposes of agility beyond its concrete definition or discrete practices. To address these issues, the company held frequent meetings with departments that had not switched to an agile framework, framing agility as a mindset uniquely compatible with — and already present within — the organization’s mission and values. Leaders were able to explain how and why agility aligned with Salesforce and its employees’ sense of shared purpose. 
Salesforce also used the strategy of framing Agile techniques, such as XP practices, Scrum artifacts, and Lean thinking as “tools.” This helped the company explain the benefits of agility to the organization without imposing Agile principles as mandates. 
“We often hear our leaders say things like ‘Make sure we are focused on our customer’s success’, ‘Better, better, never done!’ and ‘Let’s approach it with a beginner’s mind’ to keep us on this journey,” Arun explains. These phrases embody the values of the Agile Manifesto. Salesforce leaders regularly communicate the sentiment of agile without directly enforcingthe values as hard rules.
“Salesforce is always looking to improve our technology, products, and processes to make us more agile and customer focused,” continues Arun. “It’s because Salesforce continues to have both ‘top-down’ and ‘bottom-up’ organizational buy in and support for agile that it is able to be so successful and adaptive.” 
Today, Salesforce continues to explore new approaches in applying agility within its different departments. As an organization, they remain flexible regarding their methods and open-minded about their results and are still discovering what practices work in different organizational contexts. Currently, their most essential task has become learning to tailor Agile methods to allow all departments and teams to have an iterative approach to work. 
“The response has been very positive thus far, and it would be hard to imagine ever going back to a traditional waterfall approach,” Arun concludes. “In fact, our agile coaching team’s long-term goal is to spread this agile mindset beyond our R&D, IT and Marketing departments to our entire organization, and to all our partners and customers.”

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