Welcome to Part 3 of my series on Product Operations. In the previous parts, we have delved into the concept, benefits, challenges, and real-world applications of Product Operations (ProductOps). In this final instalment, I’ll provide practical advice on implementing ProductOps in your organisation. If you’ve been following along, have any questions, or want to share your experiences, please don’t hesitate to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
How to Implement Product Operations:
The first step towards implementing ProductOps in your organisation is understanding your current product management processes and workflows. This involves auditing your current tools, technologies, and methodologies to identify gaps and areas for improvement.
Once you understand your current state, you can start planning your ProductOps implementation. This typically involves the following steps:
Define your objectives and KPIs: Before implementing ProductOps, you should clearly understand what you hope to achieve. This could be anything from improving efficiency and consistency to enhancing collaboration and data-driven decision-making.
Assemble your ProductOps team: A successful ProductOps function requires a cross-functional team with diverse skills. This includes operational skills, technical expertise, and a deep understanding of product management. Business Analysts often make great ProductOps people as they understand processes, business value, are great communicators and love solving problems with pragmatism.
Standardise processes and procedures: ProductOps involves creating standardised processes and procedures that can be used across all your products. This includes everything from product planning and prioritisation to communication and collaboration.
Implement tools and technologies: ProductOps teams often manage the tools and technologies used by product teams. This might involve selecting and implementing new tools or optimising existing ones.
Measure and optimise: After implementing ProductOps, it’s important to continually measure performance against your KPIs and look for opportunities to optimise. This could involve refining your processes, upskilling your team, or investing in new technologies.
Implementing Product Operations can be complex, but the benefits make it worthwhile. By implementing ProductOps, organisations can drive efficiency and consistency, enable data-driven decision-making, and free up Product Managers to focus on strategic, higher-value activities.
Remember, ProductOps is not a one-size-fits-all solution, and the best approach will vary depending on your organisation’s unique needs and circumstances. Be prepared to adapt and evolve your approach as you go.
That concludes our series on Product Operations. I hope you’ve found it informative and insightful. As always, I welcome your thoughts and feedback, so please don’t hesitate to contact me at email@example.com.
Welcome to Part 2 of my series on Product Operations. In the first part, I explored the concept of Product Operations (ProductOps) and its potential benefits and challenges. We also looked at which types of organisations can get the most value from implementing a ProductOps function.
In this part, I will delve into real-world applications of Product Operations, illustrating how it works in practice and its impacts on Product Management and the wider organisation. If you are a Product Operations specialist or your organisation has implemented ProductOps, I’d love to hear about your experiences. Please feel free to get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Real-World Applications of Product Operations:
Having spoken to Product Operations leaders across Europe, it is clear that there is a definitive need for this new strategic function. There is more pressure than ever for Product Managers and technology teams to be focused on constantly delivering value.
To illustrate the real-world applications of Product Operations, let’s consider an example of a fast-growing tech company with a diverse product portfolio. This company has a team of Product Managers overwhelmed with operational tasks, such as defining processes, managing tools and technologies, and facilitating communication and collaboration.
In this scenario, implementing a ProductOps function can significantly ease the burden on Product Managers. A dedicated Product Operations team can take over operational tasks, allowing Product Managers to focus on higher-value activities, like strategic planning, innovation, and driving customer value.
This team would work closely with Product Managers and other cross-functional teams, identifying areas for improvement, driving efficiencies, and helping to streamline workflows. They would also be critical in driving data-driven decision-making, ensuring product decisions are grounded in solid, reliable data.
Moreover, the Product Operations team would work to standardise organisational processes and procedures, ensuring consistency and efficiency. This standardisation is particularly valuable in a company with a diverse product portfolio, where consistency in process and procedure can lead to inefficiencies and misunderstandings.
The team would also manage the tools and technologies used by Product Managers, ensuring they have the resources they need to do their jobs effectively.
The Impact of Product Operations:
Implementing a dedicated ProductOps function can have far-reaching impacts across an organisation.
Firstly, it allows Product Managers to focus on their roles’ strategic, higher-value aspects, potentially leading to increased innovation and more customer-centric product development.
Secondly, a dedicated ProductOps function can drive efficiencies across the organisation, particularly in companies with diverse product portfolios. By standardising processes and procedures, ensuring efficient communication and collaboration, and driving data-driven decision-making, ProductOps can reduce inefficiencies and optimise workflows.
Lastly, ProductOps can foster a culture of continuous improvement within an organisation. By constantly looking for ways to improve and streamline workflows, ProductOps encourages everyone in the organisation to think about how they can work more effectively and efficiently.
Stay tuned for Part 3 of this series, where I will explore how to implement Product Operations in your organisation.
Traditional project management often relies on planning as a static map, complete with fixed dates to guide a team’s journey. In contrast, a modern, collaborative approach offers dynamic planning, allowing teams to navigate the constantly changing landscape of project delivery. This article explores why this flexible style trumps the limitations of traditional planning models.
The Pitfalls of Fixed Dates in Traditional Planning
Traditional planning tends to hinge on establishing immutable deadlines. While structured, this approach often leaves teams scrambling when faced with unexpected changes, causing missed deadlines and eroding trust between teams, leadership, and the wider business.
A Dynamic Approach: Continuous Planning
Planning evolves from a static page into a navigational exercise in a modern approach. Teams engage in ongoing adjustments throughout the project’s lifecycle, focusing less on specific end dates and more on the journey’s nuances.
Benefits of Continuous Planning
Adaptability: Teams can adjust to shifting market conditions or unforeseen challenges.
Risk Mitigation: Continuous updates to the plan allow for early identification and mitigation of risks.
Clear Pathway: This ensures that teams remain aligned and focused, providing the flexibility to pivot when necessary.
Focused Execution: Teams can zero in on the most impactful areas, ensuring their efforts are optimally directed.
Understanding Dependencies: Ongoing planning illuminates dependencies, allowing for coordinated action.
Transparency: Regular planning updates give stakeholders an accurate view of the project’s status, aiding more informed decision-making.
Real-world Example: The Ripple Effects of a Failed Product Launch
Traditional methods might initially seem appealing in a complex product launch, particularly to executives. A rigid roadmap with fixed deadlines offers the illusion of control and predictability, allowing other parts of the business to align their activities and budgets around those dates. However, this rigidity often turns into a liability.
When the roadmap fails to adapt to changing market demands or technical challenges, missed deadlines can have ripple effects far beyond the project team. These failures can disrupt other departments’ plans, affect cash flows, and even impact shareholder confidence if planned revenues don’t materialise. What was initially seen as a tool for stability can quickly become a significant source of instability across the organisation.
Building Confidence in Dates
Continuous planning doesn’t mean avoiding commitments to deadlines. Instead, it cultivates confidence in those dates, allowing for advanced notice of potential delays and making course corrections as needed. This ensures that trust remains intact, sidestepping the element of surprise and disappointment.
Leadership’s Role: Steering the Ship and Guiding the Fleet
In the modern approach to planning, leadership takes on an expanded role. Leaders are not just directing their teams but also navigating alongside steering committees (Steercos), who may be new to this flexible way of working.
Strategies for Leaders in Supporting Their Teams
Leaders must create the right conditions for their teams to succeed in navigating their journey. Here are a few strategies that Leaders can draw upon to support this effort.
Facilitate Open Communication: Create forums for regular updates, ensuring transparent, two-way communication between all involved.
Empower Teams: Delegate decision-making to those closest to the work, fostering agility and confidence.
Iterative Learning: Advocate for a culture where lessons are continuously drawn, and adjustments are made in real time.
Dynamic Team Allocation: Balance long-term objectives with the flexibility to reassign team members and budget quickly in response to changes, prioritising critical areas.
Outcome Alignment: Ensure that the teams and the Steercos are aligned on the outcomes, reducing the likelihood of misunderstandings and costly shifts in direction.
Engage Stakeholders: Regularly update stakeholders, including steering committees, to maintain alignment on strategy and progress.
How Leaders Can Engage With Their Peers and Steering Committees (Steercos)
Leaders not only need to support their teams, they also need to educate and include their peers and internal functions like Steering Committees to ensure that they are also taken on this journey and understand how to best adapt to this new way of working.
Here are some suggestions on some approaches that could be taken.
Education: Educate Steercos on the benefits of a modern, dynamic approach through workshops or case studies.
Inclusion: Make them part of the decision-making process, not just an oversight body.
Transparency: Share regular and clear updates, demonstrating that a flexible approach doesn’t lack accountability.
Collaborative Decision-Making: Give them a seat at the table when significant project decisions are made.
Celebrate Milestones: Acknowledge achievements, both big and small, showcasing the value of the modern approach.
This modern approach to continuous planning offers a dynamic, responsive, and more trustworthy framework, especially suited for today’s complex, fast-paced projects. This planning style is not an isolated activity but an integral part of the project lifecycle, supplying teams with the flexibility and confidence they need for successful delivery.
By shifting from a static, date-centric model to a more dynamic, adaptive methodology, teams, leaders, and businesses stand to gain more than just completed projects—they build a foundation of trust and flexibility that benefits the entire organisation.
In the early days of Agile, the intended focus was on collaboration, adaptability, and delivering value to customers. The Agile Manifesto, penned by seventeen software developers in 2001, was a reaction against cumbersome, process-heavy methodologies. It was a call to focus on a more human-centric approach to software development.
Fast forward to today, and it’s not uncommon to see Agile environments where processes and procedures have taken over, sometimes overshadowing the very principles that the founders championed.
Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
Working software over comprehensive documentation
Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
Responding to change over following a plan
While there is value in the items on the right, the manifesto asserts that the items on the left are valued more.
The Slippery Slope of Anti-patterns
The anti-patterns described below often arise from well-intentioned efforts to achieve the values on the left side of the manifesto. In our pursuit of efficiency, collaboration, and adaptability, it’s surprisingly easy to slide into the practices on the right inadvertently.
Regular reflection, tracking progress, and maintaining accountability can help navigate this fine line.
Through the lens of TechPulse, a fictional SaaS company based in the UK, we will explore some common anti-patterns that have emerged in the Agile landscape and how they identified and overcame them.
Individuals and Interactions over Processes and Tools
Value: Empowering our team and fostering collaboration is central to Agile. At TechPulse, we believe that human connections drive creativity and innovation.
Anti-pattern Scenario: A new tool was introduced to automate communication, but it reduced face-to-face interaction, leading to misunderstandings, low morale, and a decline in team cohesion.
Identification: TechPulse noticed a drop in creativity and collaboration, prompting a review of communication practices. Surveys and feedback revealed the tool was hindering and not helping this scenario.
Turnaround: Encourage regular team meetings and use tools that facilitate, not replace human interaction. Balance technology with personal connections and ensure tools align with team needs.
Working Software over Comprehensive Documentation
Value: Prioritising functional software ensures that we meet customers’ needs efficiently. At TechPulse, we focus on delivering value through working products.
Anti-pattern Scenario: Obsession with documentation delayed a release and caused confusion. The extensive documentation quickly became outdated, causing inconsistencies in the project.
Identification: Delays and confusion led TechPulse to evaluate its documentation approach. A review revealed that excessive documentation was hindering progress.
Turnaround: Implement a “just enough” documentation approach focusing on what’s essential and ensure that code is written clearly with clear unit, integration and end-to-end tests.
Customer Collaboration over Contract Negotiation
Value: Engaging with customers for success is key. At TechPulse, we believe in building products that resonate with our clients’ needs.
Anti-pattern Scenario: A rigid contract with a major client led to a lack of flexibility. When the client’s needs changed, the contract’s inflexibility hindered our ability to adapt.
Identification: Client dissatisfaction and strained relationships alerted TechPulse to the need for more flexible agreements. Regular feedback sessions revealed the contract was too restrictive.
Turnaround: Craft flexible contracts that allow for ongoing collaboration. Regularly review and adjust agreements to align with evolving project goals and maintain open communication with clients.
Responding to Change over Following a Plan
Value: Flexibility and adaptability are core to Agile. At TechPulse, we strive to be responsive to market trends and customer needs.
Anti-pattern Scenario: A rigid product roadmap led to a loss of market share when unable to adapt to a competitor’s disruptive technology. The inability to deviate from the plan cost us valuable opportunities.
Identification: Falling behind competitors prompted TechPulse to reassess its planning approach. Analysis revealed that the rigid planning process was stifling innovation.
Turnaround: Adopt an adaptive planning approach, focusing on fewer measurable outcomes, allowing for regular reassessment and realignment with market trends. Encourage a culture that views change as an opportunity, not a threat, and foster team collaboration to ensure alignment.
The Agile Manifesto is about finding the right balance. At TechPulse, our fictional journey illustrates how over-emphasising the items on the right can disrupt our goals.
By recognising these anti-patterns and implementing the suggested turnarounds, we can embrace a balanced approach that truly reflects the Agile philosophy.
Our experience with TechPulse reminds us that the Agile Manifesto is not a rigid set of rules but a guiding philosophy that requires understanding, adaptation, and balance. Continual reflection on the values and principles of the manifesto helps us avoid common pitfalls and ensures that we remain aligned with our core objectives.
Creating value for customers and driving business growth is paramount in product management. However, Product Managers are often burdened with operational tasks that take away valuable time and energy from strategic activities.
This is where Product Operations, or ProductOps, comes into play. In this article, we will explore the concept of Product Operations, its benefits, potential challenges, and how it can empower Product Managers to focus on creating the most value for customers and businesses. By balancing operational efficiency and strategic innovation, organisations can maximise their potential for success.
Are you a Product Operations specialist? Has your organisation implemented ProductOps? If so, I’d love to hear from you and hear your stories on what went well, what didn’t, and what you’d do differently in the future – email me directly at email@example.com.
What is Product Operations?
Product Operations, or ProductOps, is a strategic function that shares similarities with DevOps in its objective and philosophy.
ProductOps encompasses a range of activities, including streamlining workflows, defining processes, driving data-driven decision-making, managing tools and technologies, and ensuring efficient communication and collaboration.
While DevOps focuses on operational challenges to enable software engineers to focus on writing good software, ProductOps aligns people, processes, and technology to optimise product management efforts. It acts as a bridge between product management, development, marketing, and other cross-functional teams.
Not all organisations have a dedicated DevOps team; ProductOps can be approached similarly. Instead of establishing a separate Product Operations team, organisations can empower their Product Managers to streamline their work and share their learnings with their peers, benefiting the entire organisation.
If the conditions are right, establishing Product Operations as a dedicated function within an organisation, much like DevOps in a software development context, companies can unlock the full potential of their Product Managers and drive sustainable growth.
Is Product Operations for Every Organisation?
While the benefits of Product Operations are considerable, it is essential to note that there might be better fits for some organisations.
Like many strategic functions, Product Operations can provide the most value in organisations with mature product practices where specific operational challenges may be inhibiting the performance of Product Managers.
When an organisation is discovering or refining its product management principles, introducing Product Operations might add more complexity than streamline processes. The focus should be on first establishing a strong product management foundation.
However, for organisations with mature product practices, Product Operations can play a pivotal role in operationalising and automating a lot of the busy work that takes away from the core responsibilities of Product Managers.
A mature product organisation often has well-defined processes, clear product strategies, and an established product culture. However, operational tasks can still become time-consuming or unwieldy due to the complexities of scale.
It is in these scenarios where Product Operations can truly shine. By handling the operational burdens and optimising workflows, ProductOps frees Product Managers and technology teams to focus on higher-value activities such as strategic planning, innovation, and customer value.
Therefore, while Product Operations can be a powerful strategic function, organisations should consider their current product maturity level before evaluating the need to establish a ProductOps function.
Regardless of an organisation’s product maturity, the ultimate aim should be to ensure that Product Managers can focus on what they do best – creating outstanding products that deliver value to customers and drive business growth. Stay tuned for Part 2, where we will dive into real-world examples of ProductOps.
In the ever-evolving landscape of product management, aspiring leaders often find themselves caught in a whirlwind of tasks and responsibilities.
The demands of stakeholders, the need to connect with customers, hypothesis creation, engineering team support, and participation in various agile ceremonies can overwhelm even the most dedicated product manager.
The key to success lies in the art of effective prioritisation.
This article aims to guide aspiring UK product leaders in navigating the complexities of their roles, helping them regain control of their time, focus on the right tasks, and achieve impactful outcomes.
Embrace Strategic Vision
To overcome the challenges of prioritisation, aspiring product leaders must adopt a strategic mindset. This begins with setting clear objectives that align with the overarching business goals. Understanding the ‘why’ behind your tasks provides a solid foundation for making informed decisions about where to invest your precious time and energy.
Harness the Eisenhower Matrix
The Eisenhower Matrix, also known as the Urgent-Important Matrix, is a venerable tool for prioritisation. Categorise tasks into four quadrants: Urgent and Important, Important but Not Urgent, Urgent but Not Important, and Neither Urgent nor Important. By concentrating on tasks in the “Important but Not Urgent” quadrant, you can prevent crises and allocate time for strategic planning.
Utilise the RICE Framework
The RICE framework (Reach, Impact, Confidence, Effort) offers a systematic approach to evaluating potential initiatives. Assign scores to each component and prioritise projects based on their RICE score. This method ensures that your efforts are focused on projects with a high potential for impact while minimising distractions.
Mastery of Delegation
One of the hallmarks of effective leadership is recognising that you don’t have to handle everything yourself. Delegating tasks that can be managed by others frees up your time for high-priority responsibilities. Effective delegation empowers your team and guards against burnout.
Set SMART Goals
The SMART goal-setting technique (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-Bound) provides a structured framework for defining objectives. Break down larger goals into smaller, actionable tasks that are aligned with your strategic vision. This approach enhances clarity and keeps you on the path to success.
Prioritise Customer Insights
While engaging with customers is a crucial aspect of successful product management, it’s important to focus on gathering insights that directly impact your current objectives. Selective customer interactions ensure you remain customer-centric without becoming overwhelmed by excessive feedback.
Adopt Agile Time Management
Just as Agile methodologies drive product development, they can also guide time management. Implement practices like time-boxing and regular retrospectives to continuously refine and optimise your approach to prioritisation.
Mitigate Meeting Fatigue
Meetings are essential for collaboration, but an excess of meetings can drain valuable time and productivity. Evaluate the necessity of each meeting and explore alternatives like concise status updates or asynchronous communication to alleviate the burden.
Embrace the 2-Minute Rule
Tasks that take less than two minutes to complete should be tackled immediately. This rule prevents minor tasks from accumulating and consuming your mental resources.
Regularly Review and Adapt
Prioritisation is an ongoing process. Dedicate time each week to review your goals, tasks, and progress. Adjust your priorities as necessary, considering changing circumstances, emerging opportunities, and new insights.
Seek Feedback and Mentorship
Don’t hesitate to seek feedback from peers, mentors, or seasoned product leaders. Their valuable insights can provide fresh perspectives on your prioritisation strategies and offer suggestions for improvement based on their wealth of experience.
Becoming a successful product leader is a journey filled with challenges, but with effective prioritisation strategies in place, aspiring UK product managers can confidently navigate the complexities of their roles.
By embracing strategic vision, using powerful frameworks, mastering delegation, and staying customer-focused, these managers can rise above the daily chaos and concentrate on tasks that truly matter. Through these strategies, aspiring product leaders can confidently lead their teams towards innovation and success, impacting the products they create and the businesses they serve.
Data Management Platforms (DMP), are certainly a hot topic as companies look to take more control over data generated by their various consumer touchpoints and their offline channels.
DMPs also allow these companies to connect their data to third party sources to help fill gaps, provide deeper insights on their customer base and find new correlations in new markets or new opportunities to improve the customer journey.
In this DMP Buyer’s Guide, I will be outlining the top 12 things to look for when going through a DMP selection process. These are not meant to be easy questions for the vendor. They are designed to give you the best information to make the best decision on which vendor you should choose.
The DMP is a complex system that does a lot of things. It is therefore important to start to understand how the technology works and some of the underlying processes and methods the system uses.
How many server to server implementations does the DMP have?
What is the process for on-boarding a new vendor that is not listed?
How does the DMP approach mobile data, tracking and cross device?
How does the DMP approach data matching with other providers?
Do they have a built-in marketplace? If so, which vendors are available?
Do they use mapping tables, server to server or real-time to match data?
What are the current average match rates?
Is real-time really real-time?
The main use of a DMP is to collect, store and organise data. Therefore it is of paramount importance for you to understand the types, method and complexity of 1st, 2nd and 3rd party data the platform can ingest.
1st Party Data
First party data being data that your company has generated on their owned platforms.
Offline data – in-store for example
2nd Party Data
Second party data is another company’s 1st party data.
Can the platform facilitate 2nd party data sharing?
Do they have 2nd party data exchanges within their platform?
If so, what could be applicable for this company?
3rd Party Data
Third party data is another company’s data and is generally anonymous or aggregated online only data – such as Experian, MasterCard and Acxiom who can supply information such as demographics, propensity to purchase etc.
How many and which vendors are available within the platform?
Which suppliers are most relevant for the company?
The whole point of a DMP is to collect data about users and to create audience groups based on a series of criteria and rules. So it is really important to understand how easy is it to set these up and how they work.
What tools does the platform have?
Do they offer any professional services in this area?
Any algorithmic segment capabilities?
What predefined taxonomies exist?
Any dynamic / algorithmic taxonomies?
Does the platform employ any machine learning or AI?
If so, what does it do?
Does it only improve my capabilities or does it improve for other clients?
Your DMP is not going to be used by only technical people. It is likely to be used by marketing, sales and other teams, so it needs to be easy to use and intuitive.
User management – super users through to read only
Are there video tutorials available on demand? How is the help section formatted and is it easily searchable?
If you are going to activate your data in the DMP across various media channels, it is important that you know which channels and see which vendors the DMP already has integrations with and for how long.
Matching user IDs between partners is generally automated. If you need the DMP to integrate with a new vendor, this can be challenging, expensive and it can take time for the DMP to create a matching database.
Go in with your eyes open.
Which media channels / vendors does the DMP have integrated already?
Which ones are the most important to the client?
Will the client need to change suppliers?
What is the process to on-board new suppliers if needed?
Costs involved? Timings?
Getting the right data into the platform is massively important, but just as important is the insight you get from that data. So make sure that you find out about the analytical tools the platform provides to measure audiences and media performance.
What are the reporting capabilities in the platform? What is available?
Data overlap / lookalike / quality measures (reach, cost, relevancy)
Can the DMP ingest performance data – programmatic, biddable, search?
If so, how easy is it to integrate?
Custom reporting capabilities and any associated costs
Rolling out a DMP can often be a long and drawn out process. It is important that as a client, you have enough time and resources to make sure that the right data is going into the platform.
It is also important that the vendor ensures that they are deploying enough resources to make the partnership a success. Whatever they put in the contract, make sure you question the assumptions and understand any processes in place.
Set-up resource support from vendor
Fully resourced team included in the cost?
Additional service at a cost?
Ongoing resource support
How do they service the account?
Level of support?
Approach and compliance to industry and legal privacy rules.
What provisions are in place around European Privacy laws and future changes?
What processes are in place to avoid any PII issues with CRM for instance?
Can PII make it into the system? What defences are in place?
Often, the commercials focus on how many profiles the platform will be storing or how much traffic is hitting their servers from the web site tags or SDKs.
It is also important to understand costs around matching your data to other data sources and for any bespoke work that needs to be completed.
Need to think about 2nd / 3rd party data matching
Integrating new partners
Custom work with 1st party data requirements
As a potential new vendor relationship, it is important to understand if the vendor has worked in your industry before and with similar businesses. Will this be a voyage of discovery for the vendor? How likely will they be to make mistakes?
Any similar clients?
Typical use cases that the DMP has already fulfilled?
Non-typical – things that clients have learned that they weren’t expecting or found surprising
Sometimes these technology suppliers are owned by a larger company – Krux is owned by Salesforce for example. Sometimes, if you already have a large engagement with a specific vendor, your rates could be reduced as a result.
Has the vendor already got technology or products within your business?
It is important to understand how the product will be improved over time and in which areas the vendor is focusing. Is it in line with your own plans? What are the main challenges they are responding to?
What is planned for future releases?
Access to Alphas and Betas?
What influence could client have on the product roadmap?
How often does the company release? How are clients notified?
I have always prided myself on my management and leadership skills throughout my career.
I have always tried to be extremely conscious of leading by example, giving colleagues freedom to make their own decisions and to foster trust, self organisation and ownership within teams that I have managed.
In hindsight, I feel that this has been the illusion of leadership dressed up as good management and I have only had my first real experience of myself as a leader very recently.
One of the teams that I am responsible for is recruiting for a new team member. I had left the team’s director and team leader to run the recruitment process and I would only be involved at second interview stage to sense check and offer a second opinion.
The two people that I met with were very different and I had quite strong opinions on whom we should hire.
Being relatively new to my role, I have already built up a strong relationship with the team’s director and I know how long it has taken him to build up his team and to build a great level of trust, self organisation and ownership – much like how I have prided my teams in the past.
There I was, sat with him and his Team Lead trying to convince him that my opinion was right. I caught myself doing this and very quickly realised that I had been on the other side of the table on the receiving end of such a conversation in the past and how I had felt.
I’m meant to be helping, coaching, and mentoring; not dictating, persuading and influencing like other managers had done to me.
Very quickly I stopped what I was saying mid-conversation and apologised. I explained that I was letting my passion for doing what I felt right for the team, cloud what I should have been doing… Trusting my team to self organise and own the process. Going against the very principles that I had prided myself on.
This has been a very important lesson for me and this is definitely a moment where I can see my leadership qualities starting to come out.
Being self conscious and striving to lead is important, but it really needs to come from within and be a part of you. It also takes time to learn and for it to be a natural part of your everyday being.
I have read many books and blog posts on leadership so I know the theory. Even though I have been putting these things I have learned into practise, it’s only now that I feel that I am taking that important first step into being a great leader.
Digital Analytics is becoming more and more core to a business’ strategy. Without a good Digital Analytics team and implementation in place, a business cannot measure its performance, set KPIs, test new functionality and spot opportunities for new product development.
After working with different analytics platofrms and more recently running the Digital Analytics team at IPC Media, I am highlighting some of the challenges that companies and teams face on a daily basis to help better prepare you to make more informed decisions.
Finding the right analytics tool for the job
How do you decide which analytics platform to choose? If you want a traditional analytics product for free, then Google Analytics is the first port of call for most people – but there are limitations.
The free version is extremely fully featured and initially very simple to implement. Just past the code into your site and away you go. Some issues are that you only get 5 custom variables and is limited to 10million hits. Anything above 10million may not be collected.
Some limitations that I find with Google Analytics are:
Data sampling – when looking at segmented data and longer time frames, Google Analytics samples the data to ensure the speed of the interface. This causes issues because the advertising and business want to see the raw numbers.
Unsampeld data – to get the raw data is cumbersome. Also, the GA APIs can contain sampled data as well. They do have an integration with Google Big Query, but again, this is not very straight forward
Limited dashboards – the dashboards can be effective if kept simple, but most of the time you cannot do what you want to do. No customisation is possible and you can only add 12 reportlets to the dashboard.
Custom metrics – you can only use the metrics deemed important by Google. You cannot create your own metrics such as pages per user, time spend per user, etc.
I currently use Google Analytics Premium at work. We did used to use Adobe Analytics which is actually a superior product, but is also considerably more expensive. It does not sample data, allows for more customisation and you can create your own metrics. Google Analytics is definitely getting there with this with Universal Analytics.
I have not yet upgraded our sites to Universal Analytics, so I cannot really comment on it just yet.
There are also a number of new tools on the block such as MixPanel, ChartBeat and Parse.ly. These offer a different take on analytics – looking at tracking events rather than traditional page views (MixPanel) and real-time analytics (ChartBeat and Parse.ly).
It means that whenever you want to make a change you do not need to change code on the site. A lot of these Tag Management systems also allow you to listen out for certain events to fire before tracking is collected – so a click on a button, a specific page load, signing up to a newsletter etc.
Having the right tools is one thing. The next most important thing is to ensure that you have the right people in place to be able to help set a sound analytics strategy, implement the code, analyse the data and make recommendations.
Ideally, you would also ensure that the culture within the business focuses on this data and uses it to help direct decision making. What’s the point in having great data if its not being used.
I am finding that you get a real mix of people through job sites like LinkedIn and TotalJobs. I would recommend trying to build a network of analysts through meet ups like Web Analytics Wednesdays and MeasureCamp.
Hiring a good analyst is key here. If you are just starting out on your Analytics journey, I could not recommend more you hiring a good analyst with at least 3-5 years’ experience. I would also suggest that you get someone who has implementation experience as this will really help you to have the right tracking in place for the metrics that are important to your business.
I would suggest either trying to headhunt or use an agency for this initial hire.
There are a lot of very good contractors out there, but they can be relatively expensive. In my experience, good permanent analysts are not actively searching for roles on LinkedIn and other job sites. They work with agencies and you need to work hard to find them.
The only other route would be to work with an analytics agency. I have only worked with two – Acceleration for an Adobe SiteCatalyst implementation project and Periscopix for our move to Google Analytics Premium and ongoing consultancy. Both of whom I would recommend to anyone asking.
Having the right people in place is obviously important, but so too is keeping their skills inline with current trends and new technologies. So too is training up your existing workforce to be able to pull basic reports themselves – lightening the load on your Digital Analytics team so that they can focus on the bigger stuff.
It can be quite difficult to find decent training programmes and they can be quite expensive.
http://www.digitalanalyticsassociation.org/ – This is the official Digital Analytics Association where they do courses with University of British Columbia. These are more long term courses and a great way to become a certified analyst
Tracking cookies vs tracking people
As most analytics platforms base their data on cookies, you need to understand that you are not tracking people. You are tracking a cookie on a device. This in itself leads to multiple tracking of individual users. A user could visit your site across their laptop, their mobile phone and their tablet. This one person would be tracked with three seperate cookies, and therefore as three unique users.
In addition, if a user deletes their cookies or uses Private Browsing then they will be tracked as a new user the next time they visit your site. This leads to further duplication and inflation of your user count. More on this in the next section.
36+% of Australian Internet users delete their third-party cookies in a month according to comScore report (2011)
76% of Safari users block third party cookies according to Gibson Research. (Note: This is super-high because Safari is the only browser that blocks third-party cookies by default)
Its hard to quantify, but there are a lot of people now using Private Browsing. This blog post from May 2012 suggests that 19% of survey respondents use private browsing. You can imagine that this number is now higher, two years on.
Private Browsing only stores cookies and browser history for the duration that the window is opened. As soon as the browser is closed, all cookies and data that would normally be stored by the browser is deleted.
One thing that Private Browsing doesn’t do is stop your internet activity being viewed by third parties – such as ISPs, governments or hackers – so be aware of this.
This means that any time a user comes to your web site in Private Browsing mode, they are tracked as a new user – and duplication occurs.
In terms of campaign tracking, I am referring to how you can use the UTM campaign parameters in Google Analytics to help to organise and define your marketing efforts. Google has a great tool called the URL Builder. This is really simple to use – you just paste the url you want to track, add the relevant parameters, click submit and it gives you the newly tracked url.
You can use this to track specific content that you are posting on social media, into email newsletters or for tracking PPC campaigns for example.
What you need to be very clear on is your strategy for naming conventions. I work for a very large publishing company and I see many different teams using the different campaign variables in different ways. Some people use capitalisation, they mix the source and the medium.
Also, sometimes they post the wrong tracking on the wrong web site – in other words, they post a link that they are attributing to Twitter but post it on Facebook.
This is bad because by using campaign tracking, you are overriding the defaults of the system.
This is the thing to remember. Let’s say that I wanted to promote a blog post from my site on LinkedIn. If I didn’t use campaign tracking, any traffic coming from the LinkedIn site would appear as a referral. I wouldn’t know if it was as a result of me posting the link or someone else. By using Campaign Tracking, I can attribute my posting to my efforts:
You can see from the link above, that I am declaring that linkedin will be attributed to the source, social as the medium and blog-posting as the campaign name.
If I was to post this same link on Facebook, rather than Facebook being given attribution for the referral the UTM parameters will override the defaults and attribute the traffic to LinkedIn. So you need to be ever so careful when posting these links and make sure that whatever the values are for the parameters, that you have a consistent naming convention.
Also, one last thing on this point, do not use campaign tracking for internal links!Whenever a user clicks on a link with campaign tracking, a new visit is started, even if it is in the middle of an existing visit. Instead, look to use events to track internal marketing campaigns.
Tracking traffic from Apps
One of the issues with Web Analytics systems is how referrals work. I’ll try to keep it brief as it can get complicated. In short, web analytics systems look at header information stored in the web browser to work out whether there was a referrer and if so, the url of that refferal.
A referral occurs when a user clicks on a link from one web site to another in a web browser.
When a user clicks on a link from an app, the mobile device starts up a new browser session and sends the user to that web site. Your analytics tool will not see a referral in the headers because the user did not click a link in a web browser, they clicked the link in an app.
The only way around this is to use campaign tracking of any links that may appear on apps. The main situations where this could occur are social media and email apps.
As you have seen above, by using campaign tracking, you can override the defaults. The default action when clicking on a link for analytics tools is to set the source as direct. If you used campaign tracking, this would be replaced with the attributed described in the variables.
Obviously you cannot do this for content that is shared organically by your users, but as long as you do this for any content you share yourself, you at least know that you are attributing a large amount of traffic to the right source.
IPC Media has well over 50 web sites, so having a standardised implementation across the board really helps with insight and analysis. I have mentioned earlier in the post about using a tag management system to serve your analytics tags. We have not yet done this, but we are working towards this – and it will make such a difference to us.
Just having the ability to centrally manage the implementation across all the web sites using an interface reduces the time to market of any changes that need to be made.
In addition, it takes a lot of the stress away from the development team as well as needing to get work prioritised by the business in the planning meetings. My analysts can make improvements/changes as and when required with changes easy to roll back.
Fortunately I was very clear on the requirements for the implementation of analytics at IPC Media, but I realise that others may not be. My recommendation here is to start with a minimum implementation and incrementally add to it.
Once I had my minimum implementation in place, the plan was to then incrementally improve the implementation by adding new features and events such as newsletter sign ups, competition entries etc once the page level implementation was complete.
Remember, your data is only as good as your implementation so I cannot stress enough how important it is to have someone who has experience of analytics implementation in your team looking at this on a regular basis.
Although Google Analytics Premium offers unsampled reporting, you have you specifically request each report which takes time and is a manual process. The API also returns sampled data.
Google Analytics Premium has integrated to Google Big Query which does allow you to look at hit level data to get the unsampled data. The sign up process is cumbersome with approvals required from the Google Analytics Premium team at Google. In addition, all data is put into daily tables, therefore you need to create complex queries to get the data you need out of it.
What I would love to see is that the regular Google Analytics API return unsampled data if you are a Premium user. Or at least I am given the choice of having a slower interface to get the raw data!
Big Data is one of those terms that will either get you really excited or will daunt you. For me it is the latter. I really do think that there is a lot of value to implementing Big Data solutions but only if you need it. If you are well organised, then you can quite easily bring together multiple data sources relatively cheaply and without much difficulty.
Big Data works well when you are dealing with millions and millions of rows of raw data that is unstructured and that needs a lot of filtering. In essence, tools like Google Analytics are big data platforms – just specifically for web analytics.
You can have all the systems in place, collecting every single scrap of data that your business is collecting, but without the right business questions and workers in place this data will just sit there and cost you money.
As with all these systems, I would suggest that you make sure you are extremely clear on what the KPIs are for your business and decide on the right analytics strategy. Don’t just collect data for data’s sake. Only collect the data you need to make the right decision.