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Design Thinking and Salesforce

No-Code Platform-based digital innovation.


Ian H Smith

Design Thinking is a powerful method for solving problems in a people-oriented way. Salesforce is the world's fastest-growing software company, focused on delivering digital innovations, running on a trusted, mass-scale public cloud ecosystem. Together, Design Thinking and Salesforce become a powerful foundation for 'No-Code' Platform-based digital innovation.

This is relevant to startups, building new platform-based ventures; enterprises, focused on many aspects of problem-solving with digital innovation; and, software publishers (Independent Software Vendors), who want to create a 'Salesforce Edition' of their Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) app.

Fast Iterations

As illustrated above, the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design (Stanford 5-step approach to Design Thinking works best if you speed-up the steps 'Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype, and Test' and apply an iterative 'Agile' approach to digital innovation.

When solving problems with digital innovation technologies - such as Web, mobile or Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) apps - the time between each of these steps is crucial for ensuring a meaningful connection between what's captured in the initial 'Empathize' step - and what ultimately, gets created (or customised) as a useful, working app.

With the Salesforce Lightning Platform, we have a readymade technology that allows the non-programmer ('Citizen Developer') to rapidly create forms-based SaaS apps, without writing code - sometimes called 'No-Code' or 'declarative programming'. This is in contrast to 'Code' or 'imperative programming' - where programmers make use of a variety of languages to create SaaS apps in this more traditional approach to digital innovation.

No-Code innovation with the Salesforce Lightning Platform usually results in SaaS app prototypes being published 10x+ faster through declarative programming, when compared to the ground-up, imperative programming approach. This is especially relevant where the solution to the problem is inherently based on what might be described as a combination of 'forms' and 'workflow', optimised as a 'Meaningful Journey', to execute a particular process (or set of tasks).

Fierce Reduction

Through making use of the prebuilt business logic and simple, standard User Interface (UI) of Salesforce Lightning Platform page layouts, Design Thinking enables a very important Design Principles to be applied: 'Fierce Reduction'.

When thinking about a Meaningful Journey through a particular process (or set of tasks), each step in such a workflow should present the user with the simplest of screens at each time - regardless of whether the user device is a desktop/laptop PC, tablet or smartphone. In applying Fierce Reduction to each screen view, it is also means that it is often better to have a more 'Progressive Disclosure' of more screens (and clicks or swipes) in the Meaningful Journey for a process (or set of tasks).

Always Empathize

The key to Design Thinking is step one: Empathize. If we achieve high-levels of empathy with all stakeholders, we will be in a much better place to move through the subsequent steps of Define, Ideate, Prototype and Test - in an iterative way. This means applying 'Empathy Mapping'.

With the standard 'User Interface (UI)' of the Salesforce Lightning Platform, the simplest SaaS apps are created as a set of forms and workflows that require no Code-based customisation and may move through the five iterative steps of Design Thinking at speed.

Extreme Users

Although many Use Cases for Design Thinking and the Salesforce Lightning Platform are typically characterised as Meaningful Journeys for forms, moving through workflows, to complete processes and tasks, there can be more complex scenarios, requiring an extra layer of Design Thinking and technology. This is where we can look at 'Extreme' Users, that require us to move beyond the most simplistic No-Code and the standard User Interface (UI) of the Salesforce Lightning Platform.

This is where we add a newer Salesforce technology that delivers some elements of 'Low-Code' beyond the pure No-Code declarative programming, but where this injection of syntax-level Code and imperative programming is kept to a minimum. This technology is Salesforce Einstein.

Salesforce Einstein Bots are classified as a 'Natural Language Processing (NLP) or 'Natural Language Understanding (NLU)' 'Chatbot (Bot)', developed with Salesforce Einstein 'Artificial Intelligence (AI)' technology. The Bots are set up with an intuitive, No-Code (partially Low-Code) extension to the Salesforce Lightning Platform and can be integrated into a richer custom User Interface (UI), when a standard UI will not suffice.

This is especially relevant where Extreme Users need the Bot to become an assistant to enabling an online conversation that would otherwise not be possible as a digital interaction.

Effectively, Salesforce Einstein Bots become a category of 'Robotic Process Automation (RPA)' for Use Cases, such as the Extreme User 'Persona' of an elderly social care user interacting with a SaaS app that enables user participation and feedback for say, 'Social Prescribing' or say, 'Scoring Outcomes' for remote, care-at-home (or care home) services.

This is where the user interaction with a desktop/laptop PC, tablet or smartphone user device is guided by the RPA Bots - via simple, guided voice, touch or click interactions as 'Conversational Steps'.


What makes absolutely no sense is using a No-Code 'Prototype Generator' that simply gives some input to Design Thinking steps, but requires a complete ground-up Code-based rebuild to turn into meaningful, custom extensions to Salesforce Lightning Platform.

We are against the practice encouraged by IT dinosaurs, wallowing in complexity, and who are motivated to maximise billable people hours. This is the opposite of our Design Thinking - which is to minimise billable people hours - and standardise and maximise use of No-Code Libraries (generated from Low-Code Components and Design System best practices).

For startups, enterprises and software publishers, our approach is all about minimising uncertainty, and offering the fixed-price assurances of Annual Subscription Fees, where customisation of SaaS apps is something that enterprises (and/or partners) can elect to do - by adding new 'Custom Objects' to the Salesforce Edition of the SaaS app in question.

I work with startups, enterprises and software publishers of all shapes and sizes, where a common starting point is this: solving compelling problems through combining Design Thinking and the Salesforce Lightning Platform. This starts with the first step in Design Thinking: Empathize. In practice, this first step means bringing all stakeholders together. Through a series of workshops, we apply Empathy Mapping to ensure a true input to the second step in Design Thinking: Define.

With the inherent advantage of No-Code and declarative programming, whatever is captured at the Empathize step, and formalised in the Define step - enables the rapid creation of a SaaS app, as the next three steps of Design Thinking are executed: Ideate, Prototype and Test. With speed achieved, the process is repeated in iterative, Agile loops of Design Thinking, until a satisfactory outcome is achieved - e.g. a SaaS app that becomes the solution to a compelling problem.

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