On controlling the narrative

There are different ways to control a narrative. There’s the old-fashioned way: Classify documents that you don’t want seen and, as Gates said, ‘‘keep mum on the details.’’ But there’s also the more modern, social-media-savvy approach: Tell the story you want them to believe. Silence is one way to keep a secret. Talking is another. And they are not mutually exclusive.

Source: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/18/magazine/what-do-we-really-know-about-osama-bin-ladens-death.html

HBR: Being early beats being better

The goal should be to get to market as quickly as possible with a product that customers will keep. If early customers abandon your product, that could erase the value of a first-mover advantage, but if your early adopters keep the product, there’s a good chance that will lead more customers to adopt it. And that dynamic, more than the technical features of the product, is what determines who wins

Source: HBR, June 2014 issue, Henrich R. Greve is a professor of entrepreneurship at INSEAD, and Marc-David L. Seidel is an associate professor of organizational behavior at the University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business.

My project approach

In the big picture of things, the web is not that old. But, like my son, it has grown leaps and bounds in a short time and is maturing at an exponential pace.

When I first started building websites back in the 90’s and met with a prospective client I’d take them through four questions which I would throw in a simple 4-column chart that looked like this:


The questions I would ask were:

  • Who’s your audience?
  • What are your objectives for each of those audiences?
  • What strategies are you going to use to fulfill each of those objectives for each of those audiences?
  • What tools/content/functionality do we need to build to address each of those strategies?

I’d take them through each question sequentially, progressively building on the prior answers, and captured everything in the clients words. In the end would have a pretty good idea of what I needed to create and could go away and build out a quick estimate and proposal knowing I had everything I needed. This approach worked pretty well (and still does) and made even small clients stop and think a bit about what it is they wanted to create and spend their money on.

Over the years I’ve adapted that model and here’s how it looks now:

Define the audience

Step back for a minute and consider who you are you building this for. Who are they? Can you describe them, tell us about them? What are their needs? Why this audience instead of another? Make some basic notes, flush out some user profiles or dive deeper and build out living, breathing personas. The better you understand “who” the better off you’ll be.

Define/discuss the business outcomes

Wikipedia defines a business outcome as “an observable result or change in business performance possibly supported by transaction-based metrics, resulting from an event or action“. IMHO every project should have a clearly articulated outcome, but most don’t. And, most companies will have a hard time explaining “why” they are spending $X with you to do X work. Outcomes bring honesty to the table and accountabilities for all involved. It’s scary for many, but worth it.

Business outcomes can be quantitative and defined in terms of their business value (e.g. create new revenue or value, save money or time, lower risk) and expressed explicitly such as “increase our sales revenue by 10%”

They can also be qualitative (e.g. general satisfaction, staff more happy and engaged).

Capture these in your client’s words. If you have some baselines you can capture (where you are now vs. where you want to be) all the better. If you can do them for each of the audiences, better still.

Plan your strategy

So what specifically are you going to do in your project to meet the business outcomes? Involve your client in this process (don’t do it in a silo). Talk about content, functionality, communication, marketing, governance, change management. Go deep. Do it as a team and get everyone involved.

Define the metrics

Your metrics should be measures that help you understand how you are doing against your outcomes. Ideally these are KPIs (rates, ratios, averages, percentages). I tend to avoid raw number because they don’t provide context.

Determine how you will measure your outcomes

Often organizations miss this part and define metrics that they have no way to measure. It’s a good check/balance for the metrics you have defined. Try questions like “what data will be used to validate the above metrics?” Where does the information reside?

Spread the word

Make sure everyone knows the outcomes and strategy. Make big signs, put them in every presentation, live and breath your client’s desired outcomes and hold each other accountable for addressing them. When you veer off-track, reconnect and review what guided you from the start.

Check to see how you are doing

Check-in frequently to see where you are at in relation to your goals. Re-visit continually during the project. Do a post-mortem at the end of your project and check again. After you’ve delivered, check back and re-evaluate. Look for opportunities to go back to the above business outcomes and deliver more value. This is where I loved being a web analyst and digging into the data, identifying opportunities to improve and make things better.

Talk about your successes and failures

Be up-front about where you’ve delivered on business outcomes and shown value. But also don’t shy away from understanding where you’ve missed the mark (as you will miss sometimes) and leverage that knowledge to do better in the future.

Hope you found this helpful and interesting. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this and your approach.