Are experiments underrated?
This last years, working as Agile Coach and trying to pull changes, I observed that companies are scared about experiments. They prefer something predictable, easy to follow, clear roadmaps and stability which gives them this desired feeling of control. But live is neither predictable nor stable, so why should companies be? And when I’m saying companies I’m talking about all that surround them: users, clients, colleagues, teams, people, stakeholders… Experiments add volatility and instability but for the sake of the evolution and growth; stability and predictability no.
Experiments help us grow and this is trial and error. May could not seem too much - let’s say - scientific or “elegant” but looking back to human history seems that the biggest breakthroughs that we did were done by mistake or without knowing why. We are good executing not thinking, well this is not 100% true, we are good thinking but afterward. I mean, once we succeed we are good developing a formula or a rational explanation to back what we found up after hundreds, or even thousand, of errors. Trial and error is key! For instance, try to talk with David Beckham, he was able (and I’m sure he still can) to shot a free kick giving an amazing spin on the ball but, I’m also sure that before going to the field he never wrote a single mathematical formula on a sheet trying to predict what kind of parabolic shoot he was going to try today. Or what about Roman, Greek and Egyptian old civilization and all these structures they build before Christ without having mathematical knowledge? Add to these examples others discoveries that we have done as a mistake like Penicillin or Viagra (perhaps this last is not a big discovery but for some people… well… maybe it is).
However, seems that we are still looking for stability, when nature and history says that it’s not a good deal. Again and again, trying to know, for example, what your customers thinks they want or, on the worst scenario, what your CEO thinks the company needs; defining plans, estimating it, budgeting it, etc… Instead of that, focus on experiments, proper MVPs (I think that MVP is the most word used right now) that let you learn about your environment (as Eric Ries says at Lean Star-up), then define next steps based on this new knowledge. For this reason, I like the idea of Joshua Kerievsky adding “Experiment & Learn Rapidly” as one of the cornerstones of Modern Agility. As users sometimes we don’t know what we want, since we have it in our hands. We didn’t know that we needed personal computer or iPhones till Apple launched them.
Is not this kind of mindset that moved companies forward like Google or Amazon? Use for example Toyota and its TPS or Lean approach, taking into account what Mike Rother on Toyota Kata the willingness to reach their vision, make them remove hurdles doing little experiments to obtain the next target condition. It wasn’t because they were looking other companies or using cutting-edge technology, it was because how they learned and improved through experiments. In addition, bear in mind, that creativity comes from minorities and thanks to these minorities innovation exists, if you don’t let them to flourish you are destined to mediocrity and monotony. You cannot be predictable & stable and at the same time pretend to be innovative.
To wrap up… I think we should (or maybe must) make up an environment or framework of experimentation. This means, that inside a constrained domain, people, teams, tribes, guilds, chapters, companies, etc. must be free to run trial and errors experiment in order to reach their goals without any kind of fear. Talks may be around different options to execute, little steps so to avoid possible harms and not failed tests but learning. Knowledge should flow inside the company as old knowledge moved from grandparents to children or masters to apprentice, based on experiences done by experiments.
Stability seems good but hurts us, volatility seems dangerous but makes us better. Maybe not on the short term but on the long terms for sure.
- Toyota Kata — Mike Rother.
- Antifragile — Nassim Taleb.
- Obliquity — John Kay.
- Management 3.0 — Jurgen Appelo.
- The Flaw of Averages — Sam L. Savage