A very common challenge addressed by architects working with Salesforce is the definition of an appropriate release methodology. By this I mean the identification of the Salesforce orgs required to support the project delivery whether serial or concurrent in nature, the role and purpose of each org and critically, the means by which change is managed and synchronised across environments. With this latter point, a clear definition of the path-to-production is imperative.
In the large-scale, complex project case there is typically time and expertise available to define a bespoke methodology, with build automation, source code control system integration and so forth tailored to the specifics of the programme environment. There’s an abundance of best-practice information available online to help guide the definition of a release methodology for complex projects. For less complex projects, such as those employing the declarative build model only, there is less information available, in such cases what is typically required is a standardised, best-practice approach that can be adopted as-is.
The remainder of this post provides an outline view of an exemplar release methodology for small-to-medium scale, configuration-centric projects (i.e. no Apex code or technical complexities). This information is provided for reference purposes only.
The following diagram outlines the environments and their purpose, the defined release steps and a basic approach to change management.
1. Isolate development from testing activities. This is the golden rule. Testing requires a stable environment unaffected by ongoing development. Development shouldn’t grind to a halt while system testing and acceptance testing processes are applied.
2. Utilise the minimum number of sandboxes as possible. Synchronisation of change is time expensive and error prone, avoid this wherever possible. Preparation of standing data post sandbox refresh can also take time, as can the communication required to establish that a refresh can proceed.
3. Don’t over specify the sandbox type. Sandboxes are an expensive asset, especially full-copy and partial-data sandboxes. Calculate the required storage capacity and map to either Developer or Developer Pro. Retain full-copy sandboxes for purposes that do actually require the copied data.
4. Maintain a Change Control Log in the production org to record all changes (at a reasonably high-level) against applied environments.
5. Use the production org for implementation project collaboration. It can also be a useful adoption tool to create Chatter groups such as “Salesforce: Marketing”, “Salesforce: Finance” where collaboration can occur directly with the business users whilst the project is in flight.
6. Accept that change will inevitably be applied to the production org first; record such changes and apply to development and testing sandboxes asap.
7. Always verify the Change Control Log against the Setup Audit Trail before deployments.
8. Use Change Sets for deployment wherever possible.
9. Encourage a development process where Change Sets are updated continually, rather than retrospectively.
10. Always verify the Change Control Log against the list of Change Set support components.
11. On larger projects a Change Set partitioning strategy may be required; along functional lines, by team or by component type etc.
12. Ensure releases to production are documented and approved. A simple Deployment Request Form (DRF) template should be defined and used to gain approval. This process is key to communication and governance but also helps the team consider fully the pre- and post- deployment steps, risks and rollback strategy.
13. Post-release. Communicate how business processes have been mapped to Salesforce concepts, and the permissions model. Understanding how things work in simple terms can help avoid end-user frustration with a new system. This can also reduce the support burden as end-users can often self diagnose the cause of a problem.
The org strategy diagram above presents an appropriate approach for a serial-release model, i.e. one project or one sprint at a time is being developed, tested then released. In the concurrent-release model, where multiple parallel projects are converging into a single production org, isolated develop and test sandboxes will be duplicated per project with an integration (or pre-production) org providing a synchronisation point where the combined state is validated prior to deployment to production.