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June 30, 2014

No Diving Allowed: Putting Performance First to Make Sure Your Projects Start Right

Starting a new client-agency relationship can be very exciting. It isn’t uncommon for a new pairing to be jointly celebrated with announcements given to a cheering crowd, toasts, and cake. Once a company has decided to invest in a new digital marketing project, those responsible for its completion are under considerable pressure to speed up the development cycle and start getting results. The primary result project managers seek is the conclusion of the project. However, in all of the excitement about the new project and the rush to get it done, design teams must not neglect the first step that will make it possible to determine the project’s success in the first place – the business objectives against which it will be measured. Going forward with design without a structured measurement model is like diving into a pool without knowing how deep the water is – and not being terribly confident that you even know how to swim.

The beginning of a digital project is critical. Take, for example, a website redesign project. The motivation that initiated the request often is no more complicated than an executive team’s general dissatisfaction with the look and feel of the company website. They may have a sense that the site is not “user-friendly,” and they might even have a few anecdotes to support this theory.

This seeming lack of accountability to concrete, measurable results may seem to be a blessing for the team responsible for building it, but it produces a lack of clarity that is actually quite detrimental – and costly.

How costly? 

According to an article written for the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE), avoidable errors in software design waste billions per year. Some of the more egregious examples include a $400 million purchasing system abandoned by Ford (2004), $3.45 billion tax-credit overpayment by the UK Inland Revenue (2004-2005), and the explosion of a $350 million rocket by Arianespace (1996).

In fact, claims IEEE, the total estimated yearly cost for faulty software is enough to

“…launch the space shuttle 100 times, build and deploy the entire 24-sattellite Global Positioning System, and develop the Boeing 777 from scratch – and still have a few billion left over.”

The scope of the losses is difficult to put into context when accustomed to considerably smaller budgets for digital projects, but since digital marketing consumes 17% of a typical marketing budget for the year, it had better not be wasted. Regardless of how meticulously it was conceived, no effort is without risk. However, the IEEE study suggests twelve ways to mitigate that risk.

Two of them deserve special attention:

  1. Set and document realistic and meaningful project goals, and
  2. Craft well designed project requirements.

Think about that for a moment. Two of the major reasons software projects fail (and a website is a form of software) – costing billions to the organizations who initiate them (passed on to everyone else through higher prices, taxes, or debt) – have to do with the act of defining the thing the team is building. Analytics guru Avinash Kaushik (Web Analytics an Hour a Day, Web Analytics 2.0) put it this way

“The root cause of failure in most digital marketing campaigns is not the lack of creativity in the banner ad or TV spot or the sexiness of the website. It is not even (often) the people involved. It is quite simply the lack of structured thinking about what the real purpose of the campaign is and a lack of an objective set of measures with which to identify success or failure.”

 The problem, more often than not, isn’t the lack of a definition, but an abundance of them. To make sure your team working toward the same end, your company needs a well-designed, structured measurement model that follows the project through each stage of the development cycle. This will keep the entire team focused on the objectives and guide the user experience strategy.

 There are 5 steps to building an effective measurement model.

  1. Define Your Objectives – There are three outcomes that can be defined here. Only three. Increase revenue, decrease costs, and improve customer/audience loyalty. Everything else is in service of one of these three. These objectives must be specific, measurable, achievable, and they must deliver value to the organization.
  2. Assign Goals for Each Objective – Goals are the ways to achieve the business objectives. They represent the strategy (not the tactics) the campaign is delivering on. To demonstrate this, consider that one of your goals may be to generate leads. A company can debate the way to get that lead based on effectiveness and resources. Is a simple contact form sufficient, or should they require contact information to download a whitepaper?
  3. Identify Key Performance Indicators (KPI) – A KPI is just a metric on steroids -- one that ties performance directly to your business goals. There are a number of metrics that it’s a good idea to track, but if a metric you feel is critical to your success doesn’t meet that criterion, either the metric is wrong or the model is.
  4. Set Targets – These are specific, numeric goals for your KPIs. In order to know whether the target is achievable, you will need to know or be able to find out what it is worth to your organization. Get the finance department involved. Look at your historical metrics. Use one of the lifetime customer value calculators floating out there.
  5. Segment – This is the key to getting actionable intelligence out of the data. It allows you to see who your most valuable consumers are. It allows you to see which advertising is most effective, under what circumstances, and how long it takes to convert and what the most common paths are.

It seems paradoxical, but the best way to improve your business quickly is to slow down. Do not rush right past the definition stage into the project design faintly hoping that it will provide executives comfort that the project is moving forward. Instead pace the progress appropriately to help them understand the activities that are necessary to improve their business. This will save you time and money in the design process by eliminating rework as each team member attempts to identify all of the incongruous assumptions on the fly, and will increase your opportunity for success for the entire project. 

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