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We make things. You, reading this, make things; directly or indirectly. We work to make and support things. We do what we do for a reason, for a purpose. We want to be successful. Success can mean and look like many different things. So, how do you figure out what success is and what leads to it? It takes curiosity, patience, and 3 questions.

What does success look like?

Success happens when goals are realized. It’s an amazing feeling when time spent working amounts to real measurable results. The catch is that we can’t arrive to that feeling of deep satisfaction if we don’t ask the question – What is success?

No matter the industry you work in, it’s crucial to have your finger on the pulse of what makes the things you’re involved in producing successful. This applies to things big and small; from features and buttons to entire sites and applications. By answering this question, you and the entire team get clarity on what you’re trying to achieve (and why) for everything you do. Once you know what success is, the next question naturally arises:

What measures will you use to define that success?

For the purposes of business and working in teams, success should be measurable. If it isn’t measurable, redefine what you see as success. At this stage, you need to connect what you see as success (growing a user base, retaining users, increasing engagement, etc.) with numbers. Don’t worry about tools yet, those come later. For now, just make sure that success can conceptually be tied to numbers. For example, you may want to increase the user base, so the measure used to define that success would be amount of signups or monthly revenue. Simple. Now this gets fun:

What are the leading indicators of that success?

Once we know what success looks like and what measures we will use to define it… well, now we’re ready to think about how we arrive to those measures. Because, you see, things like sign ups and monthly revenue are lagging indicators. Things like home page bounce rate, click through to sign up, sign up form drop-off, etc. are leading indicators. Leading indicators make the news, lagging indicators report the news.

What you pick as leading indicators always start as hypotheses, as educated guesses. We’re not touching actual data yet, so get informed about all the magical trackable touchpoints available and use your instincts to make educated guesses about what you think will lead to those measures of success you defined.

As soon as you have a good idea of what success looks like and what may lead to it, you will then be ready to manifest your vision and think about tools. I’ll write about picking the right tools in a later post.

  1. What does success look like?
  2. What measures will you use to define that success?
  3. What are the leading indicators of that success?

Without knowing what you’re trying to measure and why – any tools you select will only serve to complicate an already significant undertaking. For now, focus on these first 3 questions – answer them well and you’ll know what to do next. Choosing tools is the fun part, and much easier, when you know what you want the tools to do.

Finally, it should be said that this isn’t easy. Asking difficult questions about success can make anyone slightly nervous, but at the end of the day everything we do is done for a purpose – knowing this purpose and understanding what success is for all you do will help you make truly epic shit.