17 Feb Driving Innovation through Experimentation
Having an open mind and trying different approaches have been the success factors for the last ten years of my career. However, there is more to it: growing to the next level usually happened when I had a clear vision in mind that I then broke down into smaller goals. So, I knew when I had reached my next goal, and I could adapt along the way if I realized it wasn’t getting me where I wanted.
This concept of inspecting & adapting is fundamental in agile working environments and a way to grow as a team when applied systematically. Learning from experiments is a crucial element in our daily work. This article explains how we make this happen at viesure.
Creating room for experimentation
Transparency and clarity are essential factors while working in teams. We at viesure are absolutely determined to enable our teams to take ownership, create their working environments themselves and execute experiments. We design and execute experiments in a controlled manner to improve our collaboration towards expected results. Experiments are based on the working environment and include processes, practices and technologies the teams need to achieve their goals. Also, the nature of the product, as well as diverse stakeholders and individuals who bring along specific skills, competencies and experiences, influence how a team collaborates. What works for one team might not be successful for another. That is why we grant each team the freedom of self-organization and self-reliance.
However, we still have standards that apply to all our teams, no matter which framework and rituals they are working with. These are:
- Using Boards & working on User Stories level to enable transparency and to create a shared understanding of the work ahead for the whole team as well as for stakeholders
- Limiting the maximum number of “work in progress packets”; allowing us to focus on a reduced number of tasks at the same time and therefore achieve better outcomes and increase the predictability of what can be done in a certain time frame
- Synchronizing our work in daily stand-ups to ensure we focus on the right things and get impediments out of our way
- Inspecting & adapting our working practices and tools regularly in retrospectives to improve and to ensure we deliver high-quality products for our customers.
Only when we have reliable structures to build on, we can integrate experiments and learn from them.
Experimenting instead of just changing things
Sometimes good practices that served us well in the past might slow down a team or lead to failures and therefore need to be adapted to meet new customer needs, to handle changing environments or unforeseen incidents. We welcome these opportunities and see them as chances to learn and grow further rather than seeing them as something negative. It is important to accept failure and even expect it.
Learning together as a team also provides team experience. It builds identities, which is essential in complex environments such as software development. Analyzing our problems and adapting is crucial. Therefore, decision-making models like “Plan-Do-Check-Act” (PDCA) or the OODA Loop “Observe-Orient-Decide-Act” can provide orientation on where to start from. What all these models have in common is a testing phase before rolling it out to the whole environment or declaring it as a new standard practice.
Donald G. Reinertsen shows in his book “The Principles of Product Development Flow” that experimenting means trying things out. We learn the most in complex environments when there is a 50 per cent chance of succeeding and a 50 per cent chance of failing.
However, experimenting doesn’t always mean reinventing the wheel. There are many inspirations on what has worked in other environments. We need to evaluate if these also work in our environment and start experiments to try things out. Only then we can improve and deliver valuable products to our customers faster.
Guaranteeing successful experiments
Knowing how crucial experiments are, doesn’t mean they are easy to integrate into our everyday work. What helps us is knowing that we are allowed to fail, as well as continuously reassuring that it is ok to fail as long as we take (reasonable) risks. We need to focus on small units of change to guarantee fast learnings and to limit the risk of negative impact.
This helps to react quickly and adapt if the outcome isn’t as expected. Moreover, learning from experiments is essential and creates a culture of innovation. We encourage each other to continuously think in small ideas that make the difference.
Putting experiments into practice and executing them to maximize our outcome requires the following four elements:
- Setting a time limit on experiments (for example number of sprints, time frame etc.)
- Defining the desired results
- Agreeing on how we will know whether an experiment has worked (i.e. Will we integrate it as a new practice or not? How we will learn from it?)
- Setting aside time for shared learnings within the team and at the company level – be it among developers, POs, Scrum Masters etc.
To inspect and adapt certain daily practices, we also include KPIs and KRIs at team level. KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) usually include outcome/outputs supporting and evaluating historical data, and they help us to visualize the impact of the experiments we run. After introducing a change in our processes, we expect any kind of fluctuation, either positive or negative. KRIs (Key Risk Indicators) on the contrary work with real-time-data and help us react quickly to changes. What’s important in this context is to focus on a few things and not to deal with too many factors simultaneously to be able to draw conclusions on results.
Having specific structures in place is vital for agile teams and builds the foundation for successful experiments. Experiments allow us to move on when we are stuck or don’t achieve expected results. Moreover, if set up properly, they enable us to try out different approaches in the unique working environments of each team in order to grow to the next level and drive a culture of innovation.
For those who want to dig deeper in leadership practices and drivers for success in agile product development here are some sources: