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In order to do proper performance optimization, and hunt the true bottlenecks, we need to know the current performance situation as perceived by the end-users. I.e. as a minimum the duration from the user makes a request and until the response is ready for the user to continue his flow.

I understand SFDC might collect some client side performance metrics, which can be accessed by contacting SFDC support.

Still I'm curious to learn what the community believe to be the best way to measure the performance as perceived by the end users?

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    Debug Logs can be a surprising treasure trove of information, as they have time stamps against each operation. It is interesting to peer into one and see actually how long those seemingly 'simple' business rules actually take to execute! Or how long it takes from the time the user clicked Save on that viewstate heavy page and was returned a page reference . – techtrekker Nov 1 '12 at 18:34
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Talk to them!

Your going to find some parts of the system are much slower at times than others, depending on how they're implemented under the surface, and the amount of data the current organization has loaded into it. (I personally find the 'Packages' tab in Setup, one of the slowest for whatever reason)

You could build some automation to automatically test loadtimes on your pages at various periods like with selenium. Obviously generally business hours are going to be slower than non-business hours (US) and Fridays slower than Mondays.

How specific or granular you want to be is really up to you.

I use a lot of pagination and staggered result sets to try to get a user onto a page and viewing something faster (especially when loading via AJAX), but also the use of visual queues that something is loading tend to help the end-user in my experience.

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