Last week I was part of a webinar for Attain Partners talking about Salesforce data migrations. One of the questions the moderator, Eric Magnuson, asked was the three lessons I’d learned doing data migration work.
The answers I chose weren’t so much from my first data migration projects, as from more recent projects. Those early migrations were tiny by my current standards. Back then, I was mainly the consumer of migrated data. When I did migrations they were small and manual. The intellectual process was similar but the scale meant I had lots left to learn about large data projects. The lessons I chose are focused on what I wish I knew when doing the migration for clients with vastly larger data sets. When I became the producer of migrated data.
My three lessons:
- Manage expectations from the start.
- Don’t be a hero.
- Understand your tools, and use them well.
Manage Expectations from the Start
This still surprises me, but it’s true: one of the biggest reasons data migrations get into trouble is bad expectations.
People tend to think data migrations are easy. You create a map from the old system to the new, run some processes to convert the data, load into Salesforce. But in practice, that map might involved thousands of details. Those conversions are hard to get right for every variation of the old data. And loading large amounts of data is never as easy as it looks.
When people think something is easy, and then the outcome is less then perfect, they get mad.
The problem is, data is always messy. We do migrations when we replace systems. We replace systems when the old one has problems. Problems in a system, lead to data errors.
That reality is made worse by the reality of big system switches. The freshly migrated data lands in a system the primary users are still learning. Those factors lead to confusion, mistakes, errors, and misunderstandings.
From the very first conversation I tell our clients to expect migration errors. Our first mock run of the migration is messy – sometimes very messy. The whole point is to find errors. The second mock run will be much better, but still imperfect; we’ll find more errors. No matter how many times we do test runs, there is only some much we can do with imperfect inputs.
We can make your data better then it is, but we can’t make it perfect. If you expect perfect data, you will be disappointed. I want you to be thrilled by your new system, and that means you need to understand your migrated data will have flaws.
Don’t Be A Data Hero
When I first did data migrations I was often a one-person show. I was responsible for figuring out all the details, implementing the process, reporting to the client, and fixing all the flaws. It’s a common story for people doing migrations.
We find ourselves up late at night, working through piles of detail, trying to make sure the client is satisfied. It encourages a hero mentality: I’ll make the project successful through shear will.
And most of us can do it. Being a data hero isn’t that hard if you put the hours in. It is, however, miserable.
People doing migrations need, and deserve, support. Now that I’m leading a team of people doing migrations I have added the support I should have had. I created a space for us to come together and talk about our projects.
We ask each other for help and suggestions. We offer ideas for how to improve our processes. We talk about ways to address client concerns. And yes, we complain to one another. But mostly what we do is make sure that no one is alone. Everyone, myself included, has support and back up.
A team is stronger than a person. We don’t need to be heroes. We do better work, and are happier people, when we support one another. Good work, by happy people, makes for successful projects.
Understand Your Migration Tools
Data processing tools are code generators – understanding that allows you to use them well.
Both parts of that make sense once you say it:
- Tools that allow you to design an arbitrary process that takes inputs and generates outputs are obviously writing code at some level.
- If you understand any tool better, you will use it better. That’s true of a hammer, a screw driver, or a piece of software.
I learned how to migrate data from people who weren’t formally trained developers. They were using the tools the best way they knew how, but didn’t have the background to apply software development best practices.
When I combined the tool usage they taught me, with the software engineering practices I already knew, I created vastly superior solutions. Our team now creates processes that are easier to setup, run faster, and allow us to fix all errors (even if we missed them until after launch).
Apply Lessons our Salesforce Data Migrations
I apply these lessons to the Salesforce data migrations I lead in my work at Attain Partners. I combine that with my queries on queries review process, and am constantly building better solutions for our clients, our team, and myself.