Tuesday, 3 April 2018

Why your deadline will destroy your metrics (but only if you let it)

It’s a situation that everyone working in digital has experienced. After many workshops and much thinking, your team had agreed some beautifully user-centric, value-driven measurements for the work you’re  going to deliver. You talked about Lean Analytics, and discounted any vanity metric that wouldn’t provide an actionable insight. 

Everything was going great… until the Terrible Deadline approaches, and your team gets bombarded by requests for exactly those same vanity metrics you’d decided to ignore. Then, before you know it, you’re scrambling to put together reports for your stakeholders, using measurements you know won’t reflect the real value of the work you’re doing. 

The Terrible Deadline has managed to destroy your beautiful lean metrics - again! Sound familiar? 

If this is happening to you, what can you do to stop it? Unfortunately, I haven’t found the perfect silver bullet. However, there are some things worth trying, which could help put you back on the right path (and eventually take your metrics out of harm’s way).

1. Notice it’s happening
Having the self-awareness to notice that you’re moving away from the narrow path of value-driven, lean metrics and into the wilderness of vanity ones is half the battle. If you can pick up on this as a team, and if you can do so as soon as possible, you can fix things and stop the Terrible Deadline before it does too much damage. Of course, to notice things, you need the time and space for self-reflection. Which brings me to...

2. Meet as a team and talk about it
Team retrospectives, which come from the agile framework, are simply regular meetings that offer your team a safe space to reflect on how you’re working together (you can read more about retros here). Unfortunately, when deadlines approach and time seems tight, retros tend to be one of the first things to get sacrificed, in favour of emails and PowerPoints for the stakeholders. 

So now you’re in a vicious circle: your team is under pressure and not working well, and you don’t have the chance to talk about how to fix it. What to do? Very simply: make sure your retros stay in the diary, re-schedule them if someone can’t attend, or go ahead with a smaller group and share the outcomes later. But  don’t  let your team’s balance get sacrificed to the Terrible Deadline.

3. Show the problem to your stakeholders
Once you’ve met as a team and understood the impact of the Terrible Deadline on your metrics and on your ability to stay focused, bring these insights to your stakeholders. After all, they may have no idea of what’s happening in your group! Instead of simply pushing back on a certain metric or trying to justify why you’re not using it, explain how it’s disrupting and distracting your team. 

Make sure to bring specific examples of what this means in practice, so you can show rather than tell. And if you haven’t had this conversation before, be clear on what else you want to use to measure your work’s value, and why.

4. If you fail, try again, and fail better.
Perhaps once you’ve done this, the Terrible Deadline and its vanity metrics will go away - success! Perhaps they’ll become a bit quieter, but not disappear. Or perhaps you won’t be able to escape them. 

If that’s the case, don’t let this affect your commitment to being value-driven: instead, use this as a learning opportunity. What could you do differently next time to avoid being in the same situation? What conversations could you have had before the Terrible Deadline got in sight that would have helped you later down the line? Don’t forget to have an honest, post-delivery retrospective as a team and to capture these lessons somewhere visible for both yourselves and your stakeholders. Next time, you can all use these learnings as starting point for a team charter.

These are just some ideas of things to try out - we don’t have all the answers, but at Cancer Research UK, we’ve been trying to slay the Terrible Deadline monster and to empower teams to choose, and most importantly stick to, the metrics that help them deliver value, rather than the ones that make for nice PowerPoints. If you’ve ever faced similar battles, we would love to hear your thoughts!

Giulia Merlo
Lead Proposition Manager


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