Why Ladbrokes is decentralizing their CRO operations

In the world of experimentation, it’s common to hear of teams who are seeking to centralize their team structures. That’s why the approach of Jessica James’ team at the gambling and gaming company Ladbrokes is so fascinating, as they are actively engaged in the opposite approach.

In a special Notable Minds interview with Speero’s Haley Carpenter, Jessica explained why and how Ladbrokes is distributing the power of experimentation into the hands of individual teams. If you’d like to watch the full episode you can view it below.


Let teams set their own roadmaps 

As the Commercial Optimization Manager at Entain, the parent company for Ladbrokes, Jessica’s role is to act as a data-driven manager. 

Her goal is to get her colleagues to focus on problems rather than on solutions, in order to identify customer pain points and improve the customer journey. And when you understand the size, complexity, regulations, and localization needs of the business you can start to understand why a decentralized model might work best. 

Ladbrokes not only operates retail and telephone bookmaking in the UK, Ireland, and Belgium their online presence operates in 33 languages and 42 currencies. Alongside Ladbrokes, the group Entain (the world’s largest listed sports betting and gaming group) operates 20 other online betting brands with a workforce of more than 24,000, in 20 offices across five continents.

In pursuing a decentralized approach, the thought was that individual teams would have the best insight into customer pain points, and therefore be able to set the most effective roadmaps. Decentralizing helps the right people focus on the right questions more quickly, instead of waiting for a centralized experimentation team that’s far removed from day-to-day team operations. The change to a decentralized model is still in progress and will take a couple of years to fully take root, but Jessica and her team are confident that it’s the right approach for Ladbrokes. 

We’ve previously written about the different team structures for experimentation, so if you’re at the crossroads of deciding which approach is best for your situation check out how to structure your optimization and experimentation teams or read about how the Cisco team built a Center of Excellence

Identify and train a point person 

The important thing to note about Ladbrokes’ decentralized approach is that just because teams are empowered to set their own agendas does not mean they are operating in a vacuum.

In fact, it’s quite the opposite.

First off, just because experimentation is decentralized does not mean there isn’t still a central group or governing body to lend expertise. Jessica and her team are still on hand to help validate data, and support teams along the way.

Perhaps more importantly, each individual team now has one key person who is fully trained in experimentation. This means that each team has its own resident expert who is fully embedded in the team. The function of that point person is to help their team identify the best way to focus on a problem, prioritize tests, and to look at data without “torturing” it. 

To set up this model, Ladbrokes conducted some experimentation on their own team setup to see what would work best.

Some of the point-persons were hired from outside Ladbrokes and had CRO expertise as part of their existing skillset. Others were existing Ladbrokes team members who were trained internally by Jessica and her team. Every week, the point persons sync up with Jessica and her team to provide updates on the tests they are running.

In a way, it’s more like a hybrid model than one that is purely centralized/decentralized in structure. 

Get corporate buy-in

It goes without saying that a company like Ladbrokes is enormous, with a healthy budget to match. Smaller teams and startups would not be able to execute an approach like this, without the number of employees and funding necessary to pull it off. Even at Ladbrokes, Jessica and her team had to build a solid business case for why the new decentralized approach was necessary and beneficial. They had to help make stakeholders understand how the new structure would help to drive an optimization mindset across the entire business. 

The crux of the argument was that the new structure would help individual teams focus on important learnings and quick wins, and the central team could focus on the bigger picture. Ultimately, learnings are more important than wins at Ladbrokes. But there’s no doubt that wins help to build confidence and enthusiasm in teams newer to the world of experimentation. 

Focus on problems versus solutions

Good experimentation culture is problem-oriented. The focus is on deeply understanding your customers and their journey before proposing or jumping into half-baked, ad hoc solutions.

At Ladbrokes, Jessica and her team use a version of the “five why’s” (they tend to use three) – “an iterative interrogative technique used to explore the cause-and-effect relationships underlying a particular problem.” It ensures that they really look at the data to understand the purpose of running the test they are running, and how they are going about it. 

It sounds simple, but it’s a practice that helps them cut through the noise and get to the heart of the problem they are trying to solve or what approach to take. It forces team members to verbalize to one another what information they are using to come to a decision, and why it’s the best option. If there are gaps in the answers, it means the problem likely hasn’t been researched thoroughly enough.

Solutions can be shiny and exciting, but the responsibility of any good experimentation lead is to drill back down to the real customer problem. After all, sometimes the best solutions are downright boring—but drive incredible results. 

Want to find out more? 

To watch the full interview with Jessica James, as well as other experimentation leaders, head to the Speero YouTube channel where you can watch the Testing Insights show, Notable Minds, and The Heuristic Show.

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