Where are you on the Performance Maturity Model?

There’s more to building and maintaining a fast, stable website than technical expertise. An appreciation of why it matters is also crucial, which means that leadership, culture and processes also have a key part to play.

Developers and designers, for example, need the time, direction and resources to build performance into the website’s design. Regular testing and benchmarking will help to ensure that performance is monitored and maintained over time. Users of content management systems (CMS) need to appreciate the performance impact of any changes they make, as do those responsible for adding, removing and maintaining third-party tags.

This is a challenge, especially in larger organisations, where the people and departments with a stake in the website are more likely to be distributed across multiple departments, even multiple offices.

More often than not, the idea that the website’s speed is important fails to permeate throughout the organisation. There may be one or two dedicated web performance evangelists, keeping up to date with all the latest trends and attending web performance events. But these tend to be isolated, embedded within technical teams. When it comes to bringing the case for web performance to the rest of the business, they meet with mixed success.

Building performance into the culture of the organisation

It’s partly this that drove one of our professional services consultants, Colin Marshall, to build the Performance Maturity Model.

This is one way to help organisations understand where they are and where they need to be in web performance terms. There are four levels, from unaware to strategic, each with their own set of characteristics.

At the lower end of the scale are organisations with little or no appreciation of the potential impact of load time on conversion or customer satisfaction. At the top are those organisations where key performance metrics are monitored at board level and where the importance of performance becomes ingrained into the company culture.

Here’s an overview (we’ve highlighted a couple of points at either end of the scale to make them more legible):

If you came to Performance Matters, NCC Group’s web performance event this year, this will be familiar. It featured in a couple of the presentations (not least in Colin’s own, on the Business Case for Performance), but we also had a printed copy in the break-out area. You might even have been among those who placed a sticker to indicate where you thought your organisation was:

What you might find surprising is that very few people placed themselves anywhere near the top of the scale. True, this was a very small sample. But it was a sample of individuals whose employers thought that a day out at a web performance event was a good use of time. They were, from a web performance perspective, pretty enlightened.

This in itself is quite telling. For one thing, it hints at the fact that it’s not enough for individuals – or even departments – within companies to care about the website’s performance. No one really thinks they’ve ‘cracked it’. Yes, people are working to make their websites faster, but buy-in from the rest of the business is limited, and that makes their job harder.

Some organisations have come a long way, though, and Andrew Neilson, one of the keynote speakers at May’s event, showed us how Marks & Spencer are building performance improvements into the process of maintaining and updating the website, with a positive, measurable impact on customer satisfaction.

An external perspective

Having an idea of where an organisation sits on the maturity model can be very useful for those of us delivering web performance consultancy. It helps us understand where to pitch our work – whether we should concentrate on the low-hanging fruit or whether we’d deliver more value by going into the finer detail of micro-optimisations.

It can also help us understand the extent to which we need to be web performance evangelists. Sometimes it helps to have an external voice echoing those championing performance on the inside. Someone who won’t just say ‘your website is slow – this is how you fix it’, but ‘your website is slow, it’s slower than your competitors’, you’re almost certainly losing customers because of it... and this is how you fix it’. The best web performance advice in the world is worthless if the people on the receiving end don’t really believe in it and aren’t prepared to invest in maintaining a fast website. Increasingly, we see part of our role as helping organisations to develop in performance maturity terms.

Steps on a journey

On the face of it, those of us working in the web performance world have a lot of work to do. However, there does appear to be a growing realisation that performance is an indispensable piece in the digital strategy jigsaw. While performance hasn’t yet made it into many boardrooms, we’re pleased to be helping a number of organisations to change this. We’ll know we’ve won when CEOs care as much about delivering critical content in under a second as they do about their Google ranking.

Published date:  07 July 2016

Written by:  Alex Painter

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