Tech Savvy

Better Management Through A/B Testing

What’s happening this week at the intersection of management and technology.

A/B testing your way to better management: Marketers and product developers love A/B testing. Want to figure out the most compelling offer for an online ad or the best design for new app? Test two of alternatives head to head and see which one people like better. Voilà!

A/B testing works so well that Instacart's vice president of product, Elliot Shmukler thinks managers should adopt it to improve their decision-making prowess, too. “There are many effective decision-making frameworks out there, but I wanted to use one that would simultaneously surface the best choice for the product while still encouraging the inherently different approaches to ideation among my product managers,” he explains.

When Shmukler’s product teams can’t resolve conflicting ideas and come to him for a final decision, he refuses to issue an edict. “Instead of giving a verdict, [I] test both theories and let data be the judge,” he says. “At first pass, this method may seem to favor the data-driven people, but it empowers each PM to push ideas forward. They learn independently rather than feeling that a decision was made for them.”

A/B testing also allows Shmukler to approve multiple product ideas, with the proviso that they be tested. “It increases experimentation, autonomy and learning throughout the organization,” he says. “Most critically, it fosters goodwill among smart — but very different — PMs who want to try out their ideas.”

For more on the benefits — and the challenges — of using A/B testing for management decisions, read Shmuckler’s interview in First Round Review.

Expanding the inclusive workforce with robotics: While we worry about losing our livelihoods to Mr. Roboto, Peter Hirst reminds us that there is a silver lining to the robotics cloud. “Let’s pause on the robots-are-taking-over-our-jobs panic for a minute and take a look at how some robots — telepresence robots, specifically — could be used to give access not only to jobs but to meaningful and rewarding careers for a historically overlooked and excluded population — people with disabilities,” writes the associate dean of executive education at MIT Sloan School of Management in an article on TechCrunch.

Hirst points out that nearly 20% of U.S. citizens live with some type of disability, and that 80% of them aren’t working — and certainly not for a lack of trying. Telepresence robotics can help solve this problem. “These seemingly simple and definitely non-threatening devices allow people to be ‘present’ in a business meeting, ‘walk’ down a hallway with a colleague, join a group at a conference room table or give a presentation on a conference stage,” he writes.

“Museums are taking advantage of telepresence robotics to make their exhibitions accessible for people with disabilities,” adds Hirst. “Hospitals use telepresence robots to connect doctors with remote patients in need of care. Schools help students keep up with the curriculum and even go on field trips when they are out of the classroom because of sickness or lengthy recovery. What is stopping us as a society to support and expand these initiatives until they are no longer a novelty?”

Three rules for running virtual meetings: Virtual meetings are one of the great boons of the digital era. But if you’ve ever sat on the remote end of an all-day meeting, you know they also can be one of its great banes. ‘Out of sight, out of mind’ kind of stinks when you’re the one who is out of the office.

It turns out that virtual meetings have their own set of challenges that even experienced meeting leaders don’t always recognize. In an article in Fast Company, meeting expert Shani Harmon offers three rules for analog meeting leaders trying to adjust to a virtual meeting world.

First, recognize that virtual meetings require more rigorous facilitation. “Imagine yourself as a tour guide charged with keeping everyone in the meeting oriented and engaged,” writes Harmon, who is the co-founder of Stop Meeting Like This. “That means ‘micro-framing’ each section of the discussion and the expectations for how individuals should participate.”

Second, avoid mixed settings in which some participants are in the room and others are not. “This is a recipe for exclusion,” says Harmon. Instead, skip the conference room and scrap the dial-in number. Get everyone on video in order to maximize engagement.

Third, find and stick with reliable meeting technology. Every ounce of effort you spend struggling to fix glitchy tech kills a pound of participant engagement. “If your team is virtual,” says Harman, “you owe it to them to master the tools you’re using together … processing both auditory and visual information simultaneously is generally much more engaging, and user-friendly tools are widely available for creating that experience.”