I recently moderated a webinar with John Pace of Real Networks and John Lovett of Jupiter/Forrester. The webinar focused on how to build an effective optimization organization. The response to the webinar has been very positive. In fact, I’ve gotten so many questions about this topic that I’ve decided to follow up with a few of my own observations.

At Omniture Digital, we start every single engagement with an on-site workshop. This gives us a unique opportunity to go inside an organization and get a sense of its DNA. After this day-long session, I’m able to identify which organizations are set up to run with optimization, and which ones will need some help getting there. Here are three things that I look for.

Openness to new ideas

Successful optimization organizations are neither too complacent (e.g., why bother trying that?) nor too rigid (e.g., we refuse to try that). New ideas are given an open venue to stand or fall on their merits. When there is a good idea, a successful company plots a course to make it happen. Less successful companies block off these ideas by immediately identifying obstacles. Count how many times each day at your company an idea is immediately shot down due to technical limitations or other roadblocks (for instance, a stakeholder’s defensiveness). Being open to new ideas and finding a realistic way to achieve them is a great predictor of success with testing.

Clear Business Goals

It’s true that ever test needs a success metric, but even more important are company-wide business goals. Otherwise, optimization efforts are often aimed at cross purposes. What are the top five business goals at your company? If you don’t know, it’s time to find out.

A sponsor near the top

Effective optimization organizations often exhibit a strong grass roots component, but at the end of day they do best under the guidance of an executive sponsor. That way, when inevitable challenges arise, there is someone that can help keep testing a priority. Testing is, by its nature, always important but rarely urgent. This means that it often takes a kick in the pants to make it happen. Accordingly, I always look for a CMO or other executive who is sponsoring the program.

An optimization champion

The single most important factor in predicting success: a champion, or owner, of the optimization program. This champion must be a respected member of the organization. (I remember one champion who would schedule countless meetings for which no one would show up. Ouch!) This champion must know, respect and appreciate the other people in his or her organization, and know how to motivate them. You see, testing is all about site optimization, but who gets stuff live on the site? That’s right: people. So having a champion to work with, motivate, trade with those people is a key to success.

Which brings us to you. If you’re reading this post, you’re probably an optimization sponsor, a champion, or aspire to be one or the other. If so, I highly recommend that you use these concepts above as a checklist to evaluate your company’s readiness to dive into optimization. If any of the ingredients are lacking, start working to getting the right people and strategies aligned.

After all, the single piece of advice I give most often to my clients is this: Do something. Start simple. Start today.