Drive innovation by design

Drive innovation by design

Catalyzing widespread change in the enterprise isn’t easy. Even making a small adjustment to a single process can be a year-long project. Organizational politics, time and cost limitations, and unending backlogs stall innovation time and again.

No one knows this better than Craig Villamor. During his time as chief product design architect at Salesforce, he led two of the organization’s biggest transformations—the company’s mobile initiative, Salesforce1, and Salesforce Lightning, the company’s application development framework. In our interview, Villamor shares how he did it, and the insights he gained in the process.

Identify the problems no one’s solving.

The perceived risk of change, Villamor says, is enough to deter many enterprises from transforming their existing business model.

“People accept what they’re given and they develop workarounds around the things that don’t work particularly well for them… There’s that whole cost fallacy, which is that, ‘Hey, I’ve invested all this time and all these resources into this thing. It’s not perfect, but I’m not gonna start over again because I already invested all this time and money and energy into it,” Villamor says.

In spite of challenges like these, during his time at Salesforce, Villamor helped the company transform not just the products it created, but the way people worked together. He started by identifying and tackling the problems that everyone knew existed, but no one was solving, helping to create momentum in the organization.

“[It was a way to] provoke the organization in a friendly way,” he says.

Salesforce1 began with one of these friendly provocations. Villamor knew that the company needed a mobile solution—basically “Salesforce on a phone”—but no one knew how to pursue it. He started chipping away at the problem by testing a mobile solution on a small scale, to see just how simple, fast, and easy-to-use a mobile version of Salesforce could be.

Villamor and his team built a product that they called Logger. The goal of Logger was to make it easier and faster for sales reps to log their sales activity. Before Logger, reps would write down their activities while out in the field, then have to manually type it all into their sales forecasting web applications in the evenings. Logger made it possible for reps to log their activity on the go instead, from their mobile phones, in about 10 seconds. It did very well.

“It was a real grassroots kind of thing,” Villamor says. “People started adopting it.”

So many people started adopting Logger, in fact, that it got the attention of the CEO, who Villamor says basically told him, “Stop working on this.”

But Villamor says it wasn’t a negative response. The CEO told him no because he wanted Villamor to work on something bigger—Salesforce’s mobile solution as a whole. And that’s where Salesforce1 began.

“The lesson there was: find the thing that you know there’s pent up demand for,” Villamor says. “In this case, I really knew the use case well and I knew that there was a lot of time being sunk into performing this task. I also knew there was pent up demand in the organization to have more interesting mobile applications available to users… So you get that momentum in a particular direction, and then put weight behind it.”

Make it easy to do the right thing.

But building momentum in the organization was only the first step in the Salesforce1 project. Once it was approved by leadership, Villamor still had to convince everyone else in the company to drop what they were doing, shift their vision, and work together in ways they hadn’t worked together before.

“It was really just me going from team to team and telling them, ‘This is the thing you should be doing now, and let’s figure out which piece of this you own.’ And that took a lot of energy,” he says.

Still, Villamor and his team pulled it off successfully. But they took some lessons from their experience when it came time for the next round of innovation—enabling more rapid web application development through Salesforce Lightning.

Villamor and his team knew from experience that they didn’t have the time or the energy to individually communicate the Lightning project vision to 100 different teams to get everyone on board. Instead, they created a system they could scale. They established four principles to guide the design process, and they listed them in order of the priority they wanted to give each principle: clarity, efficiency, consistency, and beauty. That meant that when faced with a tough design decision, they wouldn’t sacrifice clarity for beauty, or place consistency ahead of efficiency. They would solve problems based on what was most important, and do that consistently across the enterprise.

“This is how we were able to make decisions fairly quickly and with a high level of confidence,” Villamor says.

Creating a consistent, scalable system also fostered better relationships between departments that previously didn’t work together and dramatically increased productivity. The result? Rapid web application development with Salesforce Lightning.

Villamor says his experiences point him back to one golden rule for driving change in the enterprise.

“It’s just the easiest path to doing the right thing,” he says. “Make it easy to do the right thing and make it difficult to do the wrong thing or the undesirable thing.”

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