Tuesday, September 23, 2014

A/B Testing - ensuring organizational readiness

In my previous post on the subject of A/B testing, I had talked about the need for operational and technical readiness assessment before one embarks on A/B testing. It is essential to make sure that data flows in the overall system are designed well enough to make sure user behavior can be tracked. Also the measurement system needs to be robust enough to not break when changes to the client (browser or mobile) are introduced. In reality, this is achieved by a combination of a robust platform as well as disciplined coding practices while introducing new content.

But equally important as operational/ technical readiness is organizational readiness to embrace Test and Learn. A few reasons why the organization might not be ready (despite mouthing all the right platitudes).

First, inability to recognize the need for unbiased testing in the "wild". A lot of digital product managers tend to treat usability studies, consumer research/ empathy interviews and A/B testing as somewhat interchangeable ideas. Each of these techniques have a distinct use and they need to complement each other. Specifically, A/B testing achieves the goal of evaluating a product or a feature in an environment that is most like what a consumer is likely to experience. There is no one-way mirror, no interviewer putting words in your mouth - it is all about how the product works in the context of people's lives and whether it proves itself out to be useful.

To remedy this, we have had to undertake extensive education sessions with product managers and developers around the value of A/B testing and building testing capability into the product from the get-go. While for a lot of people deep in analytics tend to find testing and experimentation a natural way to go, this approach is not obvious to everyone.

Second, the reason why A/B testing and experimentation is not embraced as it needs to be is risk aversion. There are fears (sometimes justified) that doing something different from the norm is going to be perceived by customers as disruptive to the experience they are used to. Again, this is something that needs constant education. Also, instead of doing a 50/50 split, exposing the new experience only to a small number of visitors or users (running into several thousands but in all, less that a few percentage points of the total traffic a site would see) is the way to go.

Additionally, having a specific "testing" budget agreed upfront and ensuring transparency around how the budget is getting used is an excellent way to mitigate a lot of these mostly well-meaning but also mostly unnecessary concerns.

What do you think about organizational and technical readiness? How have you addressed it in your organization while getting A/B testing off the ground? Please share in the comments area.