By: Julie Workman, Director of Technology, Engagement, and Marketing
How does a fast-moving, remotely-staffed, military-family-serving nonprofit coordinate key programs across chapters all around the world? By using Salesforce to coordinate and synchronize at every level—including project management.
Comprised of military-affiliated staff and volunteers around the world, Blue Star Families has relied on the power of Salesforce to develop powerful marketing strategies, coordinate opportunity pipelines, and aggregate data from a variety of sources. These tools are key to helping Blue Star Families strengthen America’s military families and the communities that support them.
Blue Star Families (BSF) embarked on a project management initiative to improve communication and promote collaboration across departments. Our Center of Excellence (dubbed the “Super User Group”) reviewed several tools and options. While several apps on the Salesforce AppExchange offer project management functionality, the group’s needs centered around developing an easy-to use tool, with little to no ongoing subscription or services costs. The outcome: BSF embarked on a Salesforce customization project in order to deeply integrate with existing system configuration and to support integrated enterprise file sharing.
The Technology, Engagement, and Marketing team at BSF, led by Kelley Babbs, Technology Manager, and myself, proceeded with requirements gathering and data modeling. Thanks to the Salesforce philanthropic model, our team connected with a project management superhero, E.J. Drust, Regional Delivery Manager at Salesforce.
After reviewing project requirements, and comparing features from Salesforce’s own Project Management Toolkit (PMTk), the custom configuration project gained speed. Key features of BSF’s PMTk included custom objects for Objectives, Programs, Projects, Milestones, and Deliverables. Supporting custom objects created visibility for Lessons Learned, and Project Risks. Custom configuration connected the PMTk to BSF custom Chapters objects, as well as standard Opportunities, via the custom BSF Requirements junction object. Our team referred to the global standard, Project Management Body of Knowledge “PMBOK Guide” by PMI.org for standardized definitions for project taxonomy.
The Project Management Toolkit scaled up in project management capacity in three key ways:
3. Developing a cohesive data model
Process mapping and requirements gathering indicated a sophisticated set of relationships needed for BSF’s project management tool. This included limiting some information and creating visibility in new ways. For example, the custom BSF Requirements object created visibility around specific opportunity (grant) delivery needs without access to the standard Opportunities object. Custom relationships with program objects to projects was a unique requirement as well. For example, program attendance tracking at a Spouseforce training session provides attendance tracking that rolls up to the Project level.
Additionally, the data model had to be one that would scale up over time, and connect with different data entry points. Blue Star Families relies heavily on Form Assembly to drive information from myriad events, web forms, and mobile app data entry into Sales Cloud, which powers communication via the Salesforce Marketing Cloud.
2. One-stop visibility
The Project Management Toolkit creates a unified view of project work. Chatter on project-related records promotes collaboration and makes conversations visible to all team members. Another key feature is embedded enterprise file sharing with a Box.com integration. Chatter, project details, and integrated file management truly create a one-stop location for organizing and managing project work—especially important for distributed teams.
Equally important is the ability to view projects and related events from the Chapter perspective. The ability of Salesforce’s “clicks not code” declarative configuration tools allowed BSF to link the PMTk with custom BSF Chapter records. This gives chapter leaders and program managers a view of everything taking place within a chapter. Rollups from Events to Projects, and relationships to Chapter records, create multiple perspectives for understanding project and event data.
The custom Interactions object serves as a central repository for information that might otherwise be trapped in emails. The Interaction object (highlighted in the Entity Relationship Diagram captured via Schema Builder, below) holds meeting agenda and notes, call summaries, ideas from brainstorming sessions, and much more. Interactions have relationships to nearly all PMTk records, as well as to BSF Events, Chapters, Local Connections, Contacts, and Opportunities.
1. All-team training in “PM Essentials” by E.J. Drust
Underlying every great aspect of the Salesforce.org customer experience is their unique philanthropic model that includes a pro bono program where Salesforce employees volunteer their time with nonprofits. Blue Star Families benefitted from the E.J.’s expertise not only in thinking through key elements of the PMTk build, but in many other ways. These included coaching calls with Super User Group members during the build phase, and an eight-week series equipping all BSF team members with ‘Project Management Essentials.’ E.J.’s insights and expertise-like every Salesforce pro who volunteers their time to nonprofits–has been key to creating a scalable infrastructure as Blue Star Families grows.
Blue Star Families Project Management Toolkit is a custom solution for an ageless challenge—effective project management, with its triple constraints of time, cost, and scope* in a dynamic environment. Although the project wasn’t a simple one, the PMTk will bring enduring value to Blue Star Families as it continues to support active duty military families and build communities to support them.
*That’s for you, E.J.!