Measure twice, cut once. It is this adage that can help us learn through the development process towards maximizing the value delivered with a product or service. However, when our efforts do not turn out the way we expect we have the opportunity to develop the skills and methods to effectively work more methodically and efficiently. This is being overt about replacing build-test-fix, with what Eric Ries promotes in his 2011 book “The Lean Startup”, build-measure-learn. Through our engineering schooling, we were regularly taught methods that moved us from what could be viewed as an educated guess to a very deliberate approach that results in a design that meets the technical need, effectively “success with no do-overs”. We can approach our learning in a similar manner.
Ries’ Lean Startup principle of build-measure-learn, can be applied to virtually any area where we have a knowledge gap. We start the process by establishing the needed flow of learning beginning with the end in mind. With a piece of paper or on a computer screen we establish the basic “what by when” on the right edge of the paper. Then we work towards the left by identifying the basic pieces that support the “what” while breaking down each piece into their components. As we move towards the left side of the paper, identifying each of the components, we are working to find the most significant knowledge gaps. To do this work, for those that are familiar with the A3 Problem Solving Process, an A3 is an excellent tool to map out the goals, objectives, learning, and development work in order to clearly identify those knowledge gaps and see the flow of the work – given our current understanding.
For knowledge gaps that are driven by the necessity to understand customer needs we can utilize Ries’s approach in the creation of a Minimum Viable Product (MVP). In Ries’ use of an MVP, it is not from the sense of what is delivered to a customer as a solution but as a tool to get through the “build-measure-learn loop with the minimum amount of effort”. The simplest examples are paper screen mockups of an idea for a web-based solution. This is done before a single piece of code is written. However, in development, an MVP can be used to align various groups such as marketing, hardware design, tooling, program management, and consumer design towards having a common understanding of what might be the first step in creating a customer solution. This could come from a well-created list of needs that represent, in this case, that of five perspectives. In this example, all 5 groups (or individuals) are seeing the same list and working to understand each other’s perspectives and clarify needs.
...build both a common understanding of the need as well as identifying the required learning...
In any use of an MVP, their greatest value comes when they are simple to create and easily modified as learning is gained. They are designed to solicit the learning that enables changes to them. In our example above involving our five groups, they may have identified a dozen items that define the first step in creating the solution. Some of those items may only be important to a few individuals while others are critical to all involved. Once the team aligns on this list of items, they can move to the next point of the learning, (maybe creating a simple product mockup) effectively moving towards the right of the page, one step at a time.
For those familiar with the principles of Lean Product and Process Development, with our use of Ries’ methods, we see many of the LPPD principles come together, creating reusable knowledge, pull and flow, system designer, set-based design, and most importantly creating a team of responsible experts. The key is the team working together to build both a common understanding of the need as well as identifying the required learning to deliver that need.
Do you have ideas you would like to share concerning accelerating the learning process or aligning teams towards a common understanding? If so, it would be great to hear them or your feedback on this topic.
Bob Stavig has 35 years of engineering and management experience with the last 16 years utilizing the principles of LPPD within Product Development. He has a degree in mechanical engineering. Bob has completed the Lean Product Development Certification Program through the University of Michigan, is a certified Six Sigma Black Belt through the American Society of Quality, and a Certified Scrum Master.
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