This post was originally published on the Oven Bits Journal, under the titles, “Your Success is Our Success”, and “Being Agile Leads to Results”. It has been reproduced here for posterity.

Every client will tell you that they want two things: be on time, and stay within their budget. At the heart of every project, every client also wants a third thing–results. We like to take it one step further and say that every client wants us to be on time, stay within their budget, deliver results, and be special every step of the way.

Discovering Results

Before we even start work on a project, we ask, “why?” and dig deep. Why are we building this? Why would someone use it? What is the desired result? We want to learn what makes our clients and their customers tick. We outline key metrics during this time that we’ll use later on to validate our assumptions. If we don’t know how our clients define success for the project, we won’t know if we’ve succeeded in meeting their expectations.

Far too often, a project will set off on the wrong foot if the team doesn’t have a clear vision. The tricky part of any engagement is knowing when to stand your ground versus being flexible to what the client desires. The key is knowing how to test and validate your assumptions. With a disciplined build, measure, learn process you’ll be able to validate any assumptions that the team has developed. Basing six-figure decisions on intuition and gut feel is just plain foolish. If it can be measured and tested, it should be. As one of our clients so brilliantly put it, “My opinion does not matter.” After we all had a good chuckle, he was clear to reiterate, “No really, it doesn’t matter. All that matters is what our consumers say.”

Beware: Vanity Metrics

Finding the right metrics to track is no simple task. Product development teams—including ourselves—can easily get distracted by vanity metrics. These are the big numbers that sound impressive and make you feel confident you are on the right track. 100,000 downloads on the App Store. 20,000 signups. How do these impressive and seemingly benign statistics secretly undermine what you are trying to accomplish?

In The Lean Startup, Eric Ries writes, “Vanity metrics can allow [you] to form false conclusions and live in [your] own private reality.” Ultimately, vanity metrics distract us from—or worse, blind us to—the results we’re trying to achieve.

What metrics point us toward the results our clients want? Ones that provide a clear path for action. Sure, 100,000 downloads is great. But how long has your app been available? How many of those who downloaded the app continue to use it on a regular basis? Are people purchasing the in-app purchases? Do you know why? We stay ahead of the game by asking these questions early and often.

Instead of focusing on the vanity metrics, take a look at time in app, repeat usage, and metrics that can’t be propped up from a massive, one-time advertising spend. That’s when things will get real for you.

A Dash of Special Sauce

Being on time and on budget will get you a passing grade. Asking the right questions and having the right answers will get you a B. In order to truly succeed, we can’t simply meet expectations. We must exceed them. Chris Bowler hits the nail on the head: “Your goal as a business should be to make your customer look as good as possible.”

This can come in many forms. Often it’s something extra thrown in with a deliverable, whether it’s a planned feature ready to go ahead of schedule or a special interaction animation. Sometimes it’s a batch of cookies or cupcakes. Sometimes it’s just a note of encouragement or gratitude written to the client.

Our success rides on the shoulders of the success of our clients and customers. Only when we meet and exceed their expectations can we say we’ve done our job.