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.


  1. For more about the Making of Trailhead, join Josh and Pavi at Dreamforce '15:

  2. And there might even be a nonprofit trail coming soon...

    1. Trailhead for the Nonprofit Starter Pack would help a lot of people, that's for sure!