“The Best in Performance” video series from Rigor gives you the chance to eavesdrop on conversations with web performance industry experts, thought leaders, and technologists. Listen in as they talk about current trends, challenges, and lessons that impact the APM and performance space today.

Why pay for a conference (airfare! hotel! room service!) when you can learn from the best of the best while sitting at your desk (or on your couch)?

The Best In Web Performance Interview: Cliff Crocker

Check out our recap of episode one with Cliff Crocker, then view full episodes in the series and subscribe to be alerted when new episodes go live.

Introducing…Cliff Crocker, Senior Product Line Director for Akamai

Cliff Crocker is an active contributor in the web performance community, evangelizing the importance of speed as it relates to user behavior and ultimately business ROI.

Currently, Cliff is senior product line director, web performance, for Akamai Technologies, where he spends his time building product strategy for their performance portfolio. He was previously vice president of product for SOASTA, Inc., and engineering leader for the performance, reliability, and site analytics initiatives for @WalmartLabs.

Cliff and Rigor’s CTO, Billy Hoffman, sat down for a lively discussion focused on the ways that web performance experts can get attention and buy-in from development, marketing, and engineering teams in an organization.

Check out some highlights and learn how you can take action in your own company.

Cliff on…

Q: How do you get performance prioritized among other initiatives within an organization when there are already time demands on the team?

When organizations are already adding business priorities to a team’s workload, the challenge is how to compete for time. Crocker notes that he wondered why it was “so hard to implement the top ten things I was telling people [over and over] every month?”

To get buy-in, Crocker explains, he found that it was essential to “discuss [performance] in a way that mattered to the business.” This can be accomplished by highlighting the impact of performance on revenue. For example, says Crocker, he connected with a colleague on the site merchandising side. They worked together to combine Real User Monitoring (RUM) data with conversion data to do a correlation analysis that showed the impact of performance on conversion rates and revenue.

Crocker notes, “This changed the discussion. This does have an impact on revenue. People are going to go elsewhere to shop, even if we are the low-cost leader.” This perspective enabled Crocker to get performance prioritized on the roadmap. “It started that dialogue between the business and engineering.”

Cliff Crocker Web Performance Pro Tip

Q: How can “performance people” successfully start a conversation with “business people”?

Crocker notes that it’s important to “be creative about how you pull people in” across the organization. For example, he says, his team hung monitors displaying RUM data and performance stats around the building to engage people, such as those on the marketing team, who weren’t used to looking at that information. This approach led to a discussion where other teams asked questions like, “What does this really mean?” He also recommends old-school Lunch and Learns to foster discussion and education. I credit our awesome community for this. [Performance] is now becoming a mainstream topic, finally, in the user experience world,” Crocker notes.

“People get that performance IS user experience. People get that you can’t work with a static mockup or design or prototype. You have to actually see it in HTML and understand how it renders because that’s all part of the performance experience. That blending of performance and design that you’re starting to see starts to bridge that gap quite well.”

In the end, Crocker says that performance experts need to “reach out and understand the perspective of the person that you want to engage.”

For example, Cliff found that he had to speak the language of “conversion rate and revenue and orders per minute that didn’t resonate on the other side of the business” and then translate to how performance impacts those concerns.

Q: How do you find a balance when it comes to adding value vs. impact to metrics?

“Expectations of users today are so incredibly high in terms of not just performance but also what experience they’re going to be getting,” notes Crocker.

For example, they want guidance and recommendations throughout their journey about what they should by next. “It’s weighing what impact is this having and how is that measured? Thus it’s important when building or updating a site to look at the functionality and ask, “What am I adding and what is the benefit? What is the impact?”

Testing is a way to measure this impact. By running A/B tests, the engineering team can create quantifiable measurements that can be used to determine the way forward. For example, if a new feature slows performance slightly but increases engagement, the trade-off may be worthwhile. “Ultimately it does come down to what’s the end goal of a business. In commerce or financial services, [it] tends to center around that user experience and the customer impact,” says Crocker.

Performance experts must bear in mind that “it’s not always all or nothing. There are compromises to be made,” Crocker adds. Instead of recommending a full revamp of a product details page, one could first look for ways that the page’s performance can be improved without impacting the functionality. For example, all high-resolution images could be optimized so that the page loads faster.

Performance experts must bear in mind that “it’s not always all or nothing. There are compromises to be made.” - Cliff Crocker #webperf @cliffcrocker @akamai #bestinperformance Click To Tweet

Q: How do you begin forming and executing a performance improvement plan?

There’s no set methodology for everybody, says Crocker. He recommends starting with the internal team member who is “writing the check for these vendors and third parties.” Then recommend that this person incorporate an SLA with the third party and provide the data needed to set that SLA. “If you don’t bring data, it’s completely subjective,” Crocker says. He adds, “You don’t start optimizing before you’ve actually put measurement in place. It’s performance malpractice to do so.”

“You don’t start optimizing before you’ve actually put measurement in place. It’s performance malpractice to do so.” - Cliff Crocker #webperf @cliffcrocker @akamai #bestinperformance Click To Tweet

Q: How do you foster a culture of performance?

Crocker suggests these five steps for fostering a culture of performance, based on his experience at Walmart:

  • Define performance as something that’s part of every day – not something to only be concerned about during a specific event.
  • Be visible.
  • Create case studies.
  • Bring data.
  • Socialize the information
  • Send reports.
  • Generate a buzz and an interest.
  • Simplify.

Q: How can you make sure the voice of the customer is represented in conversations across teams?


From: The Best In Performance Interview Series – Cliff Crocker on engaging user experiences – (25 seconds) – Watch Full Episode

“Performance is user experience…and that’s what we’re all in it for. We want a great, engaging user experience,” says Crocker.

Q: What are some lessons you have learned in your web performance career?

Among his lessons learned, Crocker says, he now knows that “there’s always two sides to a story. An engineering view vs. a line of business view – understanding both sides is where you get success.” He adds, “Empathy is extremely important in our work, and I don’t think there’s any replacement for it.”

“Empathy is extremely important in our work, and I don’t think there’s any replacement for it.” - Cliff Crocker #webperf @cliffcrocker @akamai #bestinperformance Click To Tweet

In addition, Crocker quotes Jesse Robbins: “Don’t fight stupid. Make more awesome.” He explains, “If I were to go back years and years, I would say sometimes I spent a lot of time fighting stupid. It exhausted me and I made no progress.”  He notes that sometimes you have to step away from a project, adding, “There’s not enough time in this life to invest in things that are a dead end. The sooner you can adjust course, the better.”

Today, when he is fighting an idea, proposal, or direction, Crocker knows that he can stop and say, “I don’t need to do this. I can go this other route.”

Conclusion

In order for a performance expert to get buy-in from team members in an organization, says Crocker, it’s critical to lead with data – and with empathy. Make sure to position any data points in a way that others will understand as it relates to their role and KPIs. By following this path, you are more likely to be successful when evangelizing the importance of performance and to convince team members across the organization to allocate their time to related initiatives.

Check out Cliff Crocker’s full episode of The Best In Performance – as well as episodes from other industry experts – now! Then subscribe to keep a pulse on new episodes as they’re released so you’ll always be in the know.

Rigor provides the data that organizations can use to get web performance on their roadmap so they can monitor and optimize their site to get fast and stay fast. Learn more with a free trial.

What practices have you found work best when evangelizing web performance to other members of your organization? What hasn’t worked?

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