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As a community manager, I spend a fair amount of time thinking about metrics. I measure activity across the community to watch our progress in various areas that are important to the health of the community. Recently, I’ve been thinking about how my metrics approach could also apply to corporate web workers. I’ve discussed the need to demonstrate your effectiveness as a remote employee if you want to be able to continue to telecommute, and having some data and numbers as proof that you’re productive might be a big help.
In my job, I look at metrics in three major categories: awareness, membership and participation. I use website analytics and social media mentions to gauge whether people are aware of our activities. Membership is measured when people join the community or subscribe to mailing lists. Participation is the most important and most comprehensive set of measurements, looking at posts in our forums, mailing list participation, IRC activity and various developer activities, since I manage an open-source developer community. Most of these are measured and charted over time to show areas of growth or decline in the community on a monthly basis, which allows us to make adjustments if anything starts to stagnate. In addition to the numbers, I also do a fair amount of analysis to look for content trends and recommend potential areas for improvement based on how the community responds to certain activities. While this is a significant amount of work every month, all of these measurements allow me to justify my existence (and my paycheck) to the company and my manager while also helping me find areas where I can improve the community.
So how can metrics help you in your role? Many companies already have processes that require measurement of progress toward goals. The type of metrics that I’m thinking about would complement and augment those existing measurements with a few more details. While there are many good ways to measure effectiveness, there are also a few pitfalls, so let’s look at one approach to setting up some personal web working metrics.
Measure What Matters
Just because you can measure something doesn’t mean you should measure it! For example, I could measure something like the number or hours worked every day or the number of emails sent/received, but those measurements are irrelevant to my job. As a community manager, many of the community’s metrics also serve as my personal metrics. You need to look at your position, job expectations and goals to find the best ways to measure whether or not you’ve been effective and productive as a web worker. If you don’t tie your metrics into your career goals and specific job requirements, you won’t be measuring the right things.
Pick What to Report
I consume a significant amount of information, and I measure many different activities. Less than half of my measurements or the data that I look at on a monthly basis make it into my report. Let me be clear, this is not about hiding information; it’s about finding a representative data set that can be consumed by most people without an excessive time commitment. I spend a lot of time looking at the numbers because that’s part of my job, but other people also have their jobs to do, so I need to distill the information down to only the most important information. I have a set of things that always go into the report — this is the baseline of activities that I track over time. A few others might be added if something unusual happens or if I notice something really interesting. In other words, measure some extra activities that you can use to determine how you’re performing, but make sure that what you deliver to your manager is a digestible amount of only the most important metrics.
Most of us have jobs that span several different areas, and you probably need to measure your performance across a couple of categories. For my community, I break it out into awareness, membership and participation, which boils down to three levels of engagement for community members. As a web worker, you might have a category or two for your core job function and another category for learning, training or other measures related to career advancement. By categorizing your metrics, you can make sure you aren’t neglecting an important area. For example, neglecting training or learning new skills might not matter in the short term, but if you neglect them too long, you might find that your skills are no longer the ones that your employer requires. It’s part of our human nature to categorize, but be careful not to go overboard here. For most people, two to four categories are all you need if you pick the right ones.
This is just one possible approach to using a metrics or numbers-based approach to measuring your effectiveness, but don’t get too caught up in the process. Stay focused on measuring a few of the most important things for your job and build on it over time.
How have you used metrics and numbers to demonstrate your effectiveness as a web worker?
Image by Flickr user Tom Woodward used under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license.