I received an insert in the mail today and while it was aimed towards something much different than software development, I thought the idea was still relevant. The flyer came with my quarterly retirement savings statement and read as follows:
Retirees Face a Different Type of ‘R and R’
With retirement account balances falling sharply in the last year or so, you may have to rethink your plans, especially if you are close to retirement. The “R&R” you may have envisioned–rest and relaxation–might have to take a back seat to another kind of R&R–reviewing and revising.
I currently spend the majority of my time developing and maintaining an e-commerce web site. Since our company and the web are constantly evolving, our work is never finished. We never have time for the rest and relaxation that “retirement” provides; we are constantly reviewing stats and analytics, while using them to revise our product. This type of R&R allows us to not only create a better product for our users, but the resulting improved user experience allows us to create a better product for the company.
In order to begin the review process, you need to look at some data. You can review the look of the site, or individual customer comments and complaints, but without the raw data at which to make your claims, you don’t have much of a case to make. With a product like ours, there’s no better way to measure patterns than with the data the users are producing just by using the site.
The revision process should be iterative. After you come up with a plan based on analytics, not based on gut feelings or emotion, you need to re-measure, then adapt. Much of this seems like common sense, but do you have the data you need to make informed decisions? Sometimes we know we do, other times we think we do, and still sometimes we do not. If you have a large scale web site, there are plenty of free and pay tools out there to help you gather this insanely useful data. If you’re not gathering the kind of data you need to make informed decisions, do your best to get something in place as soon as possible. You will not regret it!