What’s next for the Idea Exchange?

After we posted the latest article in our Bright Ideas series, our favourite reader (OK, I’ll admit it, our only reader) got in touch with us with a helpful message. Their message was that while the Bright Ideas posts are a shining beacon of excellence atop this colossus of a blog, which is in turn an absolute marvel, a complete joy, and quite simply our reader’s only reason to visit the internet (perhaps I’m paraphrasing a little), there was a bit of an elephant in the room.

You see, since this little idea got posted – and, we would imagine, well before that point too – it’s been clear that the Idea Exchange as we know and love [check this – Ed.] it isn’t quite doing the business these days. It’s become a bit of a monolithic beast which although revered is not exactly doing what it was set out to do, or even what it was reformed to do with the introduction of clearer status definitions a few years back.

All of this was brought even more sharply into focus during Dreamforce, when the entire True To The Core session was dedicated to discussing the reimagined IdeaExchange. Not sure if I mentioned it, but I wasn’t at Dreamforce this year. But, luckily for us, the session recording was recently published. So if you missed it too, check it out right here:

Now that I’ve had a chance to watch the video, I wanted to share a few thoughts that struck me about the session and this whole reimagination concept…

1) Parker is still my home-boy

You’ve gotta love Parker Harris. Of all the public faces of Salesforce, he’s the one who you can most trust (at least I think/hope so). He’s the realest. The marketing hasn’t got to his head. He speaks truthfully and honestly, and is much more self-deprecating than I’ve come to expect from Americans. (Hello, US readers! Just kidding of course, we don’t have any.)

Take the first minute of this video. Parker recounts that the whole True To The Core idea came about because Salesforce weren’t listening to their customers, and that it continues to this day because Salesforce still weren’t listening.

Plus anyone that can drop in a gag about Russians ‘helping’ with voting processes in a manner as deadpan as he managed gets a thumbs-up from me. We love you, Parker.

2) The community is at its best when it shares tough love

Right after Parker introduced Bret Taylor, there was a ‘Mean Tweets’ style video played, with Salesforce PMs and execs reading out some of the harshest and most biting comments from the community. (Allegedly they were comments from Twitter, and they may have been, but to me they sounded more like they were from the IdeaExchange itself.)

Wherever they were from, I really enjoyed this session. Two reasons for that. Firstly, I think it’s good of the Salesforce crew to take part in the video and to sacrifice themselves on the altar of customer feedback. Secondly, tough love, speaking the truth without pandering too much to the fluffier side of this ecosystem is what I’m all about. You may have noticed that from my blog posts.

Some of my favourite comments from a community speaking its mind involved a dig at Salesforce’s penchant for “paying rockstars to serve Kool Aid at Dreamforce”, and a cold-hearted attack on those cuddly critters we all love so much: “If there was a mascot for this area, it would be a sloth.”

3) It didn’t start off too promising…

I’ve got to admit that when Bret started speaking and introducing the concept of a reimagined IdeaExchange, I wasn’t holding out great hope for the session. It just didn’t seem all that, erm, reimagined.

Take this as an example. The goal was described as turning the IdeaExchange into “a best-in-class feedback program that empowers our Salesforce Ohana to have an actionable voice into our product planning process”. Listen closely and you will hear those buzzwords buzzing.

The only concrete, more-or-less objective parts of that verbal trashcan are ‘best-in-class’ (right, so your grand plan to make it better is to, what, make it the best?) and – maybe – ‘actionable’. To be fair, Bret did a good job of playing up on that part. And that’s where things started to take a turn for the better…

4) …but it ended up sounding pretty good

I’ll let you watch the video to get the full picture, but the general approach – once we got away from the buzzwords and onto some firmer concepts – is to involve the community in the release planning process through early-stage voting, and to limit the number of votes the community can ‘spend’ on any release. The problem with the current situation of having unlimited votes to use on everything is that when you can vote up everything as being important, then nothing is important.

The ‘cost’ idea is a really nice touch too. The general flow is that PMs will assign a high-level cost to each idea (e.g. Small, Medium, Large), along with some explanation of how that cost was arrived at (which will be great for giving context as to why a seemingly simple idea isn’t that easy after all), and then the community as a whole can vote on which ideas they want to see. Finally the highest ranked ideas which fit into the ‘spend limit’ of the release will make it into development.

Personally, I think it’s an really interesting and sensible approach to reflect Salesforce’s (relative) scarcity of PM resources in the scarcity of available votes for the community.

Two other parts I liked. It isn’t just up to us anymore – PMs can add their own ideas into the mix, and then let us pick up the ones which will mean the most to us. And – one more gem from Parker – it was made clear that our votes will really matter and have a direct impact on what goes into the release, without Marc having the ability to say “don’t do that”.

5) Some questions were left unanswered

As you’d expect from any Dreamforce roadmap session, this isn’t the final package quite yet, and it sounds like some things still need to be worked out or made clear. For example, what happens with existing ideas? Will they be killed off? Or wiped of their score? Or will they live on in some way – even if that’s just to prioritize the first set of voteable feature ideas?

I also saw in passing on one slide – and it wasn’t talked about at all – the long-awaited concept of a unified community identity. It sounds like this will be part of making sure that Chris Edwards (Dev Edition) can’t get his mates Chris Edwards (Work), Chris Edwards (Dev Edition 2) or Chris Edwards (Whoops, another Dev Edition) to all vote on the same idea. But any reason Salesforce have to actually get this one over the line is to be welcomed, as it’s something that all of our frustration levels would benefit from.

Lastly, Daniel Ballinger asked a great question about how these changes will ensure that ‘smaller groups’ (devs, Pardot users, everyone but admins, basically) will be well represented without their voices being drowned out by that shrieky admin crowd. While Jennifer’s response was that this change should fix that, Bret mentioned it’s something that’s still being worked on. We will see.

…And finally

I was heartened to hear so many members of the UK community present and vocal at the session. Well done, Brits. Way to represent the quieter side of the Atlantic. Perhaps Mike, Ines and I will make a return trip to San Francisco next year to boost the UK numbers even more. If we do, I look forward to True To The Core 2019 and to hearing how all these changes are going.

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