The Power of Picklist Fields

Power of Picklist Fields

The first time I created a Salesforce database I wanted each picklist field to include the option “other”. I think it’s the American Social Worker in me… I didn’t want anyone to feel limited or to disallow individuality. Luckily I had a great mentor who explained that we should almost never include “other” as a picklist value; instead, we should have a well-defined set of choices that cover all relevant options.

The Power of Picklist Fields

Picklist fields push us to categorize records.

  • This categorization is helpful for sorting, reporting, and analyzing data at the aggregate level. For example, viewing participants by age group.
  • Additionally, when records are categorized, category-specific strategies can be developed and applied. For example, if there is a picklist field capturing Volunteer Type, it is possible to analyze aggregate data per Volunteer Type and apply different strategies per Volunteer Type.

Together, the categories and strategies can be supported by Salesforce by way of validation rules and workflows. This gets to the power of the tool, have clear codes and strategies and then develop the tool to do some of the work for you.

The Problem with “Other”

The purpose of the field is to categorize the record, yet selecting “other” allows the record to defy categorization. “Other” is a null statement; it doesn’t say what the value is… it just says it is none of the existing options. What strategy do you apply to Other Volunteers? What does it mean when your pie chart shows 5% Other? This is not helpful information.

The Solution to the “Other” Problem

  • Do these picklist values cover all options?
  • Are these the values that we would like to see in reports?
  • Do these values group data in a meaningful way that will support processes and strategies?

Once you have your list of values, allow time to test it out and make sure you have what you need. Remember that picklist values can be monitored and edited over time… just don’t edit to include “Other”.

Have you ever run into the “Other” issue? Let us know how you fixed it in the comments below!

Susan Wright

About Susan Wright

Susan brings over 10 years of nonprofit experience to her work at Heller Consulting. She entered the field of social work because to contribute to society in a positive way. Over time it became evident that her biggest contribution and most rewarding work was helping organizations leverage technology to streamline processes, solve problems, and generate information, ultimately maximizing program impacts. Prior to working at Heller, she worked with children and families at Seneca Center, Larkin Street Youth Services, and Catholic Charities CYO. At Room to Read and Napa County her work focused on technology optimization and information management. She created a CRM database in Salesforce.com to manage worldwide contacts and also contributed to many programs databases and process improvements. Susan holds a Master’s Degree in Social Work from Columbia University, specializing in Social Enterprise Administration and a dual Bachelor’s Degree from the University of California at Davis in Communication and Spanish Language and Literature.

4 comments

  1. Carla Estey

    The times I have used “Other”, I included a text box that would require the user to enter a value. It encourages the user to find the best option, but if there isn’t a best to have the ability to enter one that is. Then over time these can be assessed for inclusion as a new picklist option.

    • Susan Kenna Wright

      That’s definitely an option, especially for external facing surveys.

  2. The option of “Other” also lets you be a little lazier with your data. By not including the option of “Other”, you really have to think strategically about your data. It may be mentally taxing at first, but the upside is you end up with useful segments of data. Great article!

  3. I can completely relate with wanting to including everyone, but you make great points about how that can hurt the reporting later.

    Thanks for sharing! I’ll be sure to think twice before including the ‘other’ option.

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