This series examines how teams need to work closer with senior executives as allies. (see part 1)

Senior executives seek metrics to understand if a project is progressing successfully, but the real measure of the value of a software project is the value it delivers to users through working software. Often productivity metrics like time, cost, and velocity are used because they’re easy to quantify and standardize. Leadership often monitors these metrics, but they never meaningfully show if a system is doing what it needs to. It’s difficult to measure upfront if a user is successful, so it’s better not to try right away.

Early on, stories are better leading indicators of success than metrics. A leading indicator predicts what will happen whereas a lagging indicator, like page visits, clicks, or (in the private sector) revenue tracks what has happened. Stories provide genuine and nuanced insight. Stories can lead to patterns, patterns can lead to common challenges, and when you prioritize those challenges you can develop a better strategy and roadmap for your product.

Use stories pulled from interviews, usability tests and surveys to validate your strategy. For example, this is a quote from a usability test for redesigning with the Department of Justice.

“This beta site says you’re here, this is where you belong, we can help you. I gravitate towards sites like this because they make more sense to me.

When you’re disabled it’s a hard thing, it’s really stinky. No one quite knows what to do with you over the long term, didn’t understand that. You’re sort of, like, extra (I don’t mean extra good) extra aside. This beta site seems to say no, you’re not extra, you’re protected by law, we’re here to help you, this is the law, these are the things you can do. That’s important to me as a disabled person.

I’d go to your [legacy] site for information if I wanted to drill down. On this [beta] site, people are listening, people can hear me, and they are concerned about me. There’s a place in the law for me, it’s not just the law, it’s about people.”

The quote that “there’s a place in the law for me, it’s not just the law, it’s about people” became our vision statement. Senior executives and even teams sometimes rely on roadmaps and metrics as the guiding definition of success. But it’s statements like these that give us purpose.

Some of the best stories to collect and share are:

  • Audio recordings or quotes of struggles and issues
  • Video demos of the work or product
  • Video recordings of reactions during usability tests

Many people know the value and influence of a good story: they provide a nuanced, on-the-ground perspective that will bring the entire organization closer to the end user. However, they don’t often get shared out.

It’s always better to show, don’t tell, but it’s sometimes hard to do in the moment. Save a handful of screenshots, quotes, sound bites, or short video clips, no more than 1-2 minutes. Store and bookmark them in locations for quick reference during a screen-share or in person.