Recently, I came across a blog post on “North Star Metric” (NSM). I was delighted that somebody else had written about a topic that is critical to the product teams I’ve managed. I shared my thoughts in the post “The Power of Metrics to Guide Software Development.”
A North Star Metric is defined as:
“A North Star Metric is the key measure of success for the product. It is the single metric that best captures the core value that your product delivers to customers. They are key lagging indicators that measure success for the product.
“A NSM defines the relationship between the customer problems that the product team is trying to solve and the revenue that the business aims to generate by doing so.”
Yet, in every company I’ve joined the last ten years or consulted with, there would be a thirty something UX person who would be advocating and re-designing existing software with a universal interface or a more user-friendly interface or a modern interface like Microsoft or a pick a UI meme of the day. I would scoff and pontificate or get really mad or just walk away in anger at their incompetence and stupidity. I never stopped to understand what was the root cause of my frustration and anger.
I would have similar reactions whenever some UX person with too much power would completely redesign the UI of products I use for hours a day like Microsoft Office. In the attempt to acquire a few more “young, hip” users, these companies would turn their backs on those of us who have spent decades learning and depending on their product to get real work done. Every time I hear a product marketer proclaim we have a “modern user interface” I want to run for the hills.
In a user research interview for a forthcoming book with Kristen Litgen of Nuix (formerly FTI Consulting Ringtail) on how she learned to become a product owner, I suddenly realized that what I was frustrated by wasn’t incompetence. I didn’t understand that I had a very different design center than the UX teams had. It’s not like I had a single design center for every product. The product design metric or NSM needs to change for any particular product and their target customer audience.
With Attenex Patterns, the NSM was “increasing document decisions per hour.” With Personal Patterns the NSM was “minimize time between search start and useful results.” [NOTE: See “Why are there so few visual analytics applications?“] With the full Patterns product, the users were going to be spending 8 to 10 hours per day with the product, so it was fine to require some training to understand the power of the product (1-4 hours). For the consumer Personal Patterns, the product had to require no training and be fast to respond. The NSM was different for each.
Similarly, the design centers and users for contract lifecycle management (CLM) in a stand alone product were different than the users coming at CLM from our Salesforce product at Conga. The skills were different and the amount of time spent in the products were very different in the two environments. The two products needed different North Star metrics. Yet, the UX folks insisted on a common “user friendly” UI.
Now that I realize the huge gap in the different design centers for a given product, I can have a more rational discussion that hopefully leads to a better outcome. I can go back to the basics of discussion so nicely described by Amsterdam and Bruner in Minding the Law:
“So we take as the agenda of this book to make some very familiar routines in law-thinking strange again. We want to concentrate especially on three commonplace processes of legal thought and practice, to target them for consciousness retrieval. They are processes without which lawyers, judges, and students of the law could not possibly make do for as much as one hour: categorizing, storytelling, and persuasion.
“But our efforts to explore the processes of categorization, narrative, rhetorics, and culture will also lead us to use other techniques of estrangement. Perhaps the most powerful trick of the human sciences is to decontextualize the obvious and then recontextualize it in a new way.”
Anthony G. Amsterdam;Jerome Bruner. Minding the Law (p. 4). Kindle Edition.
I now realize that I didn’t spend the time to “de-contextualize the obvious” for the UX designers. My bad.