How Salesforce keeps its release mojo by making everyone a product designer

A Salesforce product designer describes how design is everyone's job - from developers, to project managers.

Behind the scenes at Salesforce, it's all about agile approaches -- that is, everyone working in tandem on multiple iterations on improvements and new releases. Over the years, the organization has learned to accelerate and heighten the scale needed to design and push out a constant blizzard of product iterations, suitable for immediate consumption by some four million customers.

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Photo: Joe McKendrick

In a recent post, Ian Schoen, product designer for Salesforce, describes how his organization brings this all together, with agile methodologies at the core. Here are the key components of the Salesforce agile approach:

Ask why, and frame the problem: Determine why users would need a product or feature, lest it becomes the online equivalent of shelfware. "We had to know the right thing to build before we could build the thing right," Schoen says. This involves stepping back and looking holistically at the goals and behaviors of users, and where changes are needed. In other words, no change for changes' sake.

Make everyone a designer: Collaboration has became the norm at Salesforce, and in the process, everyone has a stake in the design process. "Traditional UX designers became 'human' designers, project managers became 'business designers', and developers became 'technology designers', each having their own valuable perspective to bring to the table," Schoen says. "By doing so, design became a means for solving problems instead of a category reserved for those with unique expertise."

Include product designers in the agile process: Anyone involved in coding knows that great software results from intense collaboration with end-users, Salesforce adds product designers to this equation as well. Product designers -- along with program managers and developers -- have a prominent role in "prioritization, planning and execution during product development," says Schoen.

Design practices for the agile process at scale: To keep a holistic view of what is being designed and built and why, Salesforce teams hold "monthly sprint reviews -- a designated time for the whole product team and company leaders to come together to review progress," says Schoen. The teams also promote regular "UX bug blitzes," intended to "run through key user flows and log UX and UI bugs."

Software is an example of a business that depends wholly on quality software delivery, so everyone across the organization has a stake in its success. As more mainstream businesses also become, in large part, software businesses in their own right, they need to recognize that it's going to require engagement from everyone across the enterprise.