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Sitecore CMS getting started

As a marketing business user and digital strategist

It is quite possible, in my experience, to quickly acquire the knowledge and skills required to confidently utilise the Sitecore digital experience platform. In 4 months I have learnt a great deal and achieved a lot working with Sitecore, across both the composable and integrated platforms. 

The following are the resources and approaches to learning and up-skilling that I have found most effective:

Sitecore White papers

Unfortunately there is not an easy way that I can find to browse all White Papers. However here is a list of specific resources that I have found useful. As you will see, most of these gravitate around the topic of Sitecore Business Optimisation Strategies.

Sitecore Learning

https://www.sitecore.com/knowledge-center/getting-started/training/learning-subscriptions

There are free and subscription-based learning options. The free Essentials courses are good for a foundational overview. However, the new on-demand learning plans for the composable products are excellent as they go into a lot of detail and include quizzes and other practical exercises as you progress.

According to the Statistics screen within the Sitecore Learning Home portal, I have spent a total of just under 31 hours across 46 active courses in the last 4 months, with a peak period in July where I accessed 66 different training materials.

Sitecore user group events

https://www.reddit.com/r/sitecore/wiki/user-groups/

Luckily for me, the ANZ Sitecore User Group Conference 2022 (SUGCON) happened in my city the month after I started working with Sitecore. Attending this event was very impactful in accelerating my familiarity with the overall Sitecore ecosystem, including getting to meet many Sitecore clients, vendors, and other representatives.

Since then, Melbourne had its own User Group night, which was another great chance to further establish relationships across the Sitecore network, as well as giving me the opportunity to present to my peers some of the work we have been doing in the Composable space.

Many of the Sitecore User Groups post videos of their presentations on YouTube. You can find some gold when searching for a specific topic. Not surprisingly, there is a lot of content from User Groups over the last 3 years as many were conducted remotely.

YouTube videos

https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=sitecore

Speaking of YouTube, what was learning like before YouTube and 1.5x playback speed? Learning certainly took a lot longer, and was a whol lot less convenient.

I have found the Discover Sitecore channel in particular to have some high quality and instructive content –https://www.youtube.com/@DiscoverSitecore. This channel is also good very learning the very basics – https://www.youtube.com/@unofficialsitecoremarketin680/videos

Sitecore Slack

https://sitecore.chat/

To be honest, the Slack forum has not been as valuable in my learning as the other options above. The reality is that there are not as many people in the Sitecore world doing digital strategy and optimisation as there are Developers and other technical people. Subsequently, most Sitecore Slack channels don’t discuss topics relevant to me (or that I can understand!)

The ‘Learning-at-Sitecore’ channel is good for keeping up with frequent learning updates. And on the occasions where I have asked a question, responses have been relatively speedy and helpful.

Getting on the tools

The learning options above assume you have access to Sitecore products. Whilst this may be difficult for people without a Sitecore licence or who is not a partner, there is nothing stopping anyone from signing up for Sitecore Send (Moosend). It’s free to create an account and start working with the software. https://www.sitecore.com/products/send and https://moosend.com/

Of course, there is nothing like learning ‘on the job’. For all the hours I’ve spent in Sitecore Learning and watching YouTube videos, working with real clients and implementing real optimisation use cases is the quickest and most effective way to accelerate from a newbie to a confident Sitecore digital strategist.

Sitecore – Say Hello to the Composable Future

This blog post title borrows from the name of a series of Sitecore events that were held in Sydney and Melbourne during November 2022. The events were designed as a smaller, more informal version of Symposium. Presentations covered

  • the recent and upcoming Sitecore product innovations
  • a deep dive into some of the latest solutions, and
  • some example-based presentations that spoke to the application of these solutions in the real world.

It was great to see a focus throughout on customer experience, including topics of data-driven marketing, and privacy and personalisation, all whilst delivering on business outcomes. These are all topics of interest to me.

What follows below is a collection of my notes and reflections.

Customer context

Thanks to the Uber and Amazon’s of the world, our customers expect fast, frictionless, and flawless experiences. All commercial businesses are under this increasing pressure to transform the experience they can offer. Very few brands can fully meet their customers expectation. This creates an opportunity for businesses that can ‘get it right’. To get it right, transformation is required across 3 dimensions – people, technology, and strategy.

Enter ‘composable’ – an approach that addresses the technology and strategy elements in a significant way.  A composable approach enables you to adjust your technology in a fast and flexible way. The Gartner quote doing the rounds indicates that those with a composable strategy can expect an 80% faster speed to market for new features. A composable strategy also allows the flexibility to pick and choose the combination of solutions that are right for the unique characteristics of each business.

Composable strategy

Dave O’Flanagan, Sitecore’s Chief Product Officer, spoke in some detail on Sitecore’s composable strategy.  He acknowledged the challenge of keeping up with Sitecore over the last little while as it has expanded the breadth of its product offering. Sitecore itself has also struggled at times to effectively communicate its strategy.

The big idea is that Sitecore has built its composable DXP as a broad suite of capabilities based on a combination of product acquisitions and new product development. The acquisition strategy was to build a differentiated composable proposition based on products that were ‘born composable’, like Boxever. Essentially, Sitecore’s current composable DXP is an unbundling and expansion of its previous all-in-one platform approach. Sitecore is now pretty bought in to composable – it bought 4 companies to prove it!

According to Dave, Sitecore is committed to delivering composable products that can work standalone, or, operate as friendly-neighbours in a mixed technology and vendor ecosystem. The aspiration is that each product can compete for best-of-breed in its each product category, as well as work very well together as an integrated stack. The reality is that few businesses are faced with a martech greenfield, and so Sitecore is positioning itself to be able to offer options to all.

New solution deep dive

It’s not all composable though. Sitecore continues to invest in its all-in-one XP platform. Release planning for version 10.4 is underway. Dave reiterated that this platform offering remains part of Sitecore’s strategy for similar reasons to the above, as it provides an alternative offering for customers that can’t go composable. For example, there are industries and geographies that cannot at this point utilise a public cloud offering.

In the spirit of keeping things simple, Sitecore has simplified it’s composable offering into 3 clouds: Content, Engagement and Commerce. You can read more about that here. Sitecore’s ambition in this space is to be #1 leader in content, and a disruptor in engagement and commerce clouds.

A focus on content products remains the core and centre of Sitecore. Sitecore intends to continue to be best known for its market-leading CMS, but also wants to offer comprehensive end-to-end content products. Content experience is the customer experience, after all. 3 of the 4 new product announcements relate to the Content cloud offering.

XM Cloud

  • Flagship enterprise headless CMS product rearchitected for cloud.
  • This will be the core thrust of Sitecore’s GTM. Examples were referenced of complete implementations in 6 weeks.
  • The product is at 90% feature parity with XM.
  • Advantages of cloud are well-known but the big one worth repeating is that upgrades just happen.
  • Comes with embedded personalisation and real-time analytics built in. These features utilise IP from the composable Personalize & CDP (Boxever) products. Here’s the good news: to upgrade from the lightweight built-in XM Cloud personalisation and analytics features, it is just a ‘click of a button’ to export and activate in Sitecore CDP & Personalize.
  • Completely new UI focussed on developer and marketer productivity
  • All the ease-of-use of some of the best-of-breed SME tools in an enterprise product, including the ability to visually build components in a drag-and-drop interface to assemble into pages and sites.
  • There are also DevOps improvements through tooling and APIs baked into XM Cloud to optimise developer productivity.

Content Hub One

  • This is a new product build of a headless CMS
  • Features simple functionality for content authoring, modelling, and delivery.
  • Fundamentally different from full enterprise CMS, and much simpler than anything Sitecore has done before
  • Built on capabilities of Content Hub engine, with simple interface and API options.
  • Really simple content authoring focussing on developer productivity, all content delivered by APIs.
  • Part of Content Hub family, with easy upgrade path to full Content Hub suite with enterprise capability

Sitecore Search

  • New content search product, built using the technology of Sitecore Discover
  • Incorporates predictive real-time AI
  • Provides tooling for marketers to boost, tailor results, tune etc.
  • Can index content any number of sites and federate results into single search interface.
  • Another product that is easy and quick to implement.
  • This is a critical new offering for Sitecore
  • Commerce and Content search will remain as separate products for the next 9 months or so, but are on a pathway to being more integrated and unified

Connect

  • Part of engagement cloud
  • Integrate products in no/low code environment
  • Comes with thousands of connectors e.g., Salesforce, Marketo
  • Addresses the additional integration cost that comes with a composable approach
  • An acquisition of a market leader in iPaaS solutions
  • Note the intention is Connect would not be required for integration between Sitecore products, as this should be enabled OOTB. However, there are some limited use cases where Connect could work within a Sitecore ecosystem as well

Future direction

A few final notes on where Sitecore is going. Sitecore’s key product investment areas are in improving product performance, cost effectiveness, and privacy and security.

The composable DXP strategy will required strategic decisions about where to unify and integrate their products where it adds value, whilst maintaining a commitment to an overarching composable approach. A good example of this is the introduction of a unified tracking capability via a single script for all Sitecore products.

There are initial steps underway to rearchitect Sitecore Forms into a headless cloud offering

Sitecore pricing model has been redefined, but not made public yet. The model should feature more usage-based pricing bundled into tiers. More information to come.

Umbraco and uMarketingSuite – analytics, profiles & debugging

This is the 3rd instalment in a blog series on Umbraco and uMarketingSuite. Across this series we will be looking at how to use these platforms to build and deliver website personalisation, testing, analytics and all that good stuff. This final post will cover how to use uMarketingSuite analytics, profiles and the awesome debugging tool called ‘Cockpit’. If you are new to Umbraco and uMarketingSuite, please start with the first two blog posts.

This article was originally posted on aceik.com.au

Let’s look at the setup steps involved, using the Aceik website (aceik.com.au) as an example.

Analytics

uMarketingSuite generates both serverside (out-of-the-box) and clientside (via additional script) analytics. If you are familiar with Google Analytics, the breadth and type of analytics in uMarketingSuite will be easy to navigate. It has all the main types of reporting a website marketer will expect.

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I like how Analytics can be accessed from a central location within the Marketing menu but also specific to each content node as well.

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Additional data insight you get at the content node level is heatmaps. This report shows a visual representation of the scroll depth of users on each page.

Unfortunately, there does not appear to be any way to export website analytics data out of Umbraco nor can you combine any offline or external data sources with your website data. Although there is an existing bridging javascript file for classic Google Analytics events, I have not been able to determine if there are currently or plans to be able to integrate Google Analytics 4 events into uMarketingSuite. This would be a handy feature.

Profiles

uMarketingSuite Profiles provides you with an overview of all the visitors that visited your website. This is kind of like a mini, simplified, and streamlined CDP (customer data platform). In Profiles, you can see the activity of each visitor, including whether they have identified or not, the goals they have completed, pages they have visited, and so forth. A visitor becomes identified when they submit any Umbraco form on your website containing identifying information such as name and email.

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Similarly to Analytics, it does not appear that you can do much with this profile data beyond the reports that are provided. You cannot export or integrate this data beyond the uMarketingSuite platform.

Settings

There are several configuration settings you can modify concerning the uMarketingSuite. Many of these options will be familiar to you based on Google Analytics. For example, you can set site cookie details, sub-domain options, site search settings, and IP filters for excluding internal site visitors. There are fewer options than what comes with Google Analytics, but they are easy to access and modify within a couple of screens.

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Debugging with Cockpit

One of the stand-out features of using uMarketingSuite for personalisation and testing is the debugging tool called Cockpit. Once cockpit is activated, it will appear as a widget whenever you are logged in to Umbraco and browsing your website.

Using cockpit you can

  • See live analytics data as it’s recorded while you browse
  • Delete uMarketingSuite cookies with 1 click
  • See live Persona, Journey and Segment data update in real-time as you browse
  • Click through to see your current Profile as recorded in Umbraco
  • Visit the website as any existing segment
  • Click through to edit any content node

What this means in practice is that debugging and previewing personalisations and tests in real-time is super easy. If something is not working as expected, it is easy to determine what is wrong. If you need to review any particular experience, it is quick to do.

Throughout any reasonably-sized optimisation project, this tool alone will save you hours, compared to manual testing and validating each variation.

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Using this tool, I realised that uMarketingSuite uses ‘control’ groups who do not see any particular test and personalisation even when their scores meet the threshold. In my experience, this is the reason 90% of the time why an experience is not appearing when you expect it to. If you find yourself in a control group, simply clear the uMarketingSuite cookie to reset this.

The other thing to note with uMarketingSuite personalisations is that visitors can only be active within 1 persona and journey group at a time. If you need users to be active across multiple personas, you will need to separate them into different groups.

Conclusion

Across these 3 short blog posts, we have covered the foundation work to set up and implement personalisation, A/B tests, analytics, profiles and more across your website using Umbraco and uMarketingSuite.

I hope this has been a useful series and if you want to talk more about your website optimisation needs, please feel free to get in touch!

Umbraco and uMarketingSuite – personalisation and A/B testing

This is the 2nd of a 3-part blog series on Umbraco and uMarketingSuite. Across this series we will be looking at how to use these platforms to build and deliver website personalisation, testing, analytics and all that good stuff. This 2nd post is on getting personalisation and testing up and running. If you are new to Umbraco and uMarketingSuite, please start on the first post.

This article was originally posted on Aceik.com.au

Let’s look at the setup steps involved, using the Aceik website (aceik.com.au) as an example.

Personalization

Scenario 1

When a visitor comes to our site and views content relating to working with Aceik, they should then experience personalised content as a potential future Aceik employee.

In the previous post in this series, we outlined the 3 pages of content that we would score with our ‘Clive the future colleague’ profile. A visitor who viewed these 3 pages would be profiled with this persona, as the value threshold of 25 is reached. This persona is used as the basis of a visitor segment called ‘Clive’. For all ‘Clive’ visitors, we want to show them a personalised welcome message on the homepage.

To do this, we navigate to the Home page in our content tree and go to Personalization and ‘Add a personalized variant’. Select our Clive segment to personalize for and give it a name. On the screen that follows, we can create modifications to our new home page variant, side-by-side with the Default experience. Umbraco makes it easy to copy components from the Default across to the Variant, and then modify them.

In our case, we want to modify the Header Banner message from the default of “Forward Thinking Digital” to “Work with us. We think you are great”. We also want to change the background image and call-to-action button. These modifications can all be made within the one Header Banner component.

Whilst of course this may not necessarily win us any new employees, we believe it demonstrates the point of easy personalisation using uMarketingSuite🙂

Default homepage

Personalised homepage for Clive segment

Of course, we can create similar variants for our other Personas/Visitor segments. In addition to modifying the content components on the page, you can also add custom CSS and JavaScript for each variant. This effectively provides unlimited ability to personalise the experience based on your user experience requirements.

Scenario 2

When a visitor comes to our Services page from a targeted online campaign, we should show them information specific to the digital service they are interested in.

This time, we will personalise the Services page based on an Explicit parameter. We have created a segment for all visitors who arrive on our site with the UTM campaign value of ‘promotion’.

Using that segment, we will create a personalised variant of our Services page. 

Assuming the promotion relates to Aceik’s website optimisation services, the variant will include modifications to the Head banner to change the hero image and text accordingly.

Default experience

Personalised experience for promotion visitors

A/B Testing

uMarketingSuite supports various kinds of A/B testing. You can test single pages, multiple pages at once or entire document types (to test global changes).

One of the goals of the Aceik website is to have visitors view the work we’ve delivered. We can create a simple sing page A/B test to measure how effective different headlines, images and calls-to-action are in generating views of our Work pages. To measure the effectiveness, we will use Goals, as set up in our first blog post in this series.

To do this, we navigate to the Work page in our content tree, go to A/B tests and Start a test.

As you can see in the screenshot, we have various parts to configure. Note you can include multiple page variants if you wish. We have selected the goal of ‘View our work pages’. This goal is set to fire when any of the sub-pages within Work are viewed. 

The modification of each test variant happens in the same way as each personalisation. You edit each variant alongside the default experience and modify the elements required.

Once the test is set to run, you can view data on how the test is progressing. The length of the test will vary depending on the volume of visitors/participants in the test. The variant with the highest conversion rate will be the winner.

Previewing changes

uMarketingSuite makes it easy to preview both personalisations and A/B tests at any point. There are prominent Preview links in appropriate locations for both. You can use these links to preview any changes before publishing or to review the current personalisations/tests once live also.

A topic for our next post in this series is the excellent de-bugger and preview tool that comes with uMarketingSuite. This tool, called ‘Cockpit’, makes it incredibly quick and easy to preview the site using any available Segments. It also lets you see lots of other cool things. Next post coming soon…

Umbraco and uMarketingSuite – personas, journeys, goals, segments and scoring

This is the first of a 3-part blog series on Umbraco and uMarketingSuite. Across this series, we will be looking at how to use these platforms to build and deliver website personalisation, testing, analytics and all that good stuff. This first post is on setting up the necessary foundation and will cover personas, journeys, goals, segments and scoring. Post 2 will be on the actual personalisation and testing. The 3rd post will be on debugging, analytics, profiles and other settings.

Let’s look at the setup steps involved, using the Aceik website as an example. This article was originally posted on Aceik.com.au

Personas

Firstly, let’s create a persona group. Our persona group is called ‘Visitors’ as it will contain personas of different types of website visitors. Check the Advanced settings of your persona group. Note the default Threshold value of 25. This score needs to be reached before our visitor profiles become active. Note also the Maximum points to score of 10. This is the maximum amount that any individual item can score towards activating our profiles. These details become important later on.

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Next, we create 3 personas. These personas need to represent typical users of our website. For Aceik, let’s create:

  1. Clive, the future colleague (prospective employee)
  2. Chloe, the competitor (from another digital consultancy)
  3. Clara, the customer (interested in our digital services)
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Journeys

uMarketingSuite comes with 1 default customer journey, based on a model developed by Google. You can customise this or create your own from scratch. The customer journey step is about establishing a broad sequence of phases that we want our visitors to progress through. For the Aceik website, the default journey works well; we want our visitors to

  1. Become aware of Aceik (See)
  2. Consider Aceik (Think)
  3. Interact with Aceik (Do)
  4. Partner with us (Care)
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Goals

Website goals are a must-have. What is the purpose of your website? What actions do you want visitors to your website to take? What will you track and measure to understand if your website is performing correctly? What must you focus on if you wish to continuously improve your website? Goals, Goals, Goals.

And more specifically concerning personalisation and testing, if you don’t have goals in place, how will you know if your optimisations are effective and successful? Without goals, the whole activity loses meaning and value.

Goals are easy to set up in uMarketingSuite. The easiest kind of goal is based on pageview, but you can also configure goals based on events or custom code. For Aceik, we want our website visitors to view our work, and make contact. Our website goals relate to specific pages of content we want them to view and ‘thank you’ pages relating to successfully submitted contact forms.

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Segments

Segments are subsets of your website visitors. Segments are the basis upon which you deliver personalised experiences. Segments can utilise the implicit data generated by the personas and journeys we have just set up. Segment can also use explicit data based on actual visitor information (e.g. browser type, time of day, number of sessions etc).

uMarketingSuite allows for the creation of temporary (time-relevant) segments (e.g. relating to a campaign) or core segments (ongoing). We will create 6 core segments for Aceik.com.au

  1. Clive – all visitors who match our Clive persona
  2. Chole – all visitors who match our Chloe persona
  3. Clara – all visitors who match our Clara persona
  4. All users who have completed a contact form on our website
  5. Visitors who visit our site via a promotional campaign link
  6. Visitors browsing our website before 12 noon

We will use all 6 of these segments in the personalisations to come. The uMarketingSuite segment builder is simple yet powerful. The parameters are differentiated by whether they are implicit or explicit. Normally, you would create these segments once you had determined exactly the personalisations you wanted to deliver. In our case, we will get to that in part 2 of this blog series.

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Score content, campaigns, referrals

The final step in establishing the foundations for personalisation and testing is scoring. In uMarketingSuite we can score content, campaigns and referrals. Scoring is where the threshold values and maximum points from earlier become relevant. Essentially, this step is about scoring each element of the website experience with respect to a relevant persona or journey. Each item can receive a score of up to 10, and once a threshold of 25 is reached, the visitor will be assigned to that particular persona or journey. For example, on the Aceik website, we have content that is written for prospective employees. We need to score that content highly regarding our Clive persona. Our Content scoring for Clive is as follows:

  • Visitor views ‘Contact us’ page. Score = 5
  • Visitor views ‘Work for us’ page. Score = 10
  • Visitor views blog post ‘Come and work with the A team’. Score = 10

These 3 content scores give us a total of 25. If a visitor views all 3 pages, their profile will be assigned a persona of Clive. This will then put that visitor in our related Segment. And Personalisations can be activated off that segment 🙂

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Similarly, links from referring websites or campaigns can be scored. For example, if a visitor to the Aceik website comes from a link on Seek.com.au, that referral should be scored as a 10 against our Clive persona. Alternatively, we might tag any job links posted on Linkedin with a UTM campaign value of “positions-vacant”. These campaign links would also be scored highly against our Clive persona.

That’s it for the setup steps. Now with these things in place, we can start to build our tests and personalisation. The next post in this series coming soon…

Using Sitecore XM, Sitecore Send, and Sitecore CDP & Personalize

Orchestrating digital experiences for the composable customer

The Aceik team recently built a website and set of customer experiences to demonstrate the new Sitecore composable tools. In particular, we wanted to show how they can be used together to deliver a modern, personalised, cross-channel digital experience. The following is a walkthrough of what we built.

This article was originally posted on Aceik.com.au

A customer named Ally Davids visits our demo website, Luxury Hotel. The website is built in Sitecore XM with SXA (hosted in Azure PaaS) and uses Sitecore Headless Services (NextJS hosted in Vercel) for the front end. 

Ally browses our site but does not complete any conversion actions. Later on, she is re-targeted on Facebook with an advertisement promoting a free airfare competition. Ally clicks the ad, which links back to our Luxury Hotel website. The link is appended with standard UTM parameters.

The Sitecore CDP JavaScript library script has been added to our website. This .js client assigns each user a unique ID via a cookie and sends behavioural data from our website back to Sitecore CDP. Additional JavaScript has been used to capture the UTM parameters on a page VIEW event and send this to Sitecore CDP.

We have used these UTM values to personalise the website homepage. In Sitecore CDP, we have built a web template that swaps out the hero image, headline and call-to-action with tailored values.

We have also built an audience template that enables us to use UTM parameters as targeting values when building Experiences.

This experience is set to target the Homepage only. Real-time audiences trigger it with a UTM_campaign value of ‘island_competition’. This is the value set in our Facebook retargeting Ad.

The website also includes the Sitecore Send tracking script. With this script in place, we have used the Embed publishing option within Sitecore Send to load our web forms in a <div> tag, in any place on our website where we want a Sitecore Send form to appear. 

In this island_competition personalisation, we have used another web template to swap out the default Sitecore Send form with a competition-specific form (using the FormID from Sitecore Send), based on the same UTM_campaign value targeting.

The result is that Ally sees a personalised homepage hero component and competition web form.

Ally submits her details in the web form. Her identity is sent to Sitecore CDP and her customer profile is added to existing Segments that have been created e.g. ‘Known customers’ and ‘Island competition customers’.

Ally’s details are also sent to Sitecore Send, into an existing Audience email list. This event triggers a Marketing automation flow that sends Ally an email to promote our Hotel rooms.

The email prompts Ally to click back to our website to view information on our Honeymoon room. 

The Honeymoon link is appended with specific UTM parameters. Ally clicks the link and this is tracked in Sitecore Send as Open and Click activity.

Ally lands on the Honeymoon page. This action triggers a 2nd Automation which sends Ally a follow-up email on our ‘Luxury Services’. Ally is added to additional Segments in CDP relating to visits to the Honeymoon page.

When Ally clicks on a link in the 2nd email, she lands on our Services page with another (badly designed) personalisation showing a 50% discount message. This is triggered for visitors who land directly on this page with a specific UTM campaign value.

This personalisation is using one of the out-of-the-box (OOTB) templates available in Sitecore CDP & Personalize.

Ally is intrigued by the discount offer and so clicks through to view more information on the Deluxe King room. She views several pages but is still yet to convert. At this point, we trigger a further OOTB personalisation showing an email capture form. This personalisation is triggered for real-time users that view the same room page more than 5 times.

If Ally still has not converted, and re-visits the Hotel website, we will show her a final personalisation, based on customising the hero component, with a message targeted based on her profile in Sitecore CDP.

This set of experiences is for demo purposes only and illustrates the ways that the Sitecore composable products can work together to deliver personalised customer experiences.

An overview of the entire journey –

Google Analytics GA4 migration

Taking a strategic approach

Earlier this year, Google announced that Universal Analytics properties (UA) will stop processing new data from 1 July 2023. UA is to be completely replaced by the new version of Google Analytics (GA) called GA4.

GA4 introduces many changes to its digital measurement model, including a move from page view to event-based tracking, a decreased reliance on cookies, improvements to cross-channel customer tracking, and an increase in some of the UA limitations e.g. 20 ‘Goal’ limit.

Google’s decision means that any businesses currently using Google Analytics will need to upgrade their properties from UA to GA4. Given the July timeframe, I recommend businesses upgrade now and run both UA and GA4 in parallel. This will give you an opportunity to ensure that GA4 is capturing all the data correctly. The sooner you do this, the less you will have to worry about trying to manually compare UA and GA4 data YoY, post July 2023.

The steps to start a new GA4 property are straightforward (i.e. follow the GA4 Setup Assistant), but the changes in measurement model are significant. Any businesses currently using UA (and other associated Google marketing platform tools) with any level of configuration will need to rebuild their analytics environment. This is required whether you just want to continue basic tracking of your digital properties, or if you want to embrace the affordances of GA4 and level-up your digital analytics game. I recommend businesses with a significant digital analytics dependancy take this opportunity to conduct an end-to-end analytics capability assessment and upgrade. This activity should incorporate re-aligning digital analytics with strategic business goals, assessing your technical capability and tools, and improving your data and reporting governance and operations

Strategic framework

Every business website has a purpose. Building out your digital strategic framework is about making explicit the dependancy between your business and your website. How does your website support your business goals and deliver value to both you and your customers? What is the relationship between your business mission and vision, your current top-level business goals, and the key actions that users take on your website? This is is your framework for everything that is done throughout the activities below. The goal of rebuilding your analytics in GA4 should not just be to continue the status quo, but to ensure that you are better positioned to measure, monitor and improve the value that your website generates for your business.

Site audit and discovery

You can start this process by auditing your current websites. List all sites (including sub-domains) in a spreadsheet. Capture the Google Tag Manager (GTM) and GA IDs/accounts being used. Additionally I like to capture the platform each site is published on, whether Google Search Console (GCS) is configured and connected or not, and any further notes about the implementation. Things to check include:

  • Is GA hard-coded or triggered via GTM?
  • Do any sites have multiple UA ID’s?
  • Are there GA Views that are not recording any data?
  • Have any sites/properties been migrated to GA4 already?
  • Who are the account admins and do you have access to make admin changes?

This site audit spreadsheet becomes your source of truth and scope document.

Google Analytics

The Account / Property / View model changes with the move to GA4. In GA4, there is only Account and Property. To ensure you rebuild what is required in GA4, audit your current UA properties. It is important to note the current data collection and retention settings, User ID tracking status, connected Google accounts like Google Ads, and any other tracking info settings. These are the types of configuration details you may need to re-create in the new GA4 property you are migrating to.

Filters

Typically each View in UA will have its own specific filters. Make note of the range of Views and the details of each. For example, are there Views that filter out internal traffic, show only traffic to specific sub-domains or campaigns, or roll-up views? Most typical Views can easily be recreated as segments in GA4.

Events

You will want to review all event data in GA over the last 12 months to understand what has been configured and what might be required in future. With GA4’s new event-based measurement model, some of the custom events in UA are now tracked out-of-the-box (OOTB). These include outbound click tracking, document downloads and video views. Other common events require custom event tracking (form submissions, clicks on emails links). I recommend carefully capturing all existing events in a spreadsheet including category, action and label parameters. In GA4, you will need to identify if corresponding event parameters exist OOTB, and if not, create them as new Custom Dimensions (in the Configuration section). You will need to setup Custom Dimensions for any event parameters that you want to use in reporting. I also suggest you use lowercase and underscore as a consistent best practice approach for all event details.

Goals/Conversions

In UA, key site activities were called ‘Goals’. In GA4, these are called ‘Conversions’. After capturing all the existing site Goals you should consider which of these are required in GA4. Site Conversions should relate to the key digital goals identified in your website strategic framework. I actually think ‘Goals’ are a better name for these, but to avoid confusion, they are ‘Conversions’ from now on 😉

All Conversions are Events, but not all Events are Conversions. Before you can track a Conversion, you need to first create it as an Event in GA4. If not available as an OOTB event, you will need to create and trigger this event using Google Tag Manager. Once it’s tracking as an Event, simply click the toggle to also track as a Conversion. For additional actionable insight on the impact of your Conversions, I recommend setting a value for each Conversion Event through the use of custom parameters, as below (note ‘currency’ and ‘value’ are required).

Analytics governance & management

The move to GA4 will require various modifications to your Google Tag Manager implementation. At a minimum, you will need to create a new GA4 configuration tag. However, you will also likely need to create new GA4 Event tags as mentioned above. Given the way that most businesses have adopted digital tag management (organically, unstructured, bit-by-bit over time), it is quite likely that your current GTM implementation needs an audit and clean-up. It is common to have legacy redundant tags still firing. It is common to have manually created tags and triggers that now have OOTB equivalents in the ever-evolving GTM platform. It is common to have various Users with degrees of access to your account that are no longer required. A full run-down of best practice GTM is a topic for another post. For now, take the opportunity to clean-up and consolidate whatever you have time for.

Reporting

The above are the main steps and considerations in implementing a GA4 upgrade. Once GA4 is setup and capturing data, your next consideration is how best to analyse and report on your digital analytics. GA4 includes far fewer pre-built reports, and instead expects users to build their own reports in GA and/or utilise tools like Google Data Studio. Personally, if I’m going to spend time building reports, I would rather do it in Google Data Studio. Not only is this is a powerful and easy-to-use tool, but other advantages include:

  1. you can combine GA data with other digital analytics data like Youtube or Google Search Console to build comprehensive dashboards, and
  2. the reports you build are easily shareable with stakeholders by URL or scheduled email report.

Again, a full rundown is another topic for another day, but the best data capture and management is useless if the data is not analysed, interpreted and feed back to the business as actionable insight. This is the role of good digital analytics and reporting.

Sitecore Send (Moosend) – everything you wanted to know

Overview

Sitecore acquired Moosend in 2021. Moosend is an innovative SaaS-based marketing automation and campaign management platform. When you access the platform, it is still branded as Moosend, but for the sake of clarity (and longevity of this blog post), I’ll refer to the product as Sitecore Send.

Getting started

Anyone can sign up for a free 30-day trial. If you work in the Sitecore or Marketing Automation space, why not dedicate a couple of hours and give it a spin? If you are familiar with marketing automation tools, you’ll be able to master all the key Sitecore Send features in that amount of time, no problems.

From here, I’ll walk through my first impressions of the tool for delivering the typical package of marketing automation capabilities, in approximate order as you would need to use them for a typical ‘sign up to email list and trigger nurture campaign’ use case.

Create your email list

Go to Audience > Email list. From here you can see existing lists, or create a ‘New’ list. Every list has a dashboard where you can see key stats like growth rate, member source, engagement rates etc.

Sitecore Send email list dashboard

Your new list will have no members. So the next step is to ‘Add a member’. You can add these manually or import from CSV, Excel or use a Google Contacts or Salesforce plugin. Nice.

Sitecore Send import members

You are then prompted to configure a couple of other important settings for your new list. You can set a URL to redirect users after they unsubscribe. This would be a nice opportunity to provide your users with alternative subscription options, next steps, or nice ‘sorry to see you go’ messaging.

You must also specify your opt-in settings e.g. single opt-in, soft double or strong double. Ensuring you have explicit customer permission is an important aspect of any email and marketing automation activity.

You can create any custom fields required for your new list. This can be customer-facing or hidden fields. For example, you may wish to capture phone, address, birthday, interest area etc.

Finally, you can create segments. Whilst this may not be as useful if you are starting your list from scratch, it looks like the product comes with 9 out-of-the-box (OOTB) templates you can pick from, which is pretty helpful. You also have the option of saving any segments you create as templates to re-use across other lists.

Sitecore Send segment templates

The tools to create your own segments are intuitive and powerful. Simply build your rules from a large range of dropdown options.

Sitecore send segment details

Growth tools

Once you have your list, you will want to grow your subscribers. The two main ways to do this are via a subscription form and/or landing page.

Firstly, create a subscription form. Again, there are some easy OOTB options for different types of form presentations and interactions. To make the right decision here, you will need to have thought out where and how you want users to subscribe. For example, do you want to embed a form on your current Contact us page, or do you want to fire a pop-up subscription form on targeted pages across your site? Depending on your choice, Sitecore Send offers a range of templates and simple options to choose from. 

Then, there are plenty of options for fine-tuning the UI of your chosen subscription form type.

Sitecore send sign up design options

Depending on your chosen form type, there are various visibility and publishing options for configuring the UX of the form, such as where, when and how it appears on the page.  Sitecore Send appears to have all the common use-cases covered, such as showing for first-time visitors only, time-delayed display, showing on user action or page exit. You can publish to an existing website, link to a stand-alone form URL or embed in a page using a <div> tag.

If you don’t already have a website to host the form, Sitecore Send allows you to create a landing page, hosted as part of its platform, or publish to a WordPress site using a connector plugin. Again, there are plenty of OOTB templates to choose from, and a plethora of other options such as sharing on Social, easy conversion tracking, and linking with a Google Universal Analytics account.

Sitecore send design template options

Once you have selected a template, or started from scratch, there is a simple drag-and-drop editor where you add your content and configure the page to your exact requirements.

Sitecore send landing page builder

Automation

Once you have your list and growth tools in place, setting up Automations is the next thing to consider. Sitecore Send gives you a head start in this area by offering a range of Automation ‘recipes’ to choose from, such as triggering reminders for abandoned cards, new customer thank you’s and re-engagement emails.

Sitecore send automation recipes

Sitecore integration

Whilst I’m not overly technical my understanding of the main integration options comes down to the following:

  • As mentioned above, you can simply embed Sitecore Send forms within any existing site, including a site managed by Sitecore XM. When using this method, you can use Sitecore CDP and/or Sitecore XM APIs to push data there on submit
  • Alternatively, you can continue to use Sitecore Forms within XM and push form data to Sitecore Send and Sitecore CDP APIs.

Campaign

Sitecore Send makes marketing automation campaigns easy.

Sitecore send campaign options

Select your campaign type and you will be guided through the necessary steps to configure your new campaign. Expect all the normal options like Subject line, email list, delivery schedule, GA integration, Sender details, send test emails and so on. And again, the range of OOTB email templates sets Sitecore Send apart. There are dozens of templates to choose from, across a broad range of categories. Of course you can also create from scratch.

Sitecore email campaign templates

Reporting

With an email list built, new subscribers coming in, automations in place and emails getting delivered, the last thing you will want to take a look at is how your email campaigns are performing. Sitecore Send Reporting menu has you covered with all your expected marketing automation analytics in pre-built dashboards.

Sitecore campaign reporting dashboard

I think that’s all the main features and functionality. A pretty easy-to-use platform that covers all your basic marketing automation needs.

Sitecore User Group Conference (SUGCON) ANZ 2022 – Reflections and key takeaways

First things first, I am a Sitecore noob. My first login to Sitecore was last month, in July 2022. Since then, I’ve played with Content and Experience Editor, Experience Analytics, Experience Optimisation, and the Marketing Control Panel. Most of my time over the last few weeks was spent outside Sitecore, learning and delivering Sitecore Business Optimisation Strategies with various Aceik clients (remotely), and getting to know my new Aceik A-Team (also remotely). Whilst I have worked in all things digital for a long time, the Sitecore solutions (both the integrated and composable flavours) are all new to me.

In this context, it was great that my Sitecore strategy mentor, the gregarious Greg Baxter was the first to kick things off. An engaged and expectant tone was suitably set, and Colin te Kempel didn’t disappoint. He went straight into addressing the big question(s) that I knew was hanging in the air coming into SUGCON; with all the talk about the new composable Sitecore stack, what is the future for Sitecore’s Platform DXP? The answer, as I understood it at least, is that whilst the future is composable, most customers should expect to keep rolling with Platform DXP for now. This is particularly appropriate if XP is working well and/or showing potential to deliver business value. To back this up, Colin talked through the various software enhancements, fixes, and service improvements scheduled for v10.3. Sitecore Symposium in October seems a likely release date. Beyond this year, Colin was keen to unpack a number of themes that would guide the further enhancements of the platform offering through to 2024. The introduction of a stand-alone SaaS content search solution was one item that particularly piqued my interest.

Andy Cohen worked through a demo of XM Cloud. A fair bit of the technical content in this session went beyond me, particularly all the stuff that involved pumping out commands in the CLI. However, it was good to get eyes on the new Cloud portal launchpad where all the composable apps can be accessed. I also noted the mention of Pages, a replacement for Horizon editor. Andy was clear, XM Cloud is headless only, so to be clear, it is headless only. XM Cloud does come with some kind of analytics built-in, as well as some kind of trimmed down personalisation and testing capability (a subset of features from CDP/Personalize?). I am keen to explore this.

Anthony Hook encouraged us all to read about the 2nd Age of Martech by Scott Brinker. I’ve googled his stuff and will follow this up as well.

My brain was getting pretty full by the afternoon tea break, but I’m glad I rallied for John King’s session on the Data puzzle. He threw down an impressively comprehensive playbook for getting the data strategy right. Mirk Roettgers then spoke about the need to move from transaction-centred to people-centric engagement. This is enabled through a deep understanding of the customer lifecycle combined with integrated and connected technology to bring the data, operations and reporting together effectively. 

It hit 5pm on Day 1 but surprisingly the talks kept coming! Andy Parry finished the day with some detail on what delivering good Sitecore headless solutions looks like. He graciously answered my question and offered a couple of good ways to deliver personalisation using a headless XP setup.

On Friday morning there were 2 sessions delivered by the Aceik A-Team. Both were based on a POC website we built to show how we can deliver effective customer experiences using the new composable Sitecore tools. These sessions were so good that they deserve a post on their own 😉 Another notable session from Friday AM was Mike Marquette who talked through a framework for delivering optimised customer experiences through personalisation. Vincent Lui’s presentation was notable as a client-side example of delivering digital transformation initiatives using a blend of Sitecore and non-Sitecore solutions.

My final takeaways came from a session on the Sitecore community and the history of SUGCON. It was great to hear about the various ways that the community supports Sitecore users through forums, Slack channels and a MVP program. I got a strong sense that there is a network of Sitecore employees, partners, vendors, and users who are passionate about contributing value to their community and driving improvement in the practice of delivering digital solutions using Sitecore products.

All-in-all, an insightful and useful couple of days. It has accelerated my engagement with the community, built some solid knowledge about where the product suite is heading, and provided a healthy dose of inspiration for helping our client partners deliver some awesome digital experiences.

2021 thoughts to explore further

Here is a list of thoughts I picked up from readings and podcasts throughout the year. I should have captured better notes so I could attribute each to its source, but suffice to say that these are all other people’s ideas that I have, at best, expressed in my own way.

A bit of googling for each will get me on the right track if/when I follow any of these up into more thought-through ideas.

  • Pareto principle: 80% of outcomes come from 20% of the effort
  • How would I behave differently if the consequences don’t matter?
  • There is a direct relationship between higher team performance and greater/effortless team collaboration
  • The most useful and impressive superpower to have in the current world is to be indistractable
  • Question for each day – what small bit of chaos might I deal with today to make everyday from now on better?
    • Place one foot in chaos while keeping one foot in order – I know this is from Jordan Peterson
  • To live my best life I am required to bear the heaviest load (of responsibility, of work, of duty, of societal contribution) I can possibly carry – Jordan Peterson, again
  • 3 key questions I need to be able to answer for any organisation or activity I am involved in:
    1. what are we doing?
    2. why are we doing it?
    3. where do I fit in?
  • 2 universal qualities of great leaders (according to Simon Sinek)
    • Courage
    • Integrity
  • Work at the edge of competence. Just enough to be challenged but not out of depth. Doing this will ensure growth, development, engagement. It’s hard to get bored or complacent with this approach
  • Much of happiness is hope
  • Imagine where I want to be in 5 years, and work backwards from there
  • Effective managers spend almost half their time on ‘Communication’
  • To get what I want from my team, I should model it
  • Best productivity app is thinking deeply
  • To help get unstuck, I should help others get unstuck with the same problem

Systems over goals

I came across this idea earlier this year and I keep coming back to it when thinking about stand-out takeaway insights from the many hours of podcasts I’ve listened to in 2021 so far. Attributed to Scott Adams, the essence of the idea is that implementing systems is more effective than goals, as a way of making progress towards anything.

Here are some links that lay it out better than I can

So, a good example in my life is running. I regularly run. In fact, most days running is the first thing I do. I have a system for starting my day that normally starts with going for a run. My system is that on certain runs, I will do something a little more challenging than the previous week. At least once a week, my system for running expects that I will run a longer distance than the previous week. If I run, according to my system, I will improve. There is no endpoint – it is a perpetual cycle of progress. I may include specific goals at varioius points that provide temporary focus into my system, but even without explicit goals, the system keeps me running.

When I apply it to my professional life, I see systems all over the place in how I operate. I have systems for the types of meetings I run each week. I have systems for managing my workload and processing tasks. I have systems for how I plan my work objectives each year, and systems in how I track my performance and ensure professional growth and development. Again, specific goals may also apply from time to time, but largely, my professional progress is a product of the systems in place to ensure perpetual motion forwards.

I have systems in place to help ensure I am a good father and husband. For example, I have scheduled daddy-daughter dates that ensures an even allocation of quality time. I have patterns of behaviour for how I say goodnight that helps to keep the relationship close. These are important aspects of my life and systems help keep my actions in sync with my values.

I like this idea of systems over goals because I was doing it before I realised it was a thing. I like this idea because I know it works for me.

Web product roadmap

One of the non-negotiables in leading the strategic management and improvement of a large, complex web environment is having a roadmap of activity for a given period of time, broken down by program and project that clearly outlines the main outcomes to be delivered. Activities in the roadmap should all align with strategic priorities and be designed to deliver improvements in key performance indicators.

I’m really pleased and proud of the roadmap my team has been working through in 2021. Our current roadmap divides our projects into the following programs; strategic priorities, core website inititiatives, marketing projects, technology & performance improvements, PMO projects (that we are supporting), and ‘other’. Whilst we plan the roadmap a year in advance, each quarter key members of my management team gather to discuss specific planning activities for projects commencing in the upcoming period.

Strategic priorities this year have including projects for search engine optimisation, conversion rate optimisation (including the introduction of new technology), product page redevelopment, the introduction of new lead generation opportunities (and technology), the redevelopment of one of our application portals, and the redevelopment of the ‘discovery’ phase of the user journey for our primary audience.

Somehow in addition to all this, we have maintained a busy centralised website publishing service, and worked through a range of more ‘BAU’-style projects designed to maintain and improve our main public website and support of a range of annual marketing campaign-style activities. Most significantly of all, we have been able to balance delivering all these improvement activities whilst simultaneously rebuilding our underlying core content management system, Drupal. This has increased significantly the level of complexity and planning required to ensure we don’t hold up work, whilst at the same time, avoiding delivering work in the old version of our CMS that will need to be rebuilt in the new version.

The year is not over yet. I only hope we manage to deliver most of what we’ve planned to achieve. And it’s now time to kick-start the planning process for the 2022 roadmap!

The Hyperactive Hive Mind

I recently finished reading ‘A World Without Email’ by Cal Newport. My key takeaway is that the biggest challenge to effective modern work practices is the presence of the Hyperactive Hive Mind (HHM), which Cal defines as:

“A workflow centred around ongoing conversation fueled by unstructured and unscheduled messages delivered through digital communication toosl like email and instand messenger services.”

Email is the not the problem, but a workflow that relies on sending and responding to pings and dings is. So much of the modern work day is taken up by responding to messages that arrive un-requested and un-expected. How can we possibly expect to do deep, thoughtful, planned, strategic work when we are being pulled back and forth into sending messages and having (video) conversations about topics we didn’t expect to be thinking about today. Nobody planned the modern way of working – we just gradually fell into the current patterns based on the evolution of the technology.

A few specific ideas and reflections:

  • Operating in the HMM makes us miserable. It does not make us feel good to constantly need to manage incoming messages
  • Asynchronous communication is not good for efficiency – sending, waiting, reading, replying, waiting etc. Synchronous communication can be far more effective, but requires planning
  • Our current workflows are not based on optimal productivity and effectiveness. We need to take the time to design workflows and not just default to whatever the tools we use expect of us
  • Context switches are costly. Focus on doing fewer things, but doing them well.
  • A test of good processes is if significant, effective amounts of work can be accomplished WITHOUT any kind of unstructured and unscheduled communications. What are my common work processes, and can they occur end-to-end without disrupting someone else?
  • I should defer any non-urgent conversations to scheduled 1:1 times. Remember that asking someone a quick question is always costly – it distracts them from the task they are doing. Minimise the amount of distractions you generate for your team.
  • Focus on building systems of working that generate the best overall average cost i.e. focus on systems that work best most of the time, rather than tailor for edge cases
  • Work on the things that will make work easier. Remember pareto principle – 20% of effort generates 80% of the outcomes
  • Working in pairs, particularly in programming, creates 2x efficiency overall
  • Technology is not additive, it is ecological i.e. different technologies change the way we work
  • There is nothing more valuable than a team of people producing maximal value

From service to strategy

Planning your way to a more productive web team

The following is a modified version of a presentation I gave at Higher Education Websites Conference 2018

If you want your web team to play a more strategic role at your organisation, you won’t succeed by operating like a website help desk.  The following is an outline of how I’ve led web teams from a “service-model” to a more strategic approach. The reality is that you will probably never be able to avoid operating some kind of service desk, but what you want to focus on is giving your team as much scope and space to work on the projects that are most important to your business that will deliver the most value.

So the big idea is not very original – plan all your big rocks first. This is the concept made famous by Stephen Covey. It’s usually applied to personal goals and productivity, but it can equally apply to managing web projects as well. The idea is that you need to ensure that you plan and schedule in advance the major projects you want to achieve in the coming year.

The ability to confidently do this kind of advanced planning is dependant on a few factors –

Is your team clear on your scope of responsibility? You need to know what you are responsible for, and what you are not. Seems really obvious, but it’s critical in ensuring you are planning projects that fall squarely within your realm of responsibility.

You then need to align your areas of responsibility with the business strategy, vision, roadmap etc. To move to a strategic web approach, you need to connect your projects to this existing strategy, either at the organisation level if you are a centralised web team, or at the functional or business area level, if you operating within a defined area of your organisation.

I’m suggesting you don’t need to come up with your own web strategy. I’ve tried to do this numerous times, and as good as it might feel to have a web strategy you can hold in your hands, it’s a really difficult process, the strategy itself is quickly out of date, and you run the risk of developing a strategy that you’ve constantly got to (re)align with the broader organisational strategy.

Much better, and easier, is to align your activities to existing strategic priorities. A simple process to follow is to take each line item, and work through with the relevant stakeholders to identify how each strategic focus area might inform the kinds of web projects you need to deliver.

As part of this process of strategy alignment, you need to ensure you have appropriate high-level, senior executive, support. You can do this by forming a web governance body / reference group / steering committee – whatever you like to call it. As long as it’s full of important people who have a view on how your organisation should do business online. Use this group to not only input into your plans but also use them as an escalation point for supporting you in the many times you will need to respond to stakeholders by defering or declining their non-strategic web initiative request.

The next thing to do is ensure you have good stakeholder engagement and communication mechanisms in place. If your institution is anywhere near as complex as ours, you will need a matrix of different mechanisms – some formal with agendas and minutes, some more informal. Hopefully many forums already exist that you can just tap into and include a standing agenda item about the web. You will need to be deliberate in seeking stakeholders out and engaging with them in some kind of ongoing way. The reason for doing this is, is to ensure you have the channels in place to gather information about future website requests, so that you can anticipate and match these where there are links to strategy.

And we’ve found it’s not enough to just hit the highest level in the tree either, as you can’t assume information always flows smoothly up and down the structure. But definitely map out who and how you will engage with your stakeholders and ensure you have good coverage

So, with the 3 key things in place:

  1. a clear view of strategy,
  2. a web governance structure, and
  3. good relationships with all your key stakeholders,

NOW all you need to do is map out all your “big rocks”

I suggest you run a high level scoping activity for each of the big projects you identify. Note things like relative size, complexity, when the site was last updated, and your assessment of it’s priority. Then schedule all these most important projects through the year. And take it to your web governance body for their approval. And this list then becomes your annual program of strategic website projects

Now even with this structure in place, we still get a lot of jobs that pop up through the year, of course. So to handle this, establish a process where all web jobs, large or small, come in through a centralised queue. If they are bigger than business as usual, they need a business case developed. And from there, scope the work out, and if it is significant enough to impact the delivery of your approved strategic work, then escalate it to the web governance body to review. It’s their call whether the job is important enough to bump other jobs off the schedule.

Once you are underway, you can use any type of tracking mechanism you like for your program of work. Whatever you use, make sure it is shareable to keep your stakeholders informed, and as a general communications tool, so that anyone within or outside our team can see the volume of work and relative priorities, at any point in time. The key thing here is clear visibility, for your own team as much as for other stakeholders

In order to stay on track it’s imperative that at any point in time, your team and everyone else, is clear on what the big rocks are!

Key performance indicators (KPIs)

I have been refining my thoughts and developing my thinking on KPIs over the last few years. In simplest terms, I think of KPIs as indicators of ‘whether we are winning or not’.

A good KPI should indicate, in no uncertain terms, whether our activities are helping us realise the results we are responsible for. It should be largely self explanatory. It should include clear visual communication clues and I like to present results as ‘% change’ compared to previous periods.

A KPI should clearly indicate whether performance has been good or bad. In order to understand this, KPIs should be presented in a context where current performance can be compared to past performance e.g. MoM and YoY. Ideally it should also be able to be compared against a benchmark (e.g. avg historical range) and a target (e.g. +10% YoY).

In order to be a key indicator, it should relate as directly as possible to primary business objectives. If my website was selling widgets online, website KPIs would relate to the volume of widgets sold, the conversion rate of visitors to site, and the volume of leads generated (as a precursor to a sale).

For bonus points, each indicator should have someone accountable for it, so that everyone knows where the buck stops. Each KPI should be consistently measured from an identifed source, with any additional calculations or formulas or assumptions easy to reference.

So, when tracking KPIs, at a minimum, I capture:

  • Name
  • Description (short)
  • Result
  • % change compared previous month
  • % change compared previous year
  • Commentary e.g. insight
  • Owner
  • Source

It could end up looking something like this in Excel

Monthly planning

I block out 2hrs in my calendar at the start of every month for a personal review and planning activity. It’s often tempting to skip this recurring appointment task, particular if my calendar is otherwise busy, but it’s always a worthwhile use of my time.

It’s a monthly activity specifically because it forces me to take a broader view of my work than the shorter weekly prioritisation activities, but not as broad as my semi-annual reviews.

In these monthly planning ‘meetings’ with myself, I answer a series of questions. As you will see, there are both reflective questions, and forward-looking planning questions

In the last month…

  • What have I achieved/progressed in my annual performance plan?
  • What have been the biggest highlights, wins, learnings for my team?

In the next month…

  • What will my team be delivering from our product roadmap?
  • What new knowledge or skill will I acquire/develop?
  • How can I develop my team?
  • What one thing can I work on/achieve that will make everything else better/easier going forward?

The last question always fills me with a bit of a thrill, if I can answer it. There is something incredibly inspiring and motivating in knowing that I am planning on working on something in the coming month that will deliver some kind of step change in how my team and/or I operates.

Recently for me, answers to this question have included introducing a new service management system, defining key performance indicators for my team, improving the way we communicate the prioritisation of our projects in our roadmap, and establishing regular check-ins with key stakeholders.

I recommend you try establishing a monthly planning habit.

Weekly 1:1

Do you have a short, sharp weekly check-in with each of your direct reports? I do, and I could not imagine managing others without doing something along these lines. What works for me is; keeping it regular e.g. weekly, following a consistent format i.e. a set structure, process, time, location, and making it a two-way conversation with both I and my direct reports bringing topics to discusss at the meeting.

Specifically, I like to use a Trello board for each of my direct reports to capture discussion topics in an easy format where both parties can prepare in advance, and track conversations over time. See this template – https://trello.com/templates/team-management/1-on-1-meeting-agenda-FoIwUPz2

Within that board, I like to keep a list containing both current priorities that we review each week, and longer term (e.g. annual) objectives that we look at periodically as part of each person’s ongoing development plan.

Whilst I don’t necessarily reference giving feedback as a formal part of the 1:1 structure, I do try to ensure that in each weekly discussion I provide feedback to them in some way, and solicit feedback from them about myself and my performance in my role. Normally I would do this as part of general conversation, or link it to a specific topic we are discussing.

The main benefits of regular 1:1 meetings is that it’s an opportunity to stay aligned with each other on the 3 P’s:

  1. priorities – what is the most important work we are doing
  2. progress – how are we progressing with this work
  3. performance – how are we both going in our roles, in relation to each other

More broadly, it’s also a good forum to gauge other indicators, like motivation, workload, and stress levels, answer any questions, and otherwise just build a healthy working relationship of trust and transparency with each other.

Beyond these practical management reasons, I’ve also found it be to be effective way to manage our time. Rather than a dozen short conversations or email/message threads spread through the week about various non-critical, non-urgent issues, a regular 1:1 provides a forum to discuss all these issues in a batched, focussed way. Batching small conversations together means that we free up more of our time during the week for focussed, deep work. Reserving the weeklyr 1:1 forum for any non-urgent conversations means we avoid distracting each other during the week unnecessarily.

Stand up schedule

One of the things I love about the scrum framework is that it’s easy to customise and adapt to your own needs and preferences. My department is made up of 3 functional teams and a couple of other functional leads. We had always had 1 daily standup that focussed on the updates from the single scrum team that operated across my department, but we also tried to incorporate each of the functional teams that weren’t otherwise directly involved in scrum activities. With 20+ team members, this quickly made for an impractical 15min daily standup – updates were either too detailed and so not understood by most attendees, or too broad/general/ambiguous and so not useful to anyone!

In 2020, the demands of our product roadmap required that we split into 2 scrum teams. This created further complexity in our standup requirements, but also offered an opportunity to overhaul our approach to standups altogether. Combined with the rapid move to distributed work practices that year (i.e. COVID-enforced WFH), I also needed a forum to regularly check in with the team and try to keep us all connected, aligned and motivated. And so, our new standup schedule was developed, implemented and still going strong 18mths later!

Note we use the same zoom link for all days and all standups, except for 1 of the functional teams that break into their own channel as needed

  • Monday
    • 9-9:15am. Informal chat (optional)
    • 9:15-9:30am. All hands – sharing top priority activity for the week
  • Tuesday
    • 9-9:10am. Scrum team 1 only
    • 9:10-9:20am. Scrum team 2 only
    • 9:20-9:30am. Functional team check-ins
  • Wednesday
    • 9-9:10am. Scrum team 1 only
    • 9:10-9:20am. Scrum team 2 only
    • 9:20-9:30am. Functional team check-ins
  • Thursday
    • 9-9:10am. Scrum team 1 only
    • 9:10-9:20am. Scrum team 2 only
    • 9:20-9:30am. Functional team check-ins
  • Friday
    • 9-9:15am. Informal chat (optional)
    • 9:15-9:30am. All hands – sharing top win / shout out for the week

Writing it out, it seems complex, but actually the model is pretty simple. Monday is for aligning around top priorities for the week. Friday is for celebrating the work we’ve done together.

I will generally use a few minutes Monday and Friday to share any overall comments or information for the entire team.

Starting again at 42

I am writing this post on the eve of my 42nd birthday. Given birthdays are an opportunity to reflect and celebrate, my intention in (re)starting this blog is to develop a system of reflection and learning on what I’ve done, where I’m going and how I’m going about things… in life generally, perhaps, but with a focus on my professional (work) life – I hope.

I don’t recommend you ‘like, comment and subscribe’, at least for now, as I don’t know if this will develop into a habit of substance, or be a short-lived experiment. I’m surprised you are even reading this now TBH. Perhaps go away for now, and come back in a few weeks to see if there is more to see. See you then?