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April 30, 2018

Why we’re killing Frank.

Kill Frank Cover Photo
Chris Schimkat

As Alpha’s Head of Digital Experience, Chris “Schmako” Schimkat is in his element when matching client objectives with actionable and effective SEO & CRO techniques. When he isn’t investigating code and website structure, you’re likely to find him in the kitchen,out on the soccer field, or relaxing with a spreadsheet.

There’s a Frank in just about every organisation. We are faced with him in meetings, memos, and planning sessions. Frank stops us from achieving what we could achieve – and for that reason we have to kill him. That might seem a bit extreme, but don’t worry Frank isn’t a real person and there’s a bit of Frank in all of us.

We use “Frank” to describe the side of ourselves that thinks we are above data, experimentation, and being proven wrong. Frank is the guy in the meeting who says “We’re doing it this way” because:

  • “I’ve seen it done this way before”
  • “Our competitors are doing this”
  • “I have a good feeling about it”
  • “It looks better”
  • Or in extremely narrow-minded cases simply because “I’m right”

The problem with Frank’s mentality is that instead of considering other ways to do things, he uses his authority to impose his ideas on others.

A better approach

In my opinion, the better approach comes from Ray Dalio’s book “Principles” where Dalio explains that instead of saying “I’m right”, or even beyond asking “Am I right?” you should be asking yourself

“How do I know I’m right?”

It’s in this mindset that we’re able to do our best work, get our best results, and frankly get out of our own way. This approach takes assumptions out of the equation and replaces them with a new framework for testing, experimentation, and data.

The cost of Frank

In “CROsphere”, it’s estimated that typically around 70% of split tests don’t yield a successful result. The only reason we have that statistic is because these tests occurred. But what if these tests didn’t happen? What if instead of testing a hypothesis we just blindly applied it? Well, that means that when you go with your gut you’re getting it right only 30% of the time.

For this reason, we need to transition away from “I have an idea”, to “I have a hypothesis that we should test”.

Because then you can implement your proven hypothesis with confidence, only implementing changes that will have a positive impact.

By following this methodology, you can reduce unnecessary costs resulting from:

  • Time spent implementing the 70% of changes that won’t have a positive impact
  • Time speculating about the impact of changes
  • Lost revenue as the result of poorly made decisions
  • Time in researching “why something could be better” instead just putting it to the test

How to kill Frank

Experimentation

As mentioned, we need to move from a culture of “This is my idea, let’s do it”, to “I have a theory that I think would be worth testing”. But the specifics of each idea will determine how it will need to be tested. For example, if it’s a change to your website or online advertising messaging, it’s easy. Set up an Optimizely experiment or upload the 2 ad text variations to test against each other and analyse the results.

But for something more complicated like “Should we move to agile project management methodology?”, you’ll need to get more creative. The methodology for testing something like this could include getting half of your team to trial agile and the other half to continue with the current methodology. Or, you could try one week on, one week off for a few months. Keep in mind you can only test what you can measure. Make sure whatever you’re testing, the key metrics are defined and are measurable.

Allow yourself to be wrong

Experimentation isn’t about egos, it’s about data. The only time you’re actually wrong in experimentation is when you implement something without testing it. Even though your hypothesis might be proven wrong, it means that you’re empowered with the right answer.

Use your experience and assumptions to guide experimentation

You might feel as though this article is telling you to throw everything you think you know out the window. Wrong. Your experience and your gut are essential for coming up with the right new tests. Listen to your intuition and then confirm it using the scientific method.

Killing Frank resolves arguments and lets you speak with authority

Ever been in a heated discussion about which approach to take? Killing Frank gives you a blanket statement to resolve disputes. “Let’s test it”. This statement prevents you from needing to stick your neck out on an idea and removes egos from the decision-making process. It also means that when you’re having a discussion, you don’t need to have all of the answers. You can feel comfortable enough to say “I don’t know yet, but this is my theory, and we’ll know for sure after we test it”.

A culture of experimentation can positively influence culture by:

  • Removing egos
  • Resolving differences of opinion
  • Making people feel safe to try new things

Next steps

If you’re new to experimentation, your first step is to start looking at what you can test. Take notes on all of the differences of opinion, ideas, and theories that you have, and start to think about how you would go about testing them. Once you’ve identified that, get familiar with the scientific method, the tools you want to use, and start testing. Keeping a log of experimentations and learnings will be important for getting buy-in from stakeholders throughout your organisation. But start small, show everyone what experimentation has accomplished and work hard to preach the gospel of experimentation. Before you know it, the Franks will be gone, or at least they’ll be converted to your way of thinking.

But most of all, never stop looking for the Frank in yourself because from time to time we all unknowingly let him out. When you see him, put him back in his place with the rest of the Franks.