Fighting coronavirus with data

Countries like South Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam, Germany have been successful at containing COVID-19 because they test relentlessly, get results back quickly, and use the data from the testing to trace and isolate.

Until we have a vaccine, data is our vaccine. We need the right data about who has it, who they were in touch with. Right now, data is medicine. The right data will help save lives, and will get the economy back from the brink.

The “testing, testing, testing” mantra should also be the mantra of Web management. Unfortunately, it rarely is. Instead, in Web management, we so often use the wrong data, vanity data, Cult of Volume data, data focused on stuff being done rather than the right stuff being done.

In Web management, it’s much more prized to do the wrong thing quickly than to do testing and research and do the right thing a little more slowly. Speed is everything. You need to be sprinting, even if you’re sprinting in the wrong direction. You need to reach those artificial, made-up deadlines to show that you are a deadline maker.

When are we going to mature? We’ve become addicted to Cult of Volume metrics, to the Cult of Busyness. How are we going to wean ourselves off our obsession with quantity, volume and fake deadlines?

Content professionals are still primarily judged on the content they produce rather than the knowledge they communicate. We choose the metrics of volume and production because these are easier to collect and easier to communicate to senior management.

Developers and designers are judged on the code and designs they produce, not on whether they helped people figure out whether they had symptoms of COVID-19 or not. To test whether your Symptoms Checker actually works or not is crucial.

In Canada, they’re doing it differently. Practically every day they’re running tests on the COVID-19 content, Lisa Fast, optimization lead at Canada’s digital transformation office told me. They’re running these tests on mobile because at least 70% of the access to the content is from smartphones. They’re consistently asking citizens to attempt such tasks as:
“You’ve been asked to self-isolate. Find specific advice about what you should do if you live in a house with other people.”

It’s not enough to produce content or to launch an app. You must measure whether what you’ve done is working and the best way to do that is to measure if it’s working for the intended audience. If someone needs to self-isolate can they:

  1. Find the right information.
  2. Understand and follow properly.

Every day they’re testing their Web content in Canada. They’re learning what is working and what isn’t. They’re making changes based on what they’ve learned and testing again to see if they made the right changes. If they didn’t, then they’ll make more changes and then test again in order to keep learning.

We don’t have time to do it right. We just have time to do it wrong. The Web teams that don’t regularly test are like the countries that don’t test enough for COVID-19. They are running blind. It’s time for Web management to mature, to move away from the primitive Cult of Volume metrics, and to embrace metrics based on outcomes, on task completions and time on task.

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