How To Deal With Ambiguity

Moving forward when you don’t know the way

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Occasionally we are blessed with having every bit of required information at our fingertips in order to make a sound decision. Most of the time, however, that information simply isn’t there.

Managing ambiguity is a critical skill for leaders

As a leader you will regularly find yourself in a position where you need to move your team forward and make a decision without having all the facts. The first few times you find yourself in this position it can be quite scary, but it’s an important skill to master if you want to make timely decisions, take measured risks, and seize opportunities.

Avoiding decision paralysis

It’s understandable to want to freeze when faced with making a decision in circumstances where you have more questions than answers. How can you possibly make the right decision? What happens if you’re missing something critical? What if you get called out for making the wrong choice?

Waiting for complete information is not always an option, so the key thing to do is to be courageous and make an informed decision using what info you do have. It’s often a calculated risk, but if you don’t move now you could end up missing an opportunity or critical deadline.

If you have questions, by all means try to get them answered but don’t risk spending too long on this, and avoid allowing those unanswered questions to block you. Missing information should never be an excuse for not moving forward.

Support your team

When faced with a decision where I’m missing facts, I will occasionally test one of my team members by asking for their opinion. I find some people are naturally good at handling ambiguity and enjoy this challenge, while others – often the more logical, methodical thinkers – get spooked and go into shutdown.

When working with a team it’s very important to be sensitive about how individuals may feel when faced with ambiguity. Let them know you understand, and be sure to acknowledge that you don’t have all the answers either.

Sometimes ambiguity can be a result of low self-confidence. Letting someone know that you value their judgement and opinion can be enough to help them speak up and suggest a way forward.

Effectively communicate your decision

Once you’ve made a decision, ensure you communicate it clearly and effectively, and that everyone knows what they need to do in order to support it. There may be ambiguity surrounding the decision but once made there should be no ambiguity about what has actually been decided.

Provide as much detail as is possible, and get people to play back what you expect them to do. If necessary, check in separately with those team members who are less confident, to ensure everyone is equally aligned.

Don’t be afraid to change course

Unless reversing a decision or changing direction will have serious impacts, you shouldn’t be afraid to pivot if you got it wrong. Sometimes a new piece of information will come to light that totally changes things, warranting a new decision.

Take responsibility and openly admit if your decision was the wrong one, but make sure your team understand exactly why you need to adjust course, what the new decision is, and what is now expected of them.

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Elevator Pitch for IT Professionals

“What do you do?”

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It’s the question many IT professionals dread, but sooner or later you know someone is going to ask what you do for a living.

There’s nothing wrong with our career choice, but it’s usually pretty tricky to explain what we do in a non-technical way.

How many times have you replied by saying you work in IT? I’m guessing it’s the exact same number of times you’ve watched the conversation die right there, unless of course you’re speaking to another IT worker.

Thankfully, there is a better way to get across your line of work without the other person’s eyes glazing over.

Spark curiosity

When someone asks what you do, you don’t have to answer with a job title. The trick is to provide a tempting little slice of information that’s vague enough to stimulate curiosity and get the other person wanting to know more.

For example, instead of saying you work in IT, you could say, “I help businesses improve their customer experience.”

That might provoke a question such as, “Oh okay, what does that entail? Are you a consultant of some kind?”

Don’t just say Yes (or No)!

Instead of replying in the affirmative/negative then giving your job title, ask another question to get the person talking.

Continuing the above example, you could ask, “Well, as a customer yourself, you know how buying something can be a really frustrating experience?”

At that point the conversation could come to life as the other person responds with something like, “Tell me about it! The other day I was trying to buy a new TV online and whenever I tried to checkout it kept rejecting my credit card. I know the card was fine because I’d just used it to fill up my car.”

Ask more questions

“So what happened? Did you manage to get it through?”

“No, I was so frustrated I abandoned it and tried another site. I had to pay £5 more on the delivery charge but the payment went straight through with no problems. My new TV was delivered this morning and I love it. I’m planning a Netflix binge this weekend.”

You now have an opportunity to steer the conversation a little more and explain what you do for a living with a real-world example.

You don’t just work in IT

Okay, it may not go as smoothly as I’ve illustrated here, but you can see how describing your job from a business or end-user perspective can be a much better conversation starter than, “I’m a DevOps Technical Lead” or “I’m a Postgres DBA”.

With a little practice, this technique can be highly effective.

Of course, if you know the other person is in IT, to avoid annoying them you’re probably better off just coming out and saying “I’m an enterprise architect” or “I’m a Node.js developer”.

Give it a try!

 

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Heroku Architecture Designer Exam Tips

 

How to pass your Salesforce Heroku Architecture Designer exam.

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It’s been a long time since I wrote one of these exam tips posts. In fact it’s a long time since I wrote any posts for this blog. Since my last update here I have added a stack of Salesforce architect certifications to my name, and I am now a much more confident exam taker.

Having said that, I recently sat the Heroku Architecture Designer exam, and wanted to write about it because it was one of the strangest Salesforce certification experiences I’ve had so far.

A week before sitting the exam I undertook a partner enablement day at Salesforce’s London office on Bishopsgate where we received some training to help us prep for the exam. The team leading the training were great and when I sat a little practice exam at the end of the day, I achieved what would have been a clear pass on the real-world exam.

I felt supremely confident, and booked the exam as soon as I got home. I did a bit more independent study by skimming through the Heroku Dev Centre, and was 100% sure I was going to ace it on the day.

Failed first attempt

It’s been a while since I experienced that feeling of dismay when you read the first question and don’t know the answer. Then it gets worse as you move onto the second question and don’t know that either. By the time I was on question five I had completely lost my nerve.

When I finally clicked the button to submit the exam after sixty tortuous questions, I knew I had failed. I fact, I failed so badly I could probably have obtained a similar result by guessing.

The exam was very odd. The questions were Heroku-related but most of them seemed to draw on a much wider knowledge of things like networking and VPNs, which totally threw me. These questions were nothing like the ones I answered confidently on the practice exam at the Salesforce offices in London! They were much more in-depth, more like a developer-level exam.

So what did I do next? I went back to basics, which is what I recommend you do too.

First step: figure out your knowledge gaps

As usual, I recommend starting with the official exam guide on Trailhead. This page contains a detailed exam outline which breaks down the exam into sections like this:

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Spend a little time going through this guide and highlight where your strengths and weaknesses are. If you’re relatively new to Heroku this will immediately show up some murky areas where you need to dive a bit deeper to grow your understanding.

As with all Salesforce exams, each section in the Heroku Architecture Designer exam is weighted, with the higher weighted sections having more questions in the exam. You’ll see from the guide that for this exam it’s particularly important to know about the different features and capabilities of Heroku Enterprise – which will come up in 28% of the questions.

Use the dedicated Trailmix on Trailhead

I’ve written several times before about how Trailhead is the best learning resource I’ve ever come across, and this certification is well-covered. There is a dedicated Trailmix for the Heroku Architecture Designer credential, which will help you develop your knowledge. I suggest you also spend time setting up a pipeline and deploying an application in order to get some hands-on. It’s worth the effort as it really does crystalise your learning.

The Trailmix links out to sections in the Heroku Dev Centre, and I recommend you spend some additional time in there, following the links and absorbing as much as you can.

Second attempt – Passed!

It took me about a week to build up enough confidence to sit the exam again, and I’m pleased to say I passed second time around.

I will point out that I had another very odd exam experience. The questions I was presented with on my second attempt were totally different from the first set of questions, and much easier. They were quite similar in depth to the ones I had seen at Salesforce at the end of the training day.

When I finished, I was left wondering if I had chosen the wrong exam the first time. I’m not exaggerating when I say it was like a totally different exam – the difference was as pronounced as the difference between a detail-oriented developer exam and a high-level architect exam.

Suggested study areas

As I’ve already recommended, you need to focus your learning on filling your own knowledge gaps, while being aware of the weightings in the exam guide.

It goes without saying you will need to understand the basics such as the difference between Common Runtime and Private Spaces, Private Spaces vs. Shield Private Spaces, what the different Dyno types are and how you can scale them, etc.

Read up about VPNs, and when you might need to use one, what VPC peering is and when you are able to make use of it. Understand how these apply to integrating with various other enterprise architecture components such as AWS or Google Cloud.

Make sure you spend time understanding Heroku Connect, how it works, what is automated and what isn’t, and also how it deals with things like Shield Platform Encryption on the Salesforce side.

Data residency is a big consideration. Understand where data will be stored for Common Runtime and Private Spaces, and also for Add-ons. I remember there being several questions about this.

Know some typical use cases for Postgres, Redis and Kafka. Understand how Kafka works in terms of Producers, Topics, Consumers, Brokers and Partitions. Be aware of how Heroku users are provisioned with SSO.

It’s also worth learning the difference between the various plans that are available.

One last thing here – if you’re worried about remembering specific CLI commands, you can relax. There are no questions that ask about those in the Heroku Architecture designer exam.

Forget mock exams!

While doing additional research I stumbled across a small mock exam with about ten questions on it. I went through them to test my knowledge and was shocked to find the wrong answers were given for every question, but at least I now knew enough to recognise that.

I will therefore reiterate my usual warning: use mock exams with extreme caution!

The Heroku Architecture Designer certification is relatively new, which means there aren’t many reliable training resources out in the wild, so your best destination is Trailhead and Dev Centre.

Feeling confident?

I can usually tell when I’ve done enough study. My confidence grows and I start to feel a strong desire to book that exam slot as soon as possible.

In order to maximise my chances of success, I always put in the time to work through the study guide, evaluating my strengths and weaknesses, and focusing my learning where it’s needed. If you follow the same approach, you should be able to pass this exam.

It took me two attempts, but I did it – so you can too!

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If these tips helped you prepare for the Salesforce Certified Heroku Architecture Designer exam, please share the love by leaving a comment and/or sharing with your Salesforce Ohana!

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Summer ’18 Maintenance on Trailhead

A step in the right direction?

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Summer ’18 Release Maintenance is now on Trailhead for the following certifications:

I completed all three modules this weekend, and I personally think moving the process of certification maintenance to Trailhead from WebAssessor makes perfect sense.

However, Trailhead cert maintenance is definitely more time consuming than the old way. The WebAssessor maintenance exams were unproctored, so it was very easy to consult the release notes or Google something you weren’t sure of. On Trailhead, in addition to answering multiple-choice questions, you’re also quite likely to face a hands-on challenge testing your knowledge of new functionality – and you must complete this in order to maintain your credentials.

The Platform App Builder module in the Summer ’18 Release contains a hands-on challenge. If you know what you’re doing and are confident with Visual Workflow, you won’t find it difficult, but it will take you at least 30-45 minutes to complete.

Some people will find this a nuisance, but I think it’s a step in the right direction. Instead of just winging the maintenance exams, it forces us all to really take note of the new functionality – which should ultimately benefit our clients.

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Salesforce Certified Service Cloud Consultant Exam Tips

How to pass your Salesforce Certified Service Cloud Consultant Exam.

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I’ve been putting off sitting the Salesforce Certified Service Cloud Consultant exam for a long time, and given that I work on Service Cloud implementations for a living, this is a long overdue cert for me.

Over the years I have developed a phobia of Salesforce exams. Something always seems to go wrong: Internet connectivity issues, the window cleaner paying a visit, or one of the cats jumping onto the table (not good during a proctored exam).

Thankfully, this is one of the best Salesforce exams I have done to date. It focuses much more on industry knowledge and consulting experience instead of the ability to remember every nut and bolt involved in configuration. (Which you could just Google in a real-life work situation.)

First step: figure out where you lack knowledge/expertise

Your first move should be to download the official study guide from the Salesforce Certification Website. It’s the same format as all the other study guides, including Salesforce Certified Salesforce Administrator, which is a prerequisite to this exam.

The study guide sections look like this. No surprises here:

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It’s vital that you spend some time reading the sections, because they really do give a good indication of what will crop up in the exam. Put in the time to brush up on the areas you are weakest in, and remember to focus on industry knowledge and your general experience of IT implementations rather than trying to memorise the order in which you need to configure stuff.

Trailhead is your best friend

There are some great Trails and Trailmixes on Trailhead. Some of the puns and jokes can be slightly irritating after you’ve got several dozen badges under your belt, but this really is a fantastic resource that’s free. You should definitely leverage it. I found the following particularly helpful:

Knowledge of the Service Industry

It’s very important to know about Knowledge Centred Service (KCS) and industry terminology such as ACD, Adherence, AHT, ANI, Call Deflection, CTI, DNIS, First Call Resolution, IVR, PBX, Predictive Dialler, etc. These links should help:

Don’t underestimate the importance of this. The exam does use quite a bit of contact centre jargon and if you don’t understand the question being asked you are at an immediate disadvantage!

You don’t need to know how to configure a PBX or Predictive Dialler – you just need to know what one is and what it is typically used for.

A word of warning on mock exams

I say this every time I write an exam tips post, but please do be wary about relying too heavily on mock exams. I have done these in the past and found some of them far too easy (making me overconfident), and others inaccurate (blatantly wrong answers).

Don’t try to memorise questions and answers – putting in the effort to understand the material and content of the exam will pay off.

Be confident in your knowledge

The reason I delayed sitting this exam for months was because as a Solution Architect I’m not doing hands-on declarative configuration every day, and I was worried that I might not know enough of the technical ins-and-outs of things like Omni-Channel or SnapIns.

This exam does not require a detailed ‘under-the-hood’ knowledge of how to configure Service Cloud. It is much more about consultative skills, industry expertise (service industry and IT industry), and experience of thinking through typical business scenarios.

The sample questions in the study guide are a really good example of what to expect. If you answered those correctly first time, and have invested a decent amount of study  into the Trailhead links above, you are probably ready for this exam.

Good luck!

Did this post help you prepare for the exam?

If these tips helped you prepare for the Salesforce Certified Service Cloud Consultant exam, please leave a comment and/or share with your Salesforce Ohana!

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