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The First Not-Really-Annual-We-Just-Do-This-When-We-Feel-Like-It Community Flow Hackathon!

2012.05.04-HackathonOn the 25th of June in the year of our lord 2014, it was hereby decreed that there would be a great ‘Thon of Hacking, dedicated to the communication of ideas and knowledge of The Great Flow. Over the following 7 days, many heroes from across the land ventured forth to slay the Dragon of Communal Ignorance, valiantly submitting their contributions and felling the great beast. When the dust cleared on the 2nd of July, there were only victors.

Hang on, I think my nerd is showing. Can you tell I run Dungeons & Dragons games in my spare time?

If you have any interest in Flow, I highly advise heading to the Success Community page for the #Sp14FlowHackathon topic, where you can see the collective hackathon in its entirety. It was started in the group “Official: Salesforce Workflow Automation“, and there truly were some amazing ideas. I’ll be dedicating an entire blog post to my submission next week, but at the moment I want to highlight some of the other submissions here.

(The following “awards” are mine and mine alone, and I do not represent Salesforce or any other company or individual.)

Best Use of New Features Award – Reassign Records when the Owner becomes Inactive

Jen Nelson brings the awesome with a Flow that uses Flow Triggers, Fast Lookups and Loops seamlessly. What’s more, it’s incredibly useful to ANY admin and operates quietly, predictably, and seamlessly. It’s the sort of automation that throws off new admins in the org; it’s so clean that it fools them into thinking it’s part of core Salesforce functionality, not realizing something else enabled it. Hey Jen, be sure you train any new admin you work with that this is flow! Otherwise he’s going to get that question wrong on his 201 Certification test!

Most Work Saved Award – Assign and Maintain Due Dates for all Tasks in a Campaign

Jen Dunn not only wins the award for Most Work Saved, but also for Most Patient Users! Whoever had the job of manually assigning and updating up to 35 tasks had a crap job, and Jen made it a whole lot easier! I just hope you didn’t put someone out of a job! This is a prime example of the power of Flow: taking a massive, repetitive task and reducing it to a few clicks. Bravo.

Wildest Idea Award – Clone Chatter Group with Members

Rakesh “The Flow Machine” Gupta makes us all ask ourselves the deep philosophical question: “Will I ever have to clone a Chatter Group? And if so, what am I going to do about all those Members?” That’s heavy, man. So hardcore. If nothing else, I love Flows like this because they make admins stop and say “Wait, Flow can do THAT? If it can do that, I wonder what else it’s capable of.” Nothing better illustrates the breadth of awesome that Flow can accomplish.

These are just some of the Flows that were shown. Go and take a look at the rest!

 

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Test My Flow

darthvadertestingDo you write Flows? If so, congratulations, you’re a developer. No no, you are. You’re developing software, just with a declarative interface, so yes, you’re a developer. And what does every developer have to do, even though they hate it?

Test. Test. Test.

Once you’re a developer, you’re not exempt any more! Welcome to the development world. Yes, we hate testing. We like to think our Flow is just going to work the first time, but in all of the 30+ flows I have written in my time, I can only say that I am just lucky enough to have gotten away with it once. Seriously, that’s like a 3% chance.

Even then, I played it safe, and verified that it was going to work right by testing it first. You will save yourself SO much time and frustration by testing before deploying.

Flow is a unique beast, though, and there’s not a lot of documentation out there on how to test your stuff. By and large, we’re left wondering just what we should do to actually test. There’s some obvious things, but then the only truly obvious route is to actually deploy in order to test, and that’s not always a good option.

So without any further ado, here are some of the methods and guidelines I have come up with for testing my Flows.

1. Sandbox Sandbox Sandbox

sandboxes

I know sandboxes seem like a waste. I know the concept is alien to some of us. But really, do it. DO IT. This is especially important for Flow Triggers, which, I can attest to personally, can cause stupendous failures.

When a Visual Flow crashes, it only affects the person trying to run the flow, and usually just throws an error. When a Flow Trigger crashes, that crash can affect ANYONE who is trying to do their work. Even if you have “Administrators run the latest flow version” turned on, you can still have problems if you haven’t activated any versions. So trust me when I say, Sandboxes are more important than ever before for Flow.

2. Always Fault

There’s nothing that your users hate more than a cryptic error. Seeing

An unhandled fault has occurred in this flow. An unhandled fault has occurred while processing the flow. Please contact your system administrator for more information.

is the surest way to frustrate and confuse, not to mention driving your users AWAY from using your blood-sweat-and-tears Flow. Nobody wants to use a tool they don’t understand, so quite simply, they won’t.

So how do we avoid this? We add Faults.

Screen Shot 2014-05-06 at 13.54.13

Every Create, Update, Lookup, or Delete.

Any Record or Fast Element can have a Fault element attached to it, and your best practice is to ensure that every Record or Fast Element has a Fault element attached to it. A Fault element can be made by creating any element and drawing an arrow to it from your Record or Fast Element AFTER they already have an arrow pointing to another element. If the Flow errors on that source element, it will then perform whatever is in your Fault, rather than showing that “unhandled fault”. That’s what unhandled means; it means that you haven’t defined what should happen when a fault happens.

A fault can contain a message to the user, it can create records, it can even send an email if you use the Email Plugin. Anything Flow can do, you can make happen from a Fault, so this is invaluable not only to your users, but also to your debugging and testing. Having a screen that tells you what your variables’ values are AT the point of failure is essential.

Another quick tip: if you want your fault to do things AND present a screen (I almost always have mine send an email and then show a customized error in a screen), do the email or other things first, THEN do your screen. If a user gets an error message screen, they are a lot more likely to exit the screen instead of clicking the Next or Finish button, and if they don’t click that button, it WON’T fire your email or other actions.

3. Gotta Test ‘Em All

portalmon-shirt

This is another drudgery chore, but as admins I cannot stress enough that you have to personally try out your functionality. Don’t just try your flow while logged in as you; try it while logged in as the actual users who will use it. Try each choice option you present in your screens, or at least a sample of them, if there are too many to test. Make sure you run your Flow through every possible decision path, to be sure each decision path actually works.

Also, try your flow while logged in as the actual users who will use it. What, I already said that? Well, good, it needs to be said again. It’s so easy to forget to do, because you have to do it in a sandbox in order to do it safely, but it’s one of the most important things you can possibly do in your testing.

So How Do I Test Exactly?

The Temporary Assign Element Method

Screen Shot 2014-05-06 at 13.58.00

The Run button is a great option in the Flow Designer, but unfortunately it’s fairly useless without some setup. Almost every flow needs some data passed to it, and that Run button cannot pass any of that data. So how do we make it useful again?

Create an Assign element BEFORE the start of your Flow, and in it, assign some sample data to the variables that would usually have been set. Draw its arrow going to the start of your Flow, and then make the Assign element the actual starting element.

You can now use the Run button with impunity! This makes testing a lot faster when you don’t have to click around to get to your Flow, and it has the additional bonus of being able to test your Flow (at least, the testing that you do while logged in as you) without making it live for everyone. It’s a great way to do quick proof-of-concept testing as well.

Please keep in mind this doesn’t work on any flow with sObject variables or collections at this time.

The Screen Debug Method

Screen Shot 2014-05-06 at 14.06.44

This ties in directly with bullet point 2 above. If, in your testing, you hit an error or bug or other unexpected result, being able to insert a temporary Screen that just repeats what the variables or Screen Choice values are at any given point can be the key to unlocking the mystery behind your dysfunctional flow. There is no reason this cannot be done at any time; you can insert this into the middle of your flow’s track without having to use a FAULT path, so you’re seeing things as they happen, even before the error comes down.

Of course, because this method uses Screens, it is incompatible with Flow Trigger flows. Bummer.

[Edit: Removed the Flow Debug object method. Turns out this has some pretty glaring issues with most faulting in Salesforce. Thus reiterates my overall point about being extremely thorough in your testing of, well, anything.]

Video

Visual Workflow Live! Complete Task and Notify

After wrestling with YouTube, I FINALLY have this video up and ready. Needless to say, I have learned a few important things from my first live-streaming experience:

  1. Do not play background music. Chances are it’s copyrighted, and YouTube will either restrict it or block it. Sorry, Salesforcers in Deutschland, this video won’t work for you. 😦 It also means the last few minutes of audio got muted forceably by YouTube,  so I had to annotate it manually.
  2. Do not check your own stream on the same computer you’re recording on. It’ll pick up and audio and you’ll have two audio streams being recorded simultaneously. It’s kind of like a time machine, thanks to the 20 second delay, but not as cool.
  3. YouTube’s built-in video editor is OK. It works for what I need. Might need something more advanced someday, but for now, it’s good.
  4. Need more people in the chat! Had at least one person in the chat contributing, and it was a big help. Thanks lifewithryan!

So without further ado, here’s the video from last week, and look forward to more video coming soon!

Live broadcasting tonight!

Justin.tv_

 

Let’s try a little experiment, shall we?

Tonight, starting at 9pm Central Time, I’m going to be working on a redesign of a Visual Workflow for tasks to deploy to production. The twist? I’m going to be doing my work LIVE on the air for everyone to see!

I’ll be using a site called justin.tv, which is specifically designed for this sort of thing. Many different kinds of artists and designers use justin.tv to broadcast their creation process, and so I shall be doing the same.

I’ll be talking through my visual workflow work, as well as taking questions, so consider this a two-birds-one-stone kind of event; you can watch how visual workflow is made, and/or take the opportunity to ask an experienced Salesforce admin and visual workflow designer any questions you might have. The questions don’t even have to be visual workflow related! I’ll help out any way I can, if I can.

If you want to ask questions, you’ll have to create an account on justin.tv, but the good news is that accounts are free. If you get routed to a page asking if you want to pay for a Pro account for $9.99 a month, this is NOT NECESSARY, so don’t feel obligated.

When 9pm rolls around, click this link (http://justin.tv/salesforceyoda) OR the justin.tv logo at the top of this article, and it will take you there.

And now, a little FAQ:

  • What is justin.tv?

Well, have you heard of twitch.tv? If you have, justin.tv is the predecessor to twitch.tv, and is run by the same people. It’s basically the same thing as Twitch, but for things that are not games.

If you haven’t heard of Twitch, justin.tv is a live-streaming site. It lets people from around the world broadcast whatever they want (within moral guidelines of course) for free, for other people to watch. People can broadcast for free, and people can watch for free. And I mean free as in beer!

  • But the site is asking me for money…

Don’t worry about it. Click back and find the Sign In button at the top. I make no money from this, and in no other way get any reimbursement from Salesforce or justin.tv. Yes, justin.tv and Twitch have subscriber options where the broadcasters can make money, but I am not using that functionality.

  • If you’re not getting anything for doing this, why are you doing it?

Multiple reasons in this answer. One, I really like helping people, and having an “open office hours” of sorts appeals to me. I may not be the best admin, but I’m no slouch, if I may say so myself. This is my way of contributing.

Two, people love to watch people. It’s in our natures. And we love watching people do things that we do. I know that I would love to watch someone work in Salesforce; I looked to see if anyone was doing this sort of thing, because I wanted to see it! Since I couldn’t find anyone, I figured, why the hell not.

Three, visual workflow is a bit of a beast. It’s difficult to explain how you put a Flow together with text alone. By livestreaming it, people can watch and understand the process, and ask questions if they see something they don’t quite get.

  • How do I do (X) in Visual Workflow?

Woah there, Silver. Save your questions for the livestream.

  • How do I talk to you or ask questions once you’re streaming?

You’ll have to sign up for a justin.tv account, but once you do, you’ll be able to post in the Chat on the right side of the screen.

  • Why so late at night?

Believe me, trying to livestream with a toddler demanding your attention is not really possible. Trust me when I say it’s best to wait until after her bedtime.

  • If you’re doing your work live, doesn’t that put your company’s data at risk?

That’s why I’ll be working in a non-full sandbox. Cuz I’m smaahhht, see? Smaaahhht.

  • Ok, Mr. Smarty-Pants, what if we see you doing something dumb in the livestream?

Oh, I’m definitely human. I make mistakes. If you see me doing something in Salesforce that you think would be better done in another way, or is something that is just plain stupid, call it out! Let me know! I’m a big boy, I can take it. Even the best have their off moments, and I’m not even the best, so I expect my off-moment quotient to be higher.

Admin’s Best Friend, Part 2

keep-calm-we-re-back

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand we’re back.

In case you missed the last post, we are discussing the advantages of Visual Workflow, or Flow, over other Salesforce automation tools. Also, if you missed the last post, you can, y’know… scroll down. It’s still there. Oh no, don’t worry, I’ll wait.

Just in case your scroll wheel is broken, here’s a quick refresher? We covered that Flow can:

  1. Create Records – One of the only bits of Salesforce automation that can create a record, and it can create more than one at a time too.
  2. Perform If, Then, Else functionality, with Nesting – Branching logic that can make different things happen based on looking up data in Salesforce.

So now let’s move on to…

3. Work with Objects and Fields that Workflow Cannot

Ever wanted to do cross-object workflow from Case to Contact? How about workflow that creates an Event instead of a Task? Workflow that filters based on what department the User is in? Workflow that creates tasks with the owner being retrieved from a User lookup field? Workflow that makes a Chatter post? Workflow that refers to the Record Owner’s manager? Workflow that can do something as FREAKING SIMPLE as fill in a lookup field? (This is a personal point of frustration for yours truly.)

Welcome to the wild, winsome, wicked, and wonderful world of Flow.

Flow can access data from any point in Salesforce, provided you can give it a frame of reference. And it can create data anywhere as well. It can create any type of record, including some that aren’t quite obvious, like Chatter posts, Private Messages, Contact Roles, Case Team members, Opportunity Team members, Account Team members, Public Groups… The list goes on and on.

Within all of the objects available, you can create data and filter choices based on data you wouldn’t have been able to access otherwise. Not only can you access any data in the system to determine your actions (e.g. only creating a record if the Salesperson who clicked it is in a certain territory), but you can use it to access other data that workflow would normally be able to access, but just can’t. Have you ever tried to use workflow to populate the email of the $User’s manager for an approval process? I have. You can’t do it. Not without visual workflow.

Nope, no Manager >> present. I had to make the Manager Email Address field!
Nope, no Manager >> present. I had to make the Manager Email Address field!

4. Make a Single Click into a Workhorse Woolly Mammoth!

Each non-code automation tool in Salesforce has its strengths and weaknesses. Workflow can be chained to run one after another, but using it to move large amounts of data becomes cumbersome and unmanageable. Custom URLs can create records, though they can only do it once. But what if you wanted to do all of those things?

As far as I have found in my work, there is no upper limit on what can be done in Flow. I mean, I’m sure there is a limit SOMEWHERE, but I have yet to hit it, with my wild and woolly adventures therein.

As an example, let’s say you wanted to clone a record 5 times, bringing over 30 fields into the clone each time. Now let’s say it’s a DIFFERENT 30 fields in each clone. Sure, this is a pretty wacky hypothetical that generally falls beyond the realm of what one might ACTUALLY be asked to set up, but I have been asked to set up things that are not too far off. With workflow, you could have the fields populated when the records are created manually, but you’d have to set up 30+ field updates, one for each field that gets brought over. With a custom URL, you would need 5 separate URLs, as you could not create multiple records nor implement the branching.

skyrimmammoths

5. Automate / Drive / Force Process

To be fair, other kinds of button-click automation are also quite adept at providing this kind of service. But stop. Close your eyes. Think about driving process (or as Salesforce evangelist David Schach refers to it, “forcing function”), and think of all the things we just talked about.

Ok, yes, you can open your eyes if you need to go back and read what they were again.

Flow presents, by default, a Wizard-type interface. But what if it was your only method of making something happen?

  • What if you locked down your Opportunity’s Stage field and required the user to click a Flow button to make a change? You can filter it down different paths: if they’re changing the stage to Negotiation, you can ask and require certain information which then gets pushed into Opp fields, or if they’re changing it to Closed Won, you can require different information and even generate other records based on that, like tickets to setup your customer or other custom object records.
  • Do the same thing for Case Status, where if the owner is on your Retention team, you can require him to put in 3 dates for scheduled follow-up calls, and then create those Events for him!
  • Turn your User creation into a guided wizard process, to be sure that every step of the process is covered. (Because we Admins have a TON of things to think and worry about every day, and sometimes those little details just slip our minds, don’t they? Plus it can be a huge time-saver!)
  • Require that a date field be updated through a Flow (I’ll go into this in an upcoming post) so that the date field’s value can be copied into another record in another custom object. If these custom objects are not Master-Detail, you won’t be able to use regular Workflow for those!

flexidrive

When you can drive your Users to work down certain paths:

  • You minimize the demons of procrastination, obstinance, forgetfulness and human error.
  • You ensure a higher standard of work and customer interaction.
  • You ensure higher data quality.
  • You ensure quality metrics and analytics.
  • And you then become able to give your executive team whatever data they need without worrying about how reliable the data is.

Don’t think of it as being authoritarian or restrictive; think of it as ensuring job security for yourself.

Because when you become indispensable to your executives, they’ll do anything to keep you, and keep you happy! And Visual Workflow brought you there. I’d say that’s a tool worth learning, wouldn’t you?

Check it out! Joe Executive likes the cut of our jib! Eiffel Tower.

Check it out! Joe Executive likes the cut of our jib! Eiffel Tower.

Admin’s Best Friend, Part 1

Every admin has a favorite tool in Salesforce. Some live and die by the Data Loader, some have a passionate love affair with Workbench, and some have even made their own custom tools to make their Salesforce lives easier. But me… my best Salesforce friend is a little thing called Visual Workflow, or just Flow for short.

Now I know what some of you may be thinking. “Visualforce? That’s code right? I don’t do code.” Whoa whoa. Nay nay. Visual it may be, but Visualforce it is not. This is an entirely different beast, my friends. And while this beast may be intimidatingly big and hairy, it’s ridiculously helpful. It’s more like a workhorse, or pack animal. But big and hairy. So more like a woolly mammoth.

Look, the whole metaphor works if you just picture yourself as a caveman…

Image by David McCauley, "The Way Things Work"

Image by David McCauley, “The Way Things Work”

Yeah okay, let me start from the beginning.

Most admins are in one of two camps: the camp that doesn’t know what Visual Workflow is, or the camp that thinks it’s too difficult for them to use. And to a degree, that’s ok! Nothing to be ashamed of. The reason most admins fall into one of these two groups is because Salesforce, unfortunately, has not done a lot to change things to the contrary. They simply have not talked very much about Flow, and the past few Release Notes have been practically devoid of any Flow-related changes to grab your attention. They’ve released a few videos trying to explain the whole Flow thing, but because of its complexity, those videos’ approach of “Let’s try to cover as much about Flow as possible in 20 minutes” only means that they don’t really allow for much in the way of detail or absorption.

But we can change this, people! Flow is the key to unlocking a new world of workflow in your system. It will allow you to do automation in Salesforce you never dreamed would be possible without code. It is the true enabler of the “Clicks Not Code” philosophy, the game changer for the next generation of Salesforce. And this is one of the key focal points that this blog will circle around: to provide a series of articles extolling the virtues of Flow and making it easier to start using it in your instance.

geography-teacher-4

Alright, it’s teacher time. The first thing you need to know is what Flow can do. Some might say, “Hey wait, shouldn’t you focus on what Flow IS first?” Usually, I would say yes, but the key point here is that you know its worth. Flow can come across as complicated and having a high bar of entry, but if you’re aware of the crystallized AWESOME that it is capable of, you’re more likely to stick it out to the end. Trust me, it’s worth it. So what can it do that other tools cannot?

1. Create records

muffinbutton

Ever wanted to automatically create a new account, case, or other kind of non-task record using Workflow? Can’t be done, can it? Record creation has long been the domain of APEX and custom-URL buttons. NOT ANYMORE, MY FRIENDS.

Visual Workflow gives you not just the power to edit records, but to create and delete them as well.

  • Want a button that creates 4 pre-determined records with one click? You can do that.
  • Want a button that removes one opportunity product and replaces it with another? You can do that.
  • Want a button that can clone an Opportunity but will only pull over specific fields? YOU CAN DO THAT.
  • And the advantage it has over custom URL buttons is the fact that it can do multiple records at once, even if they are in DIFFERENT OBJECTS. MIND… BLOWN.

IT’S LIKE A BUTTON THAT MAKES MUFFINS. Except it makes records. Which is just as awesome but actually more useful. Unless you have a medical condition that prohibits you from eating any food that is not a muffin. That would be useful, then.

2. If…Then…Else (with Nesting!)

IF-THEN-ELSE-END_flowchart

Anyone with an coding experience will get what that is, but otherwise think of it like extremely advanced filtering for workflow. With regular Workflow, if you wished to do automation that could go down different branching paths based on different sets of criteria, you’d have to write multiple workflow rules, and you’d have a hell of a time trying to get multiples to interact with one another. If your filter criteria are in different objects, you’d just wash your hands of it.

But not so with Visual Workflow! Base your Opp workflow off of your Opportunity History! Create multiple branches that pass information down to the following automated actions, even if you keep branching and branching by more and more filters! Write automation that acts based on a combination of data in your records and questions asked of the user when they start the process!

This screenshot is but a sample from a live Flow running in our instance:

Sample - Priority Flag

You don’t have to get as complex as this in your Flow, but it’s a relief to know that you have the ability if it’s needed!

That’ll do for today’s blog post! Later this week, I’ll publish Part 2, explaining two more awesome button-click-exclusive capabilities of Visual Workflow and what it means when we get all these horses lined up and ready to run.

TO BE CONCLUDED…