Customizing Salesforce comparisons: user-driven design in Gearset Deploy

Stephen Chambers on April 21st 2015


When it comes to the design, implementation, and release process, life’s been a whole lot easier working on Gearset Deploy than perhaps any previous project. There’s been no single defining moment, but if you asked me to pick the most significant of the contributing factors, I’d have to go for the involvement of users earlier in the design process.

This has been facilitated – or, as it turns out, supercharged – by using Slack, a team communication platform, to create external channels where users can hang out, talk, and discuss features or challenges. We’ve also added users to our GitHub repository so that everyone can create, view, and comment on specific issues and see progress.

So, how has early user involvement helped with our latest release?

The new “customize comparison” feature

The initial release of Gearset Deploy enabled users to choose which organizations to compare, perform a full comparison, and deploy their chosen changes. With this release, we’d taken the first step towards our goal of making Salesforce deployments quicker, safer, and easier – so far, so good. Positive feedback from users confirmed we were on the right track, but something else was also clear: that this “one size fits all” approach didn’t always meet requirements or fit with users’ workflows. Full comparisons can take a long time, and they’re often not even necessary for the user’s purposes.

Benj, one of the Salesforce MVPs we work with, created a GitHub issue to highlight the problem he was having:

“Doing the initial deployment can take a really long time (many minutes). Would love to speed this up. If I know I'm focused on specific metadata, let me choose to limit the comparison to only those types. E.g. ‘Compare only: Apex Classes, Triggers, Visualforce pages.’”

This initial post triggered a deeper conversation about what such a feature might involve, and how it could fit in with the existing design. Meanwhile, we received an email from another user raising the same issue of having to perform a full comparison when he didn’t want to:

“Allow the option to display only a specific metadata type. I may only want to see what Visualforce Pages are different. Why waste all that time comparing ALL of the files?”

Reading this email, we realized that if we implemented the previous user’s suggestion to enable selective comparisons, we’d be improving another aspect of the application at the same time: not only would the comparisons be quicker, but with fewer items being compared, there’d be less noise on the results page, allowing users to find what they wanted more easily – a win-win situation.

By this point, we were beginning to get an idea of what the feature might look like. We understood that it would solve major pain points for our users, and we knew it would be technically feasible to implement within a short timescale.

Design, iteration, and implementation

After a preliminary discussion about how to implement the selection feature, we decided to go for a lightbox-style format. We put together an initial mockup and uploaded it to GitHub and Slack for review:

First iteration of design for specifiying comparison options

As we’d hoped, feedback arrived almost instantly – in this case, via the GitHub issue:

“I like the lightbox option; emphasizes that normal flow is a full comparison, but this exists as a way to customize when you want to. And once you've made a choice, show that choice on the main page [...] Since there are so many metadata types, would be great to show them in columns or a grid to reduce scrolling.”

Another user also responded to the design, suggesting further improvements:

“Allow the option to display only items that have been modified after a specific date/time (or between two dates). For example, just show me those files that have been changed since 2/15. Allow an option to ignore code from managed packages. Or, conversely, to display only files with a specific namespace.”

And one user highlighted a potential pitfall that the new feature would introduce if we weren’t careful. Because of dependencies, some items can only be deployed along with their related metadata. Therefore, users would need to bear this in mind when choosing what to include at the comparison stage:

“It wouldn't hurt to display an alert message for certain combinations, eg. custom objects is selected by default, and if you deselect it then warn that ‘Gearset will not test dependencies unless you include custom objects.’”

Taking this feedback into account, we were able to start tweaking the initial design. We placed the items in columns to help reduce the amount of vertical scrolling. We also included the option to ignore managed packages, and added a reminder about including related metadata types. (We’ll be adding extra features, such as the date/time filter mentioned above, in a future release.) Here’s the updated design:

Final design for specifying comparison options

Within a matter of days we’d designed, iterated, and implemented a new feature – all thanks to the strong communication channels between our development team and our users. It certainly beats developing and releasing a feature only to find that it doesn’t help anybody or that you’ve overlooked something critical.

Conclusion

We’re taking a strong user-centered design approach to Gearset Deploy, gathering as much feedback as possible from users and trying to understand the problems they face when it comes to Salesforce deployments.

Involving users at this early stage helps both the product development team and the users themselves. It means we can focus on designing features that will be truly beneficial, instead of making assumptions about what people may or may not want. And it allows our users to have a say in shaping the app while it’s relatively new, without any of the constraints that come with a more mature product.

So far, we’ve made improvements to the comparison and analysis stage of the process, but we’ve already started looking ahead to the next problem – how to deal with dependencies.

If you want to take a look at early mockups for upcoming features, suggest enhancements, or just say hi, drop me an email at [email protected]

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