Saturday, August 22, 2015

Nurture Creativity, Passion And Collaboration To Be Innovative

The Salesforce Trailhead online training modules are inspiring a lot of us to learn new features and exercise what we already know to earn points and badges. And to have fun with Salesforce. There are modules, or trails, specifically for admins or for developers and trails for specific activities like learning about Event Logs. There is even a trail for getting ready for Dreamforce.

These are definitely worthwhile exercises for anyone interested in encouragement to practice new skills. Once you get started, they draw you in with virtual rewards that inspire continuing with a just-one-more goal. And the list of trails is growing at great speed to ensure that just-one-more goal offers something new and different.

I wanted to explore how this popular project came to be so that I can encourage that kind of innovative thinking among my teammates. So I interviewed Lauren Grau, Developer Relations at Salesforce and a member of the Trailhead team, and here's what I learned.

According to Lauren, the Developer Marketing group was looking into ways they might improve on the existing training workbooks. While these were popular for learning Salesforce, they didn't always provide a clear path or define a way to progress beyond introductory steps. It was also difficult for the folks at Salesforce to gauge the usefulness of any particular workbook. Were people getting stuck? Were they making mistakes?

Coincidentally, while that group was looking into improving the workbook training experience and exploring new tools like those from Udacity, one of the developers on the Developer Evangelism team, Josh Birk, was working on a side project called "Medals". Josh intended to demonstrate using the Metadata API to verify changes in an org based on steps in training. As a group, Developer Evangelism is all about coming up with cool uses of the platform to inspire people and Medals was another project intended to inspire developers with the power of the Metadata API.

According to Lauren, this kind of creative exploration is not limited to any single team. Salesforce is willing to help "carve a space" for projects that employees are passionate about and the company is filled with people who are passionate about Salesforce products. Salesforce has even encouraged that sort of creativity with project challenges that eventually get released as Salesforce Labs applications on the AppExchange.

While marketing had started creating learning paths based on roles and flow charts of the "known universe" of the platform, the demo of Medals was catching fire among all who saw it. In some companies, these two efforts would continue on their independent paths, but at Salesforce, collaboration and alignment across departments is a huge part of the culture. They use Chatter to connect people and ideas and have a "great open door policy" according to Lauren.

This combination of technology and policy helps Salesforce overcome barriers to innovation that other companies find insurmountable. As a result, the people who could bring together the two teams, marketing and evangelism, did so, and brought in the documentation team as well.

The people involved in Trailhead are passionate about solving the problem of helping Salesforce admins and developers with the task of keeping up with the cloud. With Trailhead, Salesforce can provide training that offers real-time feedback and does not require switching back and forth between disparate systems like workbook and computer to execute training steps. The gamification elements ensure that training is fun and addictive while well-thought-out projects and paths make the skills taught even more meaningful.

Luckily for all of us who enjoy the training modules, Lauren tells me "there is still a lot we haven't gotten to do with Trailhead that we've got planned". New learning trails and badges are on their way, expanding beyond the platform to other clouds as well. There will also be trails for end-users. Just imagine pointing users to Trailhead for learning and relearning tasks like running reports and using filters to see just the data they need.

If you have ever wished you could create your own learning trails for Trailhead, you will get your chance as Salesforce expects to harness the power of its incredible community for content creation and review. Beyond that, we'll have to wait and see what ideas develop thanks to Salesforce nurturing creativity, passion and collaboration so that fun and innovative projects like Trailhead thrive.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Rethink Salesforce Projects With Great Administration Techniques

System administrators are getting more tools with even greater power with every new Salesforce release.  Tools like Lightning App Builder, Process Builder and Visual Flow work like visual programming tools.  They offer clicks-not-code solutions that can bring down project costs of time and expertise by eliminating the need for developer involvement in the creation and maintenance of all but the most complex projects.

This year at Dreamforce, I will be helping admins learn skills they can use to better plan and implement projects in their orgs.  Please look for my sessions here:

Getting To Know Visual Workflow (Tuesday session)


Getting To Know Visual Workflow (Thursday session)

Choose either of these sessions to learn about this powerful tool.  It requires no coding experience to use, but works like a visual programming tool enabling you to improve user interface and user experience, manage data consistency and integrity, and automate business processes without needing to write any code.

7 Essential Tips Every Admin Should Know About Apex

Whether you are working with in-house developers or hiring contractors, learn what to look for to ensure the code you are getting follows best practices and meets your needs.  This session will introduce you to concepts that will help ensure the overall health of your org and help you to work better with developers.

Trailhead Gladiators

Join us for these fun sessions on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday to discover how Trailhead helps you stretch your skills.  You may be able to win prizes, but best of all, you will see what Trailhead has to offer as a learning tool.  And with more knowledge, everyone's a winner.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Some Projects Deserve to Die

A vendor on one of the Salesforce projects I was designing said to me: "Some projects deserve to die."  He wasn't talking about our project, which deployed on time with great features, but I was still shocked.   Why would a project deserve to die?  And how do you know when you are working on one of those so you can help ease it out of existence?  If you think of your in-house projects in terms of investments, you can categorize them:  cash cow, rising star, mouse trap, and dog.

In-house tech projects can be seen as cows too.
The best categories for a project are cash cow and rising star.  Cash cow provides great user experience at low expense with regard to time, and expertise. They offer high return on investment, or ROI, for that reason.  The cow represents everyone's favorite technology, users love that it does what they need and you love it because it doesn't require a lot of upkeep.

The rising star is in-house tech in-the-works and has high needs for time and expertise with low ROI during early design, configuration, and implementation stages because users aren't getting much benefit yet. Even with low or no ROI during this development cycle, the rising star is expected to become a cash cow when it is closer to completion and once users are trained.

The two project categories that need reconsideration are the dog and the mouse trap.

The Mouse Trap 

Then there are the mouse traps.  These projects have a high ROI, but the maintenance costs are also high -- they are like Rube Goldberg inventions in complexity and while they may have gotten the job done as conceived, users are outgrowing them and finding flaws.  These projects deserve to die.  These in-house projects are integral to users, yet too costly to maintain.  And having a project that lives in the high maintenance, high expense side of the quadrant can't be a good thing.

cash cow, mouse trap, rising star, dogOne company asked me for help with their mouse trap.  They had so many custom objects making up a customer survey that they required custom Visualforce pages for reporting and couldn't leverage the flexibility of Salesforce standard reports.  What they could have accomplished with clicks-not-code if a Salesforce administrator had been involved in designing the original solution got bogged down in complexity and code making it completely inflexible -- not a good trait for business solutions.  Code edits were required for any meaningful changes to the reports.

At some point, the money poured into this project had been made good through ROI because the Visualforce reports are so integral to their business, but user needs have changed and the solution doesn't work as well as it should now.  As complaints and change requests rise, so do maintenance costs in time and expertise.  Rather than spend to maintain, in this case, it makes more sense to spend on a redesign to reduce maintenance costs long term.  These mouse traps seem useful, but these are the projects that deserve to die.  Users wish they could do more with the integral tech, but the complexity of it makes expanding functionality just too costly considering time and effort.

The Dog

Your dog may need updating.

For in-house tech, a dog is a product with low maintenance costs that has low ROI. It's the infrequently accessed tech or is used by a small audience, it might even be a quick fix you created to help a single user.  The dog, with its low maintenance and low ROI seems like it has nothing going for it, but in fact these projects can lead to easy wins.  Do they just need to be promoted in house to make the use and value better understood?  Can they be nurtured to grow into a rising star by interviewing users regarding ways to improve what the tool does without a lot of expense?  Some in-house tech just seems to get stuck in phase I, minimum viable product, and needs a nudge to get going in the right direction again.

These dog projects, with low cost and low impact, offer opportunities to explore easy solutions.  I did a creative side project for the Little Bits Olympics recently that didn't make it out of the dog stage.  The project description suggested two hours for the project, so that's what I spent. This time budget limited my choice between using a rare earth magnet attached to a servo to alter its polarity versus an electromagnet that required more effort to hack into my Little Bits electronic circuit.  Because of the time budgeted (like any expense), I chose to test the quick approach and was not completely satisfied with the result.  The ROI was low, the cost was low, it was every bit a dog.  But it did work and gave me great preliminary knowledge for planning phase II which will have an electromagnetic bell type design once I budget the additional time to hack the circuit.

Consider the dogs in your org and look for ways you might be able to teach them new tricks or make them more relevant to users.  And as for the mouse traps, don't get caught by them, a lot of people want to continue to throw resources at outdated solutions to try to convert them to cash cows, but the best approach might to be to let these projects die and start something new to take their place that will offer easy maintenance at low cost relative to time and expertise.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Mistakes Small Companies Can Avoid When Working With Consultants

If you are considering bringing in help to work with you on your Salesforce implementation, make sure you have executive support for your project as well as a dedicated internal resource to own the project when it is complete and to nurture it along the way.  Make sure that the people (or person) responsible for upkeep and support of the completed project are involved early in the roles of tech lead and business analyst and that they approve the approach that they will ultimately have to support.  
Working with a consultant shouldn't be like
swimming with sharks

Those are the most essential requirements for a successful project, but you can avoid costly errors by considering the following suggestions as well:
  1. Get a signed NDA.  Your data is valuable, your code is valuable.  You are turning complete access over to someone who should be happy to sign an NDA.
  2. Understand your data before giving access to it.  You should know your data and have a written plan for maintaining data quality (such as best practice documents and descriptions of validation rules, workflow and triggers) or at least a plan for improving data quality (can you describe what you think of as duplicate data?). 
  3. Start writing a specification for what the business should be able to accomplish when the consultant is finished and how users will be interacting with whatever the consultant implements.  Even if all you need is to have a few third-party apps installed, you should describe user access and data interactions you expect to see and define the business process you hope to address. 
  4. Get the travel costs and incidentals spelled out, including maximums you are willing to pay.  And agree up front whether meetings need to be in person, or can they be online. 
  5. Document in the contract who owns any code and what they can do with the code going forward.
  6. Question their recommendations, most consultants want you to be an active partner and understand the work they are putting in for you.  Questioning offers a chance for early resolution if you can uncover a mismatch between their understanding and your reality.  At the very least, you stand to gain a better understanding of the solution they are offering.
  7. Trust the consultant once you decide to hire them.  Not trusting your consultant is evident when you hold back information or limit their access to users and decision makers.
  8. Make sure your company understands a project's functional specifications.  What is the minimum you expect the consultant's work to accomplish for you and how will you recognize when it is complete?  Involve end users and management both in this process and document their needs and processes in order to guide them through User Acceptance Testing.  Highlight for users the holes and pain points that are being addressed so they will understand the purpose of the project and what it looks like when complete.
  9. Specify the project goals and how you will measure their success.  What is it that you hope users will accomplish and how will you measure user success.  For example, if you want users to be able to map their accounts and find nearby accounts when they are on the road, you can try to measure how often they use the feature, but you are probably more interested in whether more accounts are being visited on each trip so the latter is a better measurement of success.
  10. Ask your consultant which vendors may be paying your consultant to sell their product into your org.  Ask them to disclose any commission they would be eligible for at the time they recommend those vendors.  There is nothing wrong with commissions, but you may want to independently look into some competitive products for your own understanding of the value of the suggestions your consultant offers.