We hate to introduce yet another acronym, but this one is worth paying attention to. This week we introduce QORE, Postlight’s method of evaluating the main components of any projects. We breakdown the 4 letters of the acronym, quality, opportunity, risk and efficiency and show you how keeping track of these can help you produce something you and your clients will be proud of. Use QORE and prosper friends!
Paul Ford Look: I don’t live a very fancy life, frankly. Most of my shirts probably cost about seven dollars which is another problem. I know. Don’t even go there. But damn a nice lunch, you know? [Laughing] Wouldn’t that—
Rich Ziade I haven’t had a piece of sushi in my mouth in a really long time.
PF Mm! [Music plays alone for 18 seconds, ramps down.]
RZ We always show off about our generosity here on the Postlight Podcast, formerly known as Track Changes. I’m gonna say that three more times and then never say, “Formerly known as Track Changes.”
PF Postlight Podcast!
RZ We like to share knowledge [music fades out]; we like to be generous; you know, we ask for a minute of your time so we can shamelessly pitch our firm but—
PF Oh! Every—everybody knows what this is. We all know what this is.
RZ But I think we’ve given people a lot but I wanna give people something actually unique to us that—it’s a system of thinking and of prioritizing and helping to run the business that I think applies even beyond agencies. And what we’re gonna do is we’re gonna do a little exercise, Paul. I’m gonna give you three minutes—
RZ —to spend on each letter in the acronym and we’re gonna talk about how this helps Postlight and hum and be successful. And Postlight has done very well. Really, more than anything else, as a byproduct of the trust and the goodwill we’ve built with the people we do work for. So I’m gonna sit here and advertise as if we’ve got some magic recipe that makes it happen but frankly it’s the people that deliver the product that is just next level.
PF This is a good framework. Let’s talk about where this came from. So, about middle of last year, you sat down and you said, “We need to be evaluating and have some principles about the work that we do and how we deliver it and where we’re going with it as a firm.” And I said, “Yeah! Cool! That sounds amazing.”
RZ [Chuckles] Yes.
PF Go to. And so then I think you went away for a month. And actually I think this originally started as a way to evaluate product managers. Like to think through like who had which skills and sort of figure some things—
RZ I think it’s born out of that, yeah.
PF Yeah, and then you realized that this—And this is our first initialism, it’s our first acronym in the firm, this could be a framework for understanding and evaluating projects in an ongoing way. So that’s—so around January we started to live by the acronym in the firm. And this goes back to my principle of things that you used to hate just become more and more obvious as the firm grows, so like—
RZ Yeah, here’s another one!
PF “Trust falls in the woods.”
RZ Yeah. So! I’m gonna limit—we’re gonna use only four minutes for each letter in the acronym.
PF What is the acronym?
RZ The acronym is QORE but there’s a twist, Paul. It’s not C-O-R-E.
RZ It’s Q-O-R-E! Is that intense? Is that something?
RZ Yeah, I think it’s pretty wonderful.
PF That’s how you know you’re part of a growth-driven organization . . . when you’re willing [yes] to take chances. What does it stand for? What are the four things?
RZ It stands for Quality, Opportunity, Risk, and Efficiency.
PF Nice! Alright!
RZ You could take those four metrics and overlay them on a lot of different kinds of businesses but the agency business is especially—the R is capitalized and the others are lower case, frankly. Risk in an agency business is everything because you don’t have the visibility of a typical product business, a mature product business. So let’s go through each: Quality.
PF You want me to define it?
RZ Tr—start and we’ll talk back and forth, yes. You’ve got four minutes, Paul Ford!
PF Alright, well, look: Quality is how something compares to all the things that came before and if it truly—and it—it’s a combination of both things that are almost ineffable and hard to define and very instinctual where you look at something and you go, “I get it.” And it really—and it can apply across disciplines. So there’s Quality of Code, there’s Quality of Design, there’s Quality of the Overall Product. Let’s actually very quickly define what one of those might be. So, Quality of the Code: it’s well structured; it uses the idioms of the language; it is as brief as it can be; there’s enough documentation but not too much; and you’re able to find your way very quickly. Sometimes you can squint and tell if code is good or not. Quality of Design: instead of taking the requirements that were listed in the document and just putting them kind of in a sequence on the page, instead of letting quick visual cues work, instead of organizing things in nice hierarchies; you’ve got a very clear sense of where you are. You know the kind of thing you’re looking at; you know what is expected of you as a user; you’ve got a clear type hierarchy. Many things along those lines; like good, solid principles, as well as understanding what action the user is supposed to take next. In terms of product, it’s a matter of bringing all those things together into a framework that again, a user will be able to pick up and just absorb into their way of thinking and being. So, I’m looking at a lot of screens and the screens are going to be presented to the client and what has come to us is a business requirement and some hopes and dreams and a team that needs to turn their world around. So, what I see in front of me is a journey that shows how the user is going to the designs and the engineering that Postlight is building so that they can—they can achieve their goals, not the client’s goals but the user’s goals. And also, in terms of product management, that we are ready to narrate how the user’s goals are going to align with and enhance the business or the function of the organization that works for us. And now, I’m very abstract but you start to be able to see it. You start—because you can see, like, that will have the bottom line results in terms of traffic, or engagement, or getting more donations that these people are expecting. And it looks like the good things that do that and less like the bad things that don’t do that. So that’s—that’s Quality.
RZ Yeah, I mean, I think it’s worth noting: we don’t really bill hours at Postlight. We rarely do it. If your goal is to not just log hours but rather get people to wanna come back for more, and your delivery is everything. Quality is pivotal. Our growth is driven by quality. Not by digging in and knowing—hijacking and keeping hostage specific domain knowledge that only we can do, right? Like that’s not our game. Our game is that you’re gonna love the work and we’re seeing it—
PF That’s not Quality.
RZ That’s not Quality. That—our game is you love the work and you’re like, “You know what? Give them the keys again.” There’s a basic belief here, which is a scary one for an agency, which is let it end because they’ll come back for more if we do good work, right? That’s an unusual thing. Speaking of: come back for more, Paul!
PF Ok. Ok.
RZ O stands for Opportunity.
PF Mmmm! Ok, so a goodly portion of our business comes from relationships that extend. Now, Rich just told you we’re not timing materials. Ok, so now it’s tricky, like well, do you change orders? Like how do you extend a relationship? The weird, counterfactual way that you do this is you ship the product that they said they need you to build. Because what is real in our industry is that once you ship that, all the other things that you have put off in order to make that a reality, now come to the fore. And [yeah] because the relationship was good and because the product is of quality, this isn’t them having you over—we don’t have them over a barrel, they could take the code and they could make a few hires and they could build on top of it. They could go to another agency but what they’ve determined is that if they go back for more with the requirements that have emerged since we started building this thing, they’re going to get that same level of quality and it’s going to be good. And so, what we’re looking for when we’re evaluating in terms of opportunity, it is: how is the relationship? Are we in a position of trust? And if there is—Now, look: if the thing is done and they wanna get it to the market and their team’s gonna take it from there, like, that’s great. Then we did our job. But if they are looking to extend because they want to get more done, then we want to make sure that we’re listening, we’re writing it down, that the relationship is warm. One of the things you deal with in sales is that it’s rough to walk back in after six months and be like, “Hi! Remember me? I write contracts!” That is a very, like, awkward place to be and so are we keeping in touch? Are we, you know, are we making sure that there is good transparency and also if there are any challenges, if they’re frustrated, if there’s something they’re not getting, do we absolutely know that? Because [yeah] that is the easiest way for someone to say no to extension is for them to go like [hesitant], “Yeah, but, mmm [sucks teeth]. There was that thing.”
RZ I think what you’re touching on is elevating beyond project to relationship, right? We have many clients [yeah!] that frankly, don’t think of us as the project company but rather as the relationship company. We want to be in the conversation when they think about other things, especially very big clients that are inevitably gonna spend money and are gonna look for partners. We wanna be viewed as like, “Oh my God, who better than Postlight to do this?” So Opportunity is around that. It’s not just can you get an extension? A lot of times opportunity won’t materialize for another year.
PF There’s a critical thing, too, like we are expensive, especially up front if you don’t buy a lot of services because we are competing with outsourced firms that are able to do a lot of things with how they charge for labor, and more specifically, they optimize their relationships to get in there and then extend them. K, we actually don’t optimize for that. Like, we’re talking about this now and it’s because it’s part of our firm because—actually for about three years we told people, “Don’t even bother. Like, we’re gonna give this to you and it’s gonna go to your team, don’t worry we’re not trying to lock in.” And what happened is finally people were like, “No, no, no, no, no, no, I don’t wanna build a product team, could you just be the product team? Like you’re actually [yeah] the most efficient and probably the most cost effective I can go with if you would just like, stop trying to throw it over the wall and just stay here and own it with us.” And we were actually confused about that cuz we were like, “Isn’t that gonna be boring?” But it turns out there’s usually a pretty big, complicated product road maps on larger projects. And so, it’s building that relationship but without trying to jam it in there, without trying to be like, “Oh, hi! It’s me [chuckles] again. Didn’t see ya there!”
RZ Well we don’t schmoo—it’s not about the schmoozing. It’s—we don’t ask the question of, “Hey, have you had lunch with the person? Have you taken them out for drinks?” It’s never about that actually. It’s frankly, the work is the thing that’s gonna build that—
PF Well, let’s be clear: we have nice credit cards, we’re glad to take the client out for a nice lunch. Like, I mean, that’s just part of life.
RZ Yes, yes, yes, yes.
PF Let’s—I miss it! What’s the point of life if you can’t take a client out to sushi? This pandemic is killing us.
RZ Speaking—speaking of sushi that gets delivered to you in [sic] a hot sunny day, R is Risk.
PF Dude! This—I mean, let me throw this one back to you. You are our operator around risk in this firm.
RZ Yes, so a key part of QORE . . . is another way to state Risk is expectation management. Frankly, what do they think is coming next? And are you ready? If you’re not ready to get ahead of what’s coming next then that is the single biggest source of risk for anything, frankly. Your stakeholders are coming, what do they think is coming? And what this often leads to is what we call rehearsal meetings where they literally present and use language as if the stakeholders inside of Postlight sit in the seat of the client and they present and—and so very often the conversation goes like this: well, what do they think is coming next? And if you get a blank stare, which means they haven’t really communicated what’s next, right? Then risk is already in play because what happens—and I’ve said this on the podcast before: if there is ambiguity, your stakeholder is gonna fill that ambiguity with something in their heads and their not gonna tell you what it is, and when there is ambiguity you are always wrong.
PF That’s not just client service, that’s everything.
RZ That’s everything.
PF That’s management [chuckling], that’s like, that is going to the restaurant—
RZ Narrow—narrow that gap. Set expectations and this way you can’t be surprised, right? If anything, we have this thing around risk is, “Ok, cool! So they know what to expect.” Are you gonna surprise them with anything? So that’s the next level which is like, “Ok, they know they’re getting that, can we go above and beyond? Are you gonna show ‘em three examples when you told ‘em you were only gonna show ‘em two?” Then how do you go beyond that? Right?
PF This ties in with one of the rules of the firm which is there’s no bad 60 days out. Right? Like [that’s right] if something isn’t going well, if you raise it two months ahead of time, there’s always time to solve it. If it’s two weeks ahead, and they’re expecting a launch, you’ve created a crisis.
RZ Yup. Alright, so let’s recap so far so we can close it out with E.
RZ Quality, Opportunity.
PF Opportunity. Risk.
RZ And then finally Efficiency.
PF Quality’s a tricky one. Like, you can kinda give it a letter grade, but it really is a story. Opportunity is, “Hey, I think we need to get that relationship going and make sure that we understand what they need so that we can give them a number and they can decide if they wanna go forward with it.” So, that has a very clear next step. Risk is what—how do you articulate risk?
PF I mean I think—it’s like, “I’m worried that this is going to happen. I see a lot of problems if we don’t do this.” That kinda thing.
RZ Yeah, I mean, are we headed down a path where the firm is more exposed? That’s pretty much it [yeah]. You’re a vendor. A vendor by definition is supposed to be fired as soon as the clock runs out. And we don’t have—I mean I’ll say it, full disclosure: every agreement that we have signed has a cancellation without cause clause. You can send us home with a little bit of notice, no matter what.
PF Oh that’s the whole point.
PF You don’t even have to meet our eyes.
RZ That’s right. So, how do we a) render ourselves critical and important which is quality, right? And b) how do we minimize exposure? Right? Cuz there are—you have your advocate but then there are others around the advocate who’d like to see us go away, oftentimes it’s engineering because it’s like, “Why are they here? We’re good enough.”
PF They have their own opinions about how this should be going, and we’re not part of that story.
RZ That’s right. Everybody has those opinions. So, how do you disarm the naysayers and how do you empower your stakeholder, right? That is about—that’s risk, right there.
PF It is, yeah. I mean, one of the most important things you can do along those lines when you’re walking the floor is communicate that you’re here for growth. You’re not here to—you know, people don’t know why you’re there. Are you there to take their job? Not really. No.
RZ Oftentimes, they read you there as an indictment on what they’ve done so far which is [that’s right] very—very painful to drive through. Efficiency, Paul!
PF Efficiency in pure terms is: is this staffed correctly to get a good result . . . but not overstaffed so that people are spinning their wheels, waiting for things to happen . . . because—and this is because we are not a—for the most part—a time immaterial shop, if someone isn’t doing something that means they can be doing something else. And that doesn’t mean that they have to be doing work that drives money into the—the cofounders pockets, it means they could be doing Labs projects, working on marketing stuff, working on contributing to the website or whatever, and those things are very good for us. Like, they could also just be—they could be, you know, doing a lunch and learn or talking in the hallway and sorta building the community like I miss—which again, I miss, right? But like, you know, that’s part of the agency. So, are we efficient? Are we running as well as we can? Are we meeting our dates? Are we getting to where we need to be? And are we doing it according to the outline of the Statement of Work while simultaneously meeting expectations. Now, where this can really throw you is if scope changes, and it does. And somebody wants something more for the amount that they paid then you expected to give them. And in general, we are going to try to give them more. We don’t get into a lot of positions where people are just like squeezing us and we’re grinding. Like, that’s not—but sometimes they’re like, “Look: I just—could you do this for me?” And we’re like, “Alright, well, we’re partners, let’s go.”
RZ Yeah, it’s true, and it’s funny because, you know, it was one of the things I was warned about more than anything is don’t expose yourself and button it up as much as you possibly can . . . because they’ll come back—they’ll come back for you, and you’ll be in pain, and so, you know, you can’t keep it fast and loose. And in fact, we, by design, keep it somewhat fast and loose because underpinning it all is this sen—is this dynamic that we like to establish that it is a partnership; that nothing is set in stone; that software is malleable; and that we’re gonna have to work through problems together. And what we’ve found—and this is something that I don’t think very many, if any, agencies do . . . because it would seem extremely risky but in fact if you do it right a) it builds goodwill, and b) it could be immensely profitable because if you run it efficiently and you deliver them the thing that makes them really happy, they don’t wanna know about the details underneath. They’re just happy. And that’s a very powerful thing. But if something was supposed to be done in 90 days and we’re on 70, and it doesn’t feel like it’s gonna happen, we will enforce it. We will hold people accountable . . . to the commitment, the timeframe commitment because if it gets away from you too quickly it could—it could flip on you real fast. You can go from being very profitable [mm hmm] to really being under water. And so we just wanna check in with that. We don’t want it to be a thing with like, how do we—to your point earlier, like, “How do I squeeze as much as possible out of this wet towel?” That’s not the point here. If it’s gonna make it great with an extra two weeks, we’ll give it the extra two weeks. But what we don’t want is to just forget about when the damn thing was supposed to end and it just drifts and drifts.
PF And also, let’s be really clear: if you—if you have an experienced buyer and they know what they’re buying—if they don’t know what they’re buying that can be complicated cuz they have to learn like how software gets made in real time. And you can educate them but that is a process. Everybody has to learn that the first time and sometimes that is the client. But on the flipside, if they know what they’re buying and they see the quality they are expecting, then the efficiency follows very, very quickly cuz they’re not worried. They’re not like, “Am I getting everything I paid for?” Cuz they’re able to look at it—they’re seeing the quality is there and they’re saying, “Alright, I’m getting everything I paid for.” And yeah, there is a big checklist of all the buttons and features, and they’re getting that too but they’re not just getting that. This is where software companies get in trouble, right? Is that they deliver every single box and that’s why the government has terrible user interfaces because nobody actually bothers to glue them together sort of into one big application, they give them—they ship a million boxes. And that’s how that—that’s how that provisioning and contracting process actually works. And so that is the wrestling match, but if what you see that there’s actually a stronger link between quality and efficiency then I think a lot of people would think. If you get it right, and you work really hard to get it right, the efficiency follows very organically and the client—the opportunity shows up because the relationships are in. Quality drives everything.
RZ Absolutely. Quality is the driver. You know what no one’s ever said to us at Postlight? “You know I expected 300 hours, you only gave me 280.” Or something like that. It’s never happened.
PF Never, never.
RZ It will never happen because we don’t sell that, right? We sell the outcome and I think it’s riskier but it’s, frankly, more rewarding.
PF Ah, it’s not—I mean, we’re four years in, it’s not that risky.
RZ Well we—I think we cracked the code and we could write a book about it but for now we’re just gonna share . . . these points.
PF We’ll do a podcast.
PF So, QORE. Next time you are evaluating multiple products in your life, Quality, Opportunity, Risk, Efficiency. Just sit down—and I’m gonna confess something: when I do the meetings, I do a little report card. I literally give letter grades.
RZ Like A, A minus, B minus.
PF I mean basically, yeah, I do it numerically, I add ‘em up, and I get a percentage. For all four.
PF And I have my notes. And then I write down what I expect to see two weeks later. And, you know, I will tell you—this is a good way to close this out which is that when we first started having these meetings in January, and we decided that we were gonna evaluate every single project along these lines, do you know what my reaction was?
PF I utterly panicked once I got in the meetings because I was like, “Oh my God, there’s risk everywhere!” Because I’d never [Rich chuckling] looked at all the projects at once.
PF Right? Like suddenly the portfolio’s in front of me.
RZ It’s also a mechanism for us to look in, right? Otherwise, it’s like, “Hey, whatchu guys doin’ over there?” Like it formalized a way to look in as we grow. So, that was valuable.
PF Well and what it does is it makes it healthy and normal in the firm to talk about the actual—the actual work being done and again, you’re getting it out of, “How is that person doing?” Or, “What are they doing?” Or, “Is that client happy?” And into a zone of, “What has been done? And what are people’s reactions to what has been done?” So, I mean, the flipside is like now we have clear perspective on 15 to 20 ongoing projects where before that was—you know, we also—we tried to have people report on it directly out of Slack, and we tried to have different kinds of accounting. The meeting is a good . . . structure here. Like the QORE meeting.
RZ Getting together is important. Yes. You’re not fillin’ out a form. So, take this and go forth, everyone. QORE: Quality, Opportunity, Risk, and Efficiency. Not to sound like too much like, you know, airport book business speak but it’s—these frameworks become necessary as you grow. You don’t need ‘em when you’re 15 but they really are necessary. And they’re good—they’re good lenses to hang over whatever you’re working on, otherwise you’re reacting a lot of the time. QORE is an attempt to not just react. There was a day when—when I had to get in, it was cuz things had gone bad. And that’s [yeah] not good. I’d rather go in and say, “Hey! Wow! That looks great. Great work!”
PF You know, what listen—what listeners aren’t hearing is the terrible struggle of the two of us to go, “It’s time for an acronym.”
RZ [Laughing] I think they heard it, Paul. You started the podcast with, “Uhhh, sorry guys, there’s an acronym.”
PF Yeah! Yeah, yeah, no, that was actually hard for us to just be like, “Alright, we’re one of those orgs. Let’s—let’s get it right.” But it is a good framework, it has been. I use it almost every day and then I’ve got my new little motto which is, you know, quality, trust, and growth are the three things that I need to worry about as a CEO.
RZ Oh! Another acronym for another podcast, Paul.
PF Yeah, exactly! [Music fades in] Maybe we’ll come back. I’m the CEO now, Rich. It happened. It’s not just in title. My whole body has transformed. [Rich laughs] For some reason—No, I lift up my hands and they produce golf balls, it’s just a terrible thing. I just—it just [chuckles] everywhere I go. Ohh [descending].
RZ Oh see, now I was about to pitch Postlight and I can’t do it anymore cuz I’m just seeing golf balls flying [Paul laughs] out of your palms.
PF Just flying out! That is the ultimate skill of a CEO is to physically [yeah] produce golf balls anywhere necessary.
RZ [Laughs] So we are Postlight, a digital strategy design and engineering firm here in New York City and around the world. Reach out if you’d like to talk to us about just about anything. We’d like to hear about the challenges you’re facing and we deliver big, sprawling platforms for some great clients. Visit postlight.com, there’s some great case studies there.
PF firstname.lastname@example.org. Yup! Quality, Opportunity, Risk, Efficiency, we will—we’ll bring you into our framework.
RZ By the way, it’s worth noting: that acronym can be used for a healthy marriage too, to just manage a healthy marriage. I dunno, it might work.
PF Yeah, we’re doing that meeting tonight. I’ll let you know how it goes.
RZ Alright! Have a good week everyone.
PF Bye, everybody! [Music ramps up, plays alone for two seconds, fades out to end.]