Speed is a critical feature, simply because your users don’t like to look at empty screens or useless spinners when they ask for information. And if they hold that screen in their hand and use a finger to interact with it on the phone or tablet, it’s even more intimate and frustrating if a website or a native app is slow.

Know Your Numbers

During recent years we’ve all seen plenty of research that shows that slowness hurts business and not only the immediate business metrics like conversion rates in e-commerce or page views/bounce rates, but also for long term brand perception where users will use brand less after slow experience and use negative words to describe the business altogether.

When you work with your business, you need to have a good set of numbers to convince your peers that performance is very important. But sometimes it’s hard for non-technical members of the team to trust numbers, especially if they are related to such an elusive concept as time and come from technology team that doesn’t always have business-minded people’s trust.

Try to approach it from another perspective and show them a competitive ranking among companies in your industry or show them “social proof” like the talk from Fred Wilson, Managing Partner at Union Square Ventures in New York City who speed of user experience to be the most important feature when he was giving his “10 Golden Principles of Successful Web Apps” talk. Maybe a word from a fellow business person and the one who is helping companies fuel their business with money can be a better argument in your conversation about speed.

Speed as a Feature

All organizations have a list of features or projects in some form – whatever it’s just a simple spreadsheet at budgeting or strategic planning meeting or an Agile backlog for day-to day prioritization, it’s always a question of what would be the next thing to be built and where would product construction resources should be invested.

Unfortunately, speed is an invisible feature and it is very hard to showcase and present your arguments about speed. That’s why it is critical to establish a good measurement process that shows you real speed of your web sites and not what you see on a desktop computer in your office.

In addition to measuring speed from real browsers, real geographical locations and real users, it’s important to also have hard numbers that show what business cost is associated with slowness, how much money you loose with each delay so you can put this information on the same scale as other features and can properly prioritize the importance of improvements.

At the same time, don’t forget that performance improvements are not free, they cost money either in training and best practice education for your teams or tooling and infrastructure development to support these best practices as well as vendor services like Content Delivery Networks (CDNs) or Front End Optimization (FEO) solutions, for example.

Make sure you understand these costs and present them properly and don’t just hide them or you will find yourself fighting with competing feature requests without proper resources allocated for your work.

Speed Process

Once you establish basic support for performance, it’s critical to make sure performance is being thought of during the full lifecycle of your digital product and not only though as an optimization tacked on at the end of the process.

Establish a process in which performance is taken into account as early as business requirements, product and graphics design and all the way to operation in production.

Create policies and development standards, educate and support engineers, designers and business team in their pursuit of performance and make sure to allocate time for them to give speed enough though and not rush to achieve a pixel-perfect, but slow experience.

Same rules apply to discipline in working with various vendors to ensure that you only include 3-rd party code that complies with your speed SLAs and does not harm user experience when service is unavailable or delays download and rendering of your core content. Don’t let your business team buy into “single line of JavaScript integration” sales pitch and make sure you have a documentation and process for working with vendors, allocate resources to support speed engineering and testing during integration.

And don’t forget to work with development and operations teams to create tooling around speed testing and code build and transformation so your speed does not rely on your developer’s time in every project, but is ensured with automated performance pipeline. At the same time, it is not practical to do everything in-house so make sure you have a good selection of operations vendors like CDNs, for example.

Designing for Speed

Current design process in many organizations produces static photoshop files as mockups and in few places has multiple of those for 3 screen sizes when implementing responsive design.

Reality is that not only this is not enough to cover all screen sizes, layouts and device properties, it also only represents fixed view at the end of the page rendering process and does not represent how page will get constructed as part of the end-user experience.

Making digital product is more akin short-film direction than to creation of a beautiful oil painting. It is critical to understand how things progress as they are downloaded from the network and rendered in the browser or in a mobile app and to maintain fluidity in that process to reduce uncertainty and cognitive load on users when they try to consume your product. Only then you’ll be able to make decisions that are needed to achieve fast and responsive experience.

Anti-Features

When performance process is established and you checked off enough speed improvements projects on your backlog, you can stop and enjoy the fast product… well, not really.

Not everything in performance world is a clear line item on a list of features, often times performance degradation comes on the form of new features that are supposed to have positive business impact and introduced by product and business teams thinking that it will indeed bring value.

Search, carousels, responsive design, personalization, 3rd party widgets – unfortunately, many of these features require a deep though to make sure they are implemented in the fast way and don’t reduce value of other features already on the site by slowing them down.

Make sure you give each feature a thorough look through “speed magnification glass” and calculate real cost of implementation for these staple solutions not only quickly, but in performing manner as well.

Foster Performance Culture

To achieve all these goals and to successfully embed performance as a core feature of your web or mobile applications it is important to think of performance outside of just technical aspects of it and to establish performance across your organization.

Help your teams think about reducing user’s frustration by eliminating slowness and always have their eyes on performance. Participate in a local performance community to find like-minded speed enthusiasts and foster performance culture within your organization.