Scott Covert

The Trouble with Profiles

The day is finally here! After weeks of development and testing (you did test, right? RIGHT?) you’re finally ready to deploy your changes to production.

You sip your coffee with a sense of pride as you wait for user feedback. Then you see those three dreaded words flash across Slack, It's not working.

What?!? How could that be? You get reports that users can’t see the new fields or access any of the new tabs. And then you get that sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach as you realize you forgot to update profile permissions… :man_facepalming:

Okay, okay - you can fix this. You can just deploy the profiles from your QA sandbox. Oh, wait - if you do that then you’ll overwrite the profile permission changes from the new fields that your colleague created directly in production.

Just this once!

Yea right, that’s what they said last time… So you begin the process of manually updating all the profiles in production, cursing yourself for scheduling yet another deployment on a Friday…

Sound familiar? Don’t worry, you’re not alone! Everyone has their own Salesforce deployment horror stories, and far too often they can be traced back to profile permissions. But fear not, because there’s a better way - permission sets!

Permission sets have been around for quite a while now (apparently since 2012!) Yet, I still see so many orgs managing all their permissions via profiles. I think one reason is because field-level security settings can be assigned to profiles as the field is created, which you cannot do with permission sets. Some may see this as a nice feature, but I’ve also seen it cause a lot of problems. There are two main reasons why I think managing permissions via profiles is a bad idea:

  1. Profiles have a tendency to mutate frequently
  2. Profiles have a one-to-many relationship with the User object

Frequent Changes

It can be very difficult to have strict governance over Salesforce profiles because they seem to constantly be in a state of flux. Field level security settings can be manipulated by someone creating or deleting a field, as mentioned earlier. Another problem I’ve seen is that many orgs have parallel Salesforce projects going on at once, sometimes managed by different teams and/or external consultants, so it’s easy for one team to overwrite changes made by another team unless they all stay in sync. There are even times where the underlying metadata for a profile changes slightly as a result of a new Salesforce release. All these frequent changes can make profile management very difficult.

One-to-Many vs Many-to-Many

If you think about the underlying objects, essentially there is a lookup from the User object to the Profile object. This means although many users may share the same profile, each individual can only have one profile. This is significant because in many businesses, especially in ones growing rapidly, users are wearing many different hats so it’s difficult to define a single role (as in job role, not role hierarchy!) for each user. Often what ends up happening is admins have to choose between making a ton of profiles or risk assigning unnecessary permissions to users that have the same profile as a user that needs special access.

With permission sets, there is a junction object (permission set assignment) that exists between users and the permission sets themselves. This means one user could have several different permission sets assigned to him. So we can get really granular in what permissions are contained within a single permission set and then assign the permission set only to those users that actually need it.

Permission Set Groups

Of course, the more focused you keep the scope of your permission sets, the more that you’re going to have. After a while, this could be quite a challenge to manage as well. Enter permission set groups!

In the Spring ‘20 release permission set groups became generally available to help organizations that needed to simplify the assignment of permission sets to their users. Permission set groups have a many-to-many relationship with the User object as well as with permission sets. This means you can batch multiple permission sets into a single permission set group and each permission set can be assigned to multiple permission set groups.

So if a user takes on an additional role temporarily while the business searches for a full-time hire, then they can have the appropriate permission set group assigned to them for as long as is needed. Once the new hire is onboarded, the permission set group can be reassigned to the new hire instead.

There’s even the ability to mute specific permissions within a permission set group so you don’t have to change the underlying permission set (impacting other permission set groups) if a specific aspect of the permission set doesn’t apply.

Making the Switch

It’s definitely getting harder to justify managing permissions via profiles; in fact, even Salesforce has stated their long term plan is to sunset profiles. We use permission sets all the time in our Salesforce development and our general rule of thumb is to map permission sets to job functions and permission set groups to job roles. :tada:

If you could use a hand in updating your org to leverage permission sets or with another Salesforce development project then give us a shout, we’d be happy to help!