Understanding What ‘Operational Capacity’ Means for Your Salesforce Project (Part 1 of 2)

The word Plan Action on two matching puzzle on orange background.

501Partners often works with organizations who are trying to use their Salesforce implementation to help transform their operations. We’ve learned that our clients’ chances of success are dramatically improved when they are able to think about where their organization is in terms of operational and data maturity.

(1) The Operational Maturity / Capacity Model

Did you know that all organizations go through the same basic phases in their operational life cycle? Did you know that nonprofits also follow this normal, predictable evolution? Many of our clients find a lot of power in understanding where they fall in this cycle – and feel relieved that they’re not alone!

Operational lifecycle  refers to the sustained capacity an organization has at any time to execute on what it needs to do, and how efficient it can be at that execution. There are many different takes on this model, but the phases (also called ‘stages’) follow the Capability Maturity Model (CMM) outline, developed in the late 1980s by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University. The model contends that all organizations go through the following phases:

  1. Initial: things are chaotic, ad-hoc, and driven by individuals’ effort and knowledge
  2. Repeatable: some processes have been written down, but efforts are still largely at the individual level
  3. Defined: the organization has codified at least some repeatable instructions as defined business practices
  4. Managed: the organization monitors outputs for critical information about the defined business processes and can enforce the rules about these processes
  5. Optimizing/Efficient: the organization actively monitors variation in output, and deliberately tries to eliminate or minimize that variation.

Note that the model evolves from individual effort to organizational effort. It applies to all types of organizations, and at least the first three levels are a predictable path for all organizations, because, to survive, the organization has to be able to withstand the loss of individual staff. (This may seem harsh, but it really just means that all of your hard work making the world a better place can keep going when you win the lottery!)

There are two important things to know about this model, aside from the fact that you’re not alone in feeling like you’re forever stuck in phase 1 or 2:

  • This applies to entire organizations, but also to individual programs and projects. For example, one program may be at level 1, while another program at the same organization has been around for longer and is at level 3.
  • The model is defining the amount of variability (or risk of change) in decision-making over time.Organizations move toward less risk of change as soon as they’re able to.

NOTE: This graph has no scientific basis, but anybody living in phases 1 and 2 know how real it is.

(2) The Data Maturity Model

Now that you’ve read about the Operational Maturity Model, you won’t be surprised that the Data Maturity Model looks awfully similar. That’s because they come out of the same basic idea that–to survive and thrive–organizations must figure out how to turn highly individualized contributions into actions that others can repeat. And that applies to how your data is managed every bit as much as how your programs are managed. It’s so important to our work, we have an entire ebook about it (release date 7/30/18 ).

(3) The Project Lifecycle and Your Salesforce

Here’s a secret: that graph about variability over time? That applies to everything. Your career. Program work. Businesses and nonprofits. Going from childhood to adulthood. And your Salesforce project.

Salesforce can do almost anything you’ve got the budget for, but just because you can pay for it doesn’t mean it’s going to help you in exactly the way you think.  There are two key takeaways for applying the Maturity Model knowledge to optimize your Salesforce dollars. The first is below, and we’ll pick up the second in a subsequent blog post.

Takeaway One: Know where you are in your organizational lifecycle and target your Salesforce implementation accordingly.

The chart below indicates the most common approaches to Salesforce work, and when it might   be the appropriate to pursue a Salesforce implementation.

  • Data Capture & Reports: This is basic data input and review. Nothing fancy, just a place to put your data in a centralized location so you can start answering questions more efficiently. The benefits of just this step to a Phase 1 organization are huge!
  • Apps: Pre-built software that sits on top of Salesforce. The most commonly used app for nonprofits is the free Nonprofit Success Pack (NPSP). 501Partners’ apps include 501CaseManager for human services organizations, call centers, and others; and RollCall for attendance tracking.
  • Basic Automations: “Every time we change this field, this other field should change.” “Every time we change this field, we should get an email.”
  • Advanced Automations: Complex process builders and flows. These are better to wait on, because they enforce multi-step business processes and can be expensive to undo and re-do when you change your mind.
  • Custom Programming: Apex, Javascript, a custom user interface that is just for your organization. These all have their place in Salesforce but they also enforce multi-step business processes and are expensive to build – best to wait till you’re sure you need it!


Phase Data Capture & Reports Apps Basic Automations Advanced Automations Custom Programming
1 – Initial Yes Yes Probably Not No No
2 – Repeatable Yes Yes Yes No No
3 – Defined Yes Yes Yes Yes, Minimal Possibly
4 – Managed Yes Maybe Yes Yes Yes
5 – Optimizing Yes Maybe Yes Plan to modify existing Plan to modify existing

In our next blogpost, we’ll pick up with the second takeaway for applying the Data Maturity Model to a Salesforce implementation: Know what kind of talent to retain for each phase of your project’s lifecycle.

Jenn Taylor

Jenn Taylor

COO and Senior Salesforce Consultant

Jenn is a business process designer and operations technologist with nearly 20 years of experience launching and maintaining projects with nonprofits, local government, higher education, and startups. Prior to joining 501Partners, Jenn founded a consultancy specializing in operational effectiveness for nonprofits and higher education. She brings that experience and passion for helping organizations execute in a smart and sustainable way into her role at 501Partners. Jenn holds an MBA in Nonprofit Management from Brandeis University’s Heller School for Social Policy and Management and is a certified Salesforce Administrator

Jenn Taylor

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