Diagnosing Sample Ratio Mismatch in Online Controlled Experiments: A Taxonomy and Rules of Thumb for Practitioners
Aleksander Fabijan, Jayant Gupchup, Somit Gupta, Jeff Omhover, Wen Quin, Lukas Vermeer and Pavel Dmitriev
Accurately learning what delivers value to customers is difficult. Online Controlled Experiments (OCEs), aka A/B tests, are becoming a standard operating procedure in software companies to address this challenge as they can detect small causal changes in user behavior due to product modifications (e.g. new features). However, like any data analysis method, OCEs are sensitive to trustworthiness and data quality issues which, if go unaddressed or unnoticed, may result in making wrong decisions. One of the most useful indicators of a variety of data quality issues is a Sample Ratio Mismatch (SRM) ? the situation when the observed sample ratio in the experiment is different from the expected. Just like fever is a symptom for multiple types of illness, an SRM is a symptom for a variety of data quality issues. While a simple statistical check is used to detect an SRM, correctly identifying the root cause and preventing it from happening in the future is often extremely challenging and time consuming. Ignoring the SRM without knowing the root cause may result in a bad product modification appearing to be good and getting shipped to users, or vice versa. The goal of this paper is to make diagnosing, fixing, and preventing SRMs easier. Based on our experience of running OCEs in four different software companies in over 25 different products used by hundreds of millions of users worldwide, we have derived a taxonomy for different types of SRMs. We share examples, detection guidelines, and best practices for preventing SRMs of each type. We hope that the lessons and practical tips we describe in this paper will speed up SRM investigations and prevent some of them. Ultimately, this should lead to improved decision making based on trustworthy experiment analysis.
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