Trailhead GO: From Idea to App Store With Reid Carlberg

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Today on the Salesforce Admins Podcast, we’ve got Reid Carlberg, Vice President of Trailhead Mobile at Salesforce, to share how the partnership between Apple and Salesforce lead to Trailhead GO and what he learned through the process that is super relevant for admins.

Join us as we talk about the difference between product managers and project managers, how to think about delivering value to your users, and how to listen to feedback.

You should subscribe for the full episode, but here are a few takeaways from our conversation with Reid Carlberg.

Launching Trailhead GO.

Reid was last on the podcast back in the early days of the ButtonClick Admin. These days, he’s working in product management and, specifically, on something new called Trailhead GO. It’s live right now, so if you haven’t already you should definitely pull it up on your iOS device so you can follow along. “If you were at Dreamforce last year,” Reid says, “you know that we’re kicking off a strategic partnership with Apple,” and he found himself in charge of making that vision a reality.

“One of the things that I found myself thinking about,” Reid says, “is an experience that I’ve heard a lot of admins relate to, where they were kind of handed something. They got to take this thing—a lot of times it’s Salesforce—and help understand what people really wanted out of it and try and figure out how they could launch it out and be successful for the group.” 

How to use a “walking around deck.”

At Salesforce, if you’re working on something big you need to create a presentation that eventually becomes a “walking around deck.” It doesn’t necessarily describe what the product will be, but it shows you a lot of aspects of what it could be. For Reid, that meant showing what it would be like if people could get into Trailhead content wherever they happen to be. Obviously, this struck a chord with Mike and his concept of SABWA: Salesforce Administration By Walking Around.

“When you’re in a very collaborative environment,” Reid says, “you have to go broad and wide with whatever it is that you’re pitching so people can say, ‘Yes, I’ve heard about it, yes I know what the vision is, and yes, I agree with this vision.’” The thing is, as soon as you start talking to people about your vision, you’re going to get feedback about it. Some of it is going to encourage you and some of it is going to point out where you’re wrong. This discovery process is incredibly helpful because you can get your users to tell you directly what they want and don’t want before you build anything.

The difference between a product manager and a project manager.

Once you release something, you can spend a lot of energy fighting fires, as Mike says. A feature doesn’t work right, or something needs to be tweaked, for example. So how does Reid balance the need to maintain what he and his team has already rolled out with the need to keep an eye towards the future? “If I think about those things as fires, it can tend to get me worked up and have a sense of urgency,” he says, “or I can start to think about things not necessarily as fires but as opportunities.”

Changing your outlook gives you permission to take your time and perhaps group things together to see the broader picture and maybe make a bigger change down the road. For Reid, that’s the distinction between a product manager and a project manager. “When you’re a product manager, you have to do all these trade-offs and say, ‘Okay, how do I understand what value this can deliver and in what order should I deliver that value?’”

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Full Show Transcript

Mike Gerholdt: Welcome to the Salesforce Admins Podcast, where we talk product, community, and careers to help you become an awesome admin. I’m Mike Gerholdt, and today we have Vice President of Trailhead Mobile, the one and only Reid Carlberg, here to tell us about how the partnership between Apple and Salesforce led to Trailhead GO, and what he learned through the process that I believe is very relevant for admins. I’m super excited to have Reid on the podcast, so let’s get him on the podcast.

Mike Gerholdt: So Reid, welcome to the podcast.

Reid Carlberg: Thanks Mike. It’s nice to be here.

Mike Gerholdt: I think it’s been a while, actually. The last time you were on it, was ye old days of the Button Click Admin Podcast, so let’s do a quick catch up on some of the stuff that you’re working on at Salesforce now.

Reid Carlberg: Sure. It has been a long time. Let’s see. What am I working on these days? So these days I’m largely out of the evangelism group, and instead of that, which is what I was working on last time I was here, but instead of that I’m working on product management, and I am bringing to life a new and exciting product called Trailhead GO.

Mike Gerholdt: Oh, wow. So I think that’s something we should talk about. And on top of it, just being a new product, you are helping bring something to life, which is a lot of what admins do. They bring concepts to life, they bring new apps to users. I think this will tie in really nice and it gives us an opportunity to talk about something really fun that people have in their hands literally as we talk right now.

Reid Carlberg: Yeah. I’m hoping that everyone who’s listening has had a chance to install Trailhead GO on their iOS device, because it is a super cool app.

Mike Gerholdt: If not, we have a link in the show notes, so you can click it, because you’re right on your phone, and if you’re like me, you’re probably walking your dog doing it anyway. I do. I consume an incredible amount of podcasts walking my dog. I should be thinner because of it, but I’m not.

Reid Carlberg: You know, I listened to two episodes of the Salesforce Admins Podcast today while walking my dogs. One for each dog.

Mike Gerholdt: Right. Good. Apparently maybe I should take a poll of how many dogs people have so that we know how many episodes will be to release.

Reid Carlberg: Yes.

Mike Gerholdt: Okay. So let’s talk about Trailhead GO.

Reid Carlberg: Okay. What do you want to know about it?

Mike Gerholdt: Well, you said “bring to life.” Let’s start there.

Reid Carlberg: Okay. So when I talk about bringing it to life, what I really mean is this whole process that came about on Team Trailhead really starting at Dreamforce last year. So if you were at Dreamforce last year or you’ve watched any of the keynotes or you paid attention to any of the news, you know that we announced this great strategic partnership that we’re kicking off with Apple. Apple and Salesforce share a number of core values, including really putting the customer at the center of everything and making sure that we’re making a positive difference in people’s lives, and one of the things that we really wanted to do was we wanted to create a great mobile experience for people who wanted to skill up for the future, and that’s really where Trailhead GO started. So starting really right after Dreamforce last year, I got to kick off a team, kickoff an architecture, work on bringing all the pieces together that would actually result in the app that we announced earlier this week.

Mike Gerholdt: Wow. Okay. There’s a lot to unpack just in that part there. If you were a Salesforce admin, you’re hearing this, Reid had a lot of moving parts at the very beginning of a project. What was the first thing you learned about a lot of moving parts and kicking off a project?

Reid Carlberg: Well, one of the things that I found myself thinking about as we were talking about you and I maybe getting together and sharing this story a little bit is an experience that I’ve heard a lot of admins relate, where they were kind of handed something, and they got to take this thing, in their case a lot of times at Salesforce, and help understand what people really wanted out of it, and try and figure out how they could launch it out and make it successful for the group. And for me, when Sarah Franklin came to me and said, “Hey, are you interested in helping us build this mobile app?” First of all, the answer was yes, but I really didn’t know what saying yes to that project would mean, and so I had to go and really unravel and figure out lots about what it would take to bring this app to life. Just like honestly I think a lot of admins, when they’re sort of given Salesforce and they’re kind of trying to figure out, “Okay, well how do I do this?” That’s what I had to do with the mobile app.

Mike Gerholdt: Okay. I think you’re spot on. Exactly. So you said yes, and there’s a lot of moving parts going. What’s kind of that next event horizon that you hit?

Reid Carlberg: So at Salesforce, the big thing that you have to do is you have to create a presentation, and this presentation becomes a walking around deck, and it doesn’t really show exactly what the product is going to be, but it will show you a lot of aspects of what the product could be. And so I created a short deck. I really like to have shorter decks. Some people have 20 slide decks or 30 slide decks, something like that, that go into a lot of detail. But for me, I really wanted to focus on the high level what success would look like if we put out a great app that people could use to really get into Trailhead content wherever they happen to be. And it was maybe eight, 10 slides, something like that, and it really focused around what difference we thought it could make if we were successful. And so I had to shop that around to a number of people. I had to get some executive buy-in, make sure that it was aligned with what Sarah was thinking, make sure it was aligned with what other leaders within the Trailhead team were thinking, presented at a couple of all hands, and along the way, I want to point out, I learned a ton about what people really expected from a mobile app with Trailhead just with inside Salesforce. So that was really step one for me.

Mike Gerholdt: Wow. Okay. So you win because new buzzword for me is “walking around deck.” Like I’ve been shopping, I have been talking about Salesforce administration by walking around Saba. You remember that?

Reid Carlberg: Oh, yeah. Totally.

Mike Gerholdt: I like taking Saba to the next level by having a walking around deck like that. That to me, I love that term. I love what you said. I want to know, how did you figure out who to shop the deck to?

Reid Carlberg: I just really, I shared it to everybody. I think people got kind of sick of me, to be honest. But the thing is is when you’re in a very collaborative environment, and Salesforce is very collaborative, and when you’re also in an environment where a lot of times participation is … I don’t want to quite say voluntary, but really emotional engagement is totally voluntary, and that’s what I think pretty much every environment that knowledge workers are in today really is. You have to go broad and wide, really, with whatever it is that you’re pitching so that people can say, “Yes, I want. I’ve heard about it. Yes, I know what the vision is, and yes, I agree with this vision.” And if you can get those three things, maybe a talk to a few extra people, great. But if you leave a key person out, that can be a big problem.

Mike Gerholdt: Now you mentioned feedback, and I think I know I struggled in my early days at Salesforce gathering feedback, because I kind of just assumed what I put out there was awesome and everybody should just say it’s awesome and let me move on. I think you’re very thoughtful in the manner in which you gather feedback, and so I’d love to know how did you gather some of this feedback as you were walking around with that deck, and what would your advice be for admins as they’re making their walk around decks and gathering feedback?

Reid Carlberg: First of all, make sure you have a good breakfast. And I say that truthfully, because it can be kind of emotionally risky to take this thing that … I’m like you, Mike, where I’ll put something together and I fall in love with it, and I’m like, I’ve worked on this really hard. I know what this is. I understand exactly what we’re going to do. This is the vision. But as soon as you start talking to people about it, you’re going to get feedback about it, and of the feedback is going to be, “Yes, you’re spot on,” and some of the feedback is going to be, “You missed this thing,” and some of the feedback is going to be, “No, you’re wrong.” And I had all feedback across all of those ranges, and it’s fine, right? If you could accept that feedback and work it into the walking around deck or work it into your talk track or modify your plans honestly sometimes, that’s the best thing to do. But you do have to be ready for it, because it can feel a little risky to show this thing that you’ve been working on to people. But if you don’t, I mean if you don’t show it, you’re never going to be successful.

Mike Gerholdt: Right. I like the term “modify your plans.” I think once you’re headed down a path, much like traveling down the road, sometimes you hit road construction. You need to reroute. Was there ever a point in this process where you maybe hit some road construction and the reroute was actually something you didn’t think of or you had to kind of modify your plans?

Reid Carlberg: Yes, completely. The entire time I was developing it. Basically every day of every week.

Mike Gerholdt: Oh, good. Okay. Great.

Reid Carlberg: If you look at this particular product actually touches every team at Team Trailhead. It touches content. It touches the people who work on your web front end. It touches the people who do TV ID, and I don’t want to get too much into the weeds, but this is the very definition of a cross-functional project. And so of course there’s going to be things which frankly I don’t know what the answer is to something. I don’t know the right way to do something, but then there are also times when I don’t even know that there is a right way to do something, and I haven’t asked, and I don’t know who the right people are, and so there’s a whole discovery process exactly like that. It’s been pretty fascinating.

Mike Gerholdt: Wow. Okay. So there could be road construction every other block. That’s fine. That happens.

Reid Carlberg: Yeah. Think about it like Chicago in the summertime or the I-70 project that we have going on in Denver right now. It’s construction everywhere.

Mike Gerholdt: Perpetual. Perpetual, right?

Reid Carlberg: Yes.

Mike Gerholdt: So we talked about having a walking around deck, which I’m super, super a fan of at this point now. I want to go back in time with my DeLorean and make a whole bunch of walking around decks for all the apps that I’ve failed at. But sometimes I would walk in two different departments that would ask me to quote-unquote “demo Salesforce” and I would have a blank sheet of paper because sometimes demoing the app isn’t what they’re asking for. And I guess what I’m getting at is user research, right? Like, how do you make sure that your sales person at 11:00 at night in Toledo, Ohio, eating a cold piece of pizza, isn’t struggling to fill out an opportunity before the quarter ends?

Reid Carlberg: So first of all, I’m going to do a shout out to Toledo. I haven’t been there in a while, but it is one of my favorite cities. It used to be a city that I had to stop in when I was a sales rep, way back in the day, believe it or not. But it’s a good question. How do you help people get an idea of what it is that they really want, and what does that process look like to you as a product owner?

Reid Carlberg: And I’ll tell you what we did. So we had that walking around deck where we basically aligned internally on what we thought the app should do. But at Salesforce, we really do want to make sure that we talk to customers as much as we can ahead of time, and so we took that walking around deck, we enhanced it a little bit, right? But we weren’t actually working on an app that we built. We were working on drawings of an app that we built, and then we put out a call to see if anybody might be interested in talking through some ideas that we had and sharing their opinions, and we had plenty of people step up, which was great, and we just talked to them. We talked to them for 15 or 20 minutes a piece. We had trailblazers at all different levels in their journey. Some people were rangers, some people were double rangers, some people had 10 badges, and we talked to some people that were still just very much getting started in terms of trying to understand what Salesforce is and what the Salesforce opportunity is.

Reid Carlberg: And what that gave us was that gave us evidence. And so if we spent 15 minutes talking to somebody about a drawing, we were able to then say, “Okay. We understand this is important and this is not important.” So for example, one of the conversations that’s been an ongoing thread for the entire time that we’ve been developing this app is, “What type of content can we show?”

Reid Carlberg: So if you’ve already installed the app, you already know that we focus on the ability to complete multiple choice quizzes, but we don’t have the ability to complete hands-on challenges. And that was a very conscious choice. You can’t really do a hands-on challenge within a mobile form factor, so that’s the easy part of the choice. But the harder part of the choice is the fact that we still show you the content that has the hands-on challenges, and that decision was a direct result of user research. What users told us, every user up and down, was that even if they couldn’t complete the challenge on the mobile device, they wanted to see all the content. And so that’s an example of where that user research early on helped us have some evidence for this decision, which we had to make over and over again as we developed the product.

Mike Gerholdt: Cool. So you had a walking around deck. We hit some road construction. I’m curious, because I run into this when I’m building apps. At what point did you actually start showing the app? Right? Because we had the demo and we kind of had working through different communication styles, which I’ll be honest with you, as an admin, going to different departments, they have different terms. You have to learn how they consume information. At what point did you start showing people the final product or a version of the final product to get their feedback?

Reid Carlberg: Really as soon as I could. As soon as there was anything that I could actually show to somebody, I tried to figure out who might be interested in it and go show it to them to try and get their feedback again. And so I think the first thing we actually showed was when we did some very basic work with TD ID. That’s how everybody logs in, and as soon as I could prove that we could log in and get something, I wanted to show that off to people so that they could see that we’re making progress on it. And so that process really started several months before we released it, and it continued on a very regular basis right up through when we released it earlier this week.

Mike Gerholdt: Oh wow. Okay. So we’ve hit a lot of event horizons throughout all of this process. I think pulling back and kind of thinking through for admins, as you work on an app and you run through different things, was there either something that you’re going to move as a value or something? “Hey, I always want to make sure I’m doing this in my next project,” that you’ve kind of gleamed out of doing this on the Trailhead GO project?

Reid Carlberg: That’s a good question. I think probably the biggest thing that I learned is how to think across different timescales. I spent a lot of my life as an evangelist, and I spent a lot of my life really thinking about, “Okay, how do I go to this event and show this demo and give this talk, and how do I do this for the next event and everything else?” And that’s great, but it tends to be a little bit more short term thinking. About as far ahead as we would think is we’d think towards kind of the next big event, whether that’s Dreamforce or TDX or something like that.

Reid Carlberg: One of the things that’s been very interesting for me as I get into the Trailhead product organization and the Trailhead team in general is moving that focus kind of outside of that shorter term thinking, and trying to make sure that I’m planning not just for this release, but what is coming up for the next release, and what’s coming up for the next release, so that I can have that longer term conversation and make sure that when there’s an opportunity to pick some low hanging fruit, maybe there’s an opportunity to update an API or maybe there’s an opportunity to update some content in a particular way, I can talk about that and I can socialize that opportunity early so it’s not something that we discover kind of at the end. That’s definitely something that has really stood out to me as important and is something that I’m going to take with me forever.

Mike Gerholdt: So let’s kind of pull off the highway a little bit and dig into that, because I think once you release something, and I’ve done this with roll-outs, you spend a lot of your energy kind of, I’ll call it fighting fires, right? Like the daily, “I can’t do this,” or, “I thought this field should be there.” And it can be hard to transition to that, “I got to think three months out. I got to think six months out.” How do you compartmentalize? What’s your advice for, how do I balance the everyday fires versus the, “I have to plan for this, because in six months this is going to happen”?

Reid Carlberg: So first of all, I really appreciate the car metaphor, so let’s keep those coming. That’s one of the things I enjoy about talking to you, is I feel like it brings out the metaphors in me. I actually like to think about … I like to choose some words carefully for my own sanity, right? So there are such things as fires which pop up that I have to put out, but if I think about those as fires, it can have a tendency to get me sort of worked up and have a sense of urgency, which may be merited, or I can start to think about things not necessarily as fires, but I can think about things as opportunities. So I get some feedback and then I can decide what to do with that feedback.

Reid Carlberg: And so maybe that piece of feedback is, “Oh my gosh. Everything is on fire, and you need to stop everything you’re doing right now and think about this.” Or maybe what I’m getting is I’m getting a piece of feedback that I can group together with other pieces of feedback, and then I can sit back and start to have a rational evaluation of where this feedback is kind of being grouped together and the relative importance of this.

Reid Carlberg: I think that’s actually a key trait of, I want to call it a product manager versus a project manager, right? Is when you’re a product manager you have to really do all these trade offs and say, “Okay, how do I understand what value this can deliver and what order I should deliver that value in?” And project managers I think have the same thing, but it’s a little bit different I think mindset, because you’re thinking, on a product, you’re thinking about this longterm time horizon. Like, “Where do we want to be with this in three years?” And a lot of times on a project you’re thinking about, “Okay, how do I get to the next milestone and how do I get to the next milestone after that?” Both are super useful. Both are super necessary. Slightly different lenses.

Mike Gerholdt: I never actually thought of it that way, and that’s valuable insight. So we’re, as this episode drops, in the heart of Dreamforce, right? And there’s a good group of people that are there, a good group of people that unfortunately didn’t make it. I want to dig into … This is obviously something on your radar of talking about the app that you released, and admins do that as well. What would your advice be for, much in the same way that you created a walking around deck, as this product has come to life, how did you shop it around and make sure that people were aware of, “Hey, I did more than just create a walking around deck”?

Reid Carlberg: So it’s transitioned from a walking around deck to a walking around product.

Mike Gerholdt: Well that’s good.

Reid Carlberg: Of course I have the product on my phone, and I can guarantee you I’ve shown everybody I’ve run into at Dreamforce about it, but I think the way to think about this is, having something that you’ve completed and worked on and that you’re releasing out into the wild doesn’t mean that it’s perfect. It doesn’t mean that you’re not going to get feedback on it, but you should definitely have a sense of pride in it. If you have a sense of pride in it and you’re really willing to go out and say, “Listen, we built this thing.”

Reid Carlberg: And I want to be clear, so you and I are talking about this today, but as I opened up with, this is really a cross cutting concern. It really touches almost every aspect of the Trailhead organization, and I am blown away by the quality of talent who has participated in this team. It is just absolutely amazing, and I love showing off their work. I absolutely love taking it out and showing it off to anybody, and whatever feedback they have is fantastic. Good, bad or otherwise, it’s great feedback for that kind of longer term feature horizon that I’m thinking about, but I just love showing it off. So for every admin out there who’s ever built an app, whether you’re customizing a page layout or whether you’re building something which is a really robust app automating a giant process, show it off, be proud of it, and when somebody has some feedback on it, take the feedback, take it with a smile and figure out you know how you’re going to incorporate that next. That would be my advice.

Mike Gerholdt: I like it. I like it. Well, Reid, this was fabulous. I think I gathered a whole bunch about product and project management. I know you’re on Twitter and I think your name changes about every other day. Do you do that on purpose?

Reid Carlberg: Yeah, my Twitter handle stays the same. You can always find me at @ReidCarlberg, but I do have some fun with changing what the description of that handle is. So I actually don’t even know what it is today, so you can always go up and find out, and if you have suggestions about what I should change my name to, you should let me know.

Mike Gerholdt: Okay, great. And we talked a lot about Trailhead GO and the amazing partnership between Salesforce and Apple. How do people get Trailhead GO on their phone?

Reid Carlberg: You can get Trailhead GO by going to the App Store and just searching for Trailhead GO.

Mike Gerholdt: Perfect. Thanks so much for being on the podcast, Reid.

Reid Carlberg: Yeah. Thanks for having me. This was great.

Mike Gerholdt: Congratulations to Reid and the entire Trailhead Mobile team. Trailhead GO is now alive, so don’t forget to check the show notes for the iOS link to get started right now. Let’s start by highlighting a good point that he made, in that product managers and project managers are often very similar but also very different in the way that they think about timelines, milestones, and success. Product managers need to start by understanding what value that product can deliver to the users and in what order they want to deliver those values. We want our products to last a lifetime as admins, so with that mindset of meeting those milestones can be stretched to think longterm, “What will this product be in three to five years?”

Mike Gerholdt: Now another thing. Feedback is also important and it can be a little bit of a bump in the road. The way that a product manager handles feedback is what will set off the project. You can take the feedback, apply it to your new amazing walk around decks and talk tracks. By the way, I love walk around decks. I love that idea. Don’t ever be nervous to talk to people about the product or app that you’re creating, and gather that user feedback at whatever stage, and of course, be like Reid and always show off that app. Be proud of what you’ve created and continue to keep learning and growing with your idea.

Mike Gerholdt: Now, if you want to learn more about Trailhead or Trailhead GO, make sure to go to admin.salesforce.com to find more resources. You can also stay up to date with us on social, as many of you do already. We are at @SalesforceAdmns, no I, on Twitter. You can of course find me. I am at @MikeGerholdt, and Reid is also on Twitter. Who knows what his name will be, but you can find him at @ReidCarlberg. That’s R-E-I-D-C-A-R-L-B-E-R-G. Stay tuned for the next episode and we’ll see you in the cloud.

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