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Do You Play Offense or Defense on the Gridiron of Testing

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football_232x207The end of the football season is here and as we settle in to watch playoffs, college bowl games, and eventually the Super Bowl, we’re thinking about strategy—on the field and off. And it may come as a surprise, but there is an important commonality between football and testing: The split between offensive and defensive play.

Reactive Testing as a Defensive Play

“The best offense,” the saying goes “is a good defense.” The logic here is clear: Limiting your opponent’s ability to score creates an opportunity for your own offense to drive the game. Good defensive strategy, then, minimizes the risk posed by your opponent’s offensive efforts and manages any damages caused by their time on the field.

In terms of testing, a defensive strategy is common. Characterized by rushed tests designed to fix problems that already exist—a sudden drop-off in conversions, an increasing bounce rate, or plummeting page views, for example. This is certainly a reactive approach to testing but that doesn’t mean it’s bad.

Indeed, this kind of testing is better than the alternative—blindly pushing gut-based solutions—which was usually the approach that led to problems in the first place. Embracing testing as a means of troubleshooting, problem solving, and fixing major roadblocks to conversion is a huge step forward in the evolution of testing cultures.

But even the best defense will struggle to win games alone. Eventually, the offensive team has to take the field—and they have to produce results, too.

Proactive Testing as an Offensive Play

So what does offensive play in the testing gridiron look like? Being proactive demands a shift away from preventing something from happening to creating a situation that makes something happen.

To do this, an organization must have a firm grasp of basic principles of applied psychology—knowing what levers are available for pulling—and be committed not only to increasing metrics but also learning about their customers.

Examples of this approach include tests that target affinity groups, explore specific stages of the customer journey or decision-making process, or leverage specific psychology principles related to a decision point.

Picking a Side

At this point, you may be wondering which team we should strive to be on. Certainly, there’s a lot of glory tied up in offensive play—the quarterback, after all, is the on-field leader of the team. But there’s a certain pride associated with a hard working defense, too.

The reality is that no football team can be successful without a balance in both offensive production and defensive achievement—and the same is true of testing. Reactive tests will likely be necessary, especially with newer programs, when problems can’t be ignored. At the same time, proactive testing will be the key to unlocking new insights and sustainable growth as a testing program continues to expand. The key is to recognize which approach is appropriate for your test objective—and that these objectives remain aligned with the goals of the testing program as a whole.

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