All businesses utilize some level of metrics—statistics that give measurable and quantifiable insight into the health of the business—be it sales, site hits, active users or other. Metrics provide businesses with the targeted data needed to retool, update and operate in the most successful manner necessary for their client base.
It was regularly drilled into the team at the internet startup that metrics were key. Metrics should drive how we create, build, and reposition our service. This was a top-down mandate brought on by the executive staff in an attempt to gather only board-friendly data for the board. The funny thing about metrics is that the numbers are not always what you want—or even expect—them to be. Our problem was that we were asked to measure the wrong things, for the wrong reasons, and, more often than not, threw out the measurements entirely based on preconceived notions.
Case in point: those of us on the UX/UI team used Google Analytics—a free service with a deep dive into front-end metrics—to determine the actions of real users, whether intended or unintended. We could see how users defaulted to counterintuitive actions when the action they needed was nonworking on nonexistent. We were able to use these metrics to better hone the product to better serve our clients. At one point, while designing a new set of charting features, we realized that 92% of users switched to a chart view that showed their earnings—this was backed up by user feedback requesting that chart view be front and center. We used this metric as the basis for setting the default chart view to earnings.
This wasn’t okay with the CEO; he requested that we change the default view back to the earlier setting. When we presented our metrics (as he’d mandated) he responded with “Well, metrics don’t matter in this case.” Why? Because it didn’t represent a number he wanted to see and the number didn’t match his personal view of how users interact with the site. Against statistical evidence, and user demand, we returned the default view to his preference. Given, the end result to the user is that they only needed to make one more click to get to the information they wanted to see, but by ignoring users’ needs and preferences we created more frustration and animosity towards the company from our user base.
All businesses use metrics, and that’s a good thing. We need to have a quantitative understanding of how our business is performing. However, we have to accept that the good comes with the bad and respond accordingly. Mandating measures, but being selective in their use will only cripple your product. Along with listening to your clients and employees, metrics present both positive and negative feedback for your business; it’s how we respond to that feedback that can make our businesses grow and prosper.