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Technology UX / UI Design UX Strategy

Persuasive metrics and meaningful outcomes



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June 10, 2021 | 8 min read

Look at where we are today, look at what we’ve overcome, look at what we’ve achieved and accomplished in that time, and look at who we did it with

Look at where we are today, look at what we’ve overcome, look at what we’ve achieved and accomplished in that time, and look at who we did it with.

The above can be applied to many different scenarios, big or small. But these observations don’t always leave us with the right answers. There are additional questions we should be asking. Was the outcome meaningful? Did it make a difference? Did it contribute to the overall vision?

In the context of a project or a digital product, one way to answer these questions could be through metrics, presuming they’ve been used in the first place. Without metrics, outcomes can be difficult to measure, compare or benchmark.

In Simon Sinek’s book ‘The Infinite Game’ he describes Professor James P. Carse’s concept of two types of games; finite games and infinite games. An example of a finite game is football – a 90-minute game with a beginning, middle and end. All players of the game are known to each and play to a set of agreed rules resulting in a winner, a loser or sometimes a draw. An infinite game is not bound by any time constraints, it is played by known and unknown players with no exact or agreed rules, but allowed to break with convention at any time for reason. In an infinite game there is no finish line and no winner. The only goal of an infinite game is to keep on playing and keep the game going.

This concept of infinite games exists all around us

There is no ‘coming first’ in friendship or marriage. School is finite, but there is no winning in education or even in careers. When thinking about this in a business context, Sinek clearly points out that this is no such thing as winning in business, despite what the memes tell us. However, language used by many business leaders is focused on winning, beating the competition, ‘we are the best’ or ‘number one’.

In an infinite game where there is no finish line and time is infinite, these finite mindsets and goals are utterly impossible and cause problems around trust, corporation and innovation. Having an infinite mindset, playing in an infinite game, encourages better levels of trust, cooperation and innovation – leading people in a better direction where benefits can be shared and enjoyed, together.

Business is a perfect example of an infinite game

Sinek described a tale of two players. Recounting an experience speaking at two conferences within a few months of each other; one Microsoft and the other Apple. The Microsoft conference largely focused on how they were going to beat Apple. At the Apple conference, the focus was education, with every minute spent talking about how they were going to help teachers teach and students learn. Hopefully it is clear as to who had what mindset. One was fixated on beating the other, the other focused on making a difference.

Now re-read the passage from the start and think to yourself what trust, cooperation and innovation would look like at both organisations, as well as what kinds of metrics would have been used to communicate the outcomes at the time.

Look at where we are today, look at what we’ve overcome, look at what we’ve achieved and accomplished in that time, and look at who we did it with.

A difference in mindset can have a huge impact on a vision, how it is communicated and the choice of metrics used to track it. In Sinek's tale it was clear that Microsoft had a finite mindset and Apple’s was infinite. This resulted in very different outcomes for the both organisations. As Steve Jobs famously said. “If you keep your eye on the profit, you’re going to skimp on the product. But if you focus on making really great products, then the profits will follow.”

In short, profit is the byproduct of quality

I recently took part in an online intensive conference hosted by Jared Spool and the team at Center Centre UIE. The theme was ‘persuasive UX metrics’. Over the course of the conference my perspective of metrics changed significantly. Spool took us on a journey to re-educate our understanding of what ‘metrics’ really are and how to define them. When approached with the right mindset (an infinite mindset), metrics are incredibly valuable in communicating where we are at any given time and when we reach those moments of success, getting us closer to a shared vision.

Before sharing the analogy that Spool used throughout the week it is important to understand the definitions of the framework he shared to help us understand metrics.

Measure: An observable quantity of an object's state

Metric: Measures that we track

Analytics: Measures that computers can track

Do you know the trap that so many of us have fallen victim to? Resulting in a finite mindset? I didn’t realise it myself until Spool shared this framework and pointed it out.

It’s called ‘the analytics trap’

I know the value that data can provide us in helping us reach our goals, but honestly, it wasn’t until Spool framed metrics the way he did, that it finally clicked for me, and lined up with what I’d learned from Sinek. We can track anything we want, yet all too often we end up relying on just ‘what analytics tells us’. These metrics are not meaningful nor can they just be relied on to tell us where we should go.

What metrics should we be focusing on?

Throughout the week Spool used the analogy of a marathon to help describe three types of meaningful and persuasive UX metrics. Sure, a marathon is finite at 26 miles, plus there is a finish line at the end. However, I challenge you to think with an infinite mindset. There is never just one marathon. There are many marathons to take part in.

These three UX metric are as follows:

Success metrics: Measurements we track that tell us when we've achieved the outcome

Progress metrics: Measurements we track that tell us how far we are away from achieving the outcome

Problem-value metrics: Measurements we track that tell us how much money not achieving the outcome is currently costing the organisation

In this marathon analogy, the success metrics is the finish line that everyone knows to head towards. The progress metrics help us to understand when we have reached key milestones such as ten miles or halfway. Progress metrics also let us know if we need to take another route to reach our success metrics. Lastly, problem-value metrics are the “Heartbreak Hill” moments of the marathon where challenges appear in our path. If we overcome them, we can deliver huge value, as well as understanding the cost of not overcoming them.

Heartbreak Hill is a famous point and event of the 1936 Boston Marathon, when defending champion Johnny Kelley overtook the marathon leader Tarzan Brown, giving him a pat on the back. The pat on the back gave Tarzan a much needed motivation push to break through 'the wall' and go onto win the race. A Boston reporter wrote that Tarzan “broke Kelley's heart” on the hill, coining the name Heartbreak Hill.

Jared Spool, Maker of Awesomeness, and Leslie Jensen-Inman, co-CEO. Both of Center Centre UIE.

Marathons are in themselves, as Spool describes, big hairy audacious goals (BHAGs). There is a winner, but ultimately, that is not the point of a marathon. What's important is the journey, overcoming those Heartbreak Hill moments, sharing the experience, and striving towards a meaningful outcome. Before taking part in more marathons.

Reflecting on Sinek’s experience and applying Spool’s approach to metrics, Microsoft and Apple both had BHAGs. But the difference between the two were their mindsets, resulting in very different outcomes. Microsoft’s finite mindset was to beat Apple, and they haven’t to this day. Apple, in their infinite mindset, were and still are driven by making a difference in the world by disrupting so many industries directly and indirectly; computers, music, mobile phones, news, television, photography, apps, transportation and accommodation.

One of my key takeaways from Spool is to not limit yourself by what computers can tell you, but look at what the problems can really tell you.

We are Kyan, a technology agency powered by people.

By Will Poole - lead UX strategist at Kyan

Technology UX / UI Design UX Strategy


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