September 28, 2020


News for Agilists

Is Finishing What You Start the Best Choice?

My repeat blog experience reminded me of a crucial truth. Delivering value depends on rapid learning and the ability to let go of bad decisions fast. We strengthen our ability to pivot by partnering rather than promising. Let’s explore this in the three guidelines that follow.

1 Learn Fast. We have a bias for our own ideas. Our natural tendency is to deliver to our promise and to our plan. And we hesitate to abandon our ideas the more we invest in them.

To counteract these truths, we need to test our ideas to assesses their merit. And we need to spend as little effort as possible to learn if our ideas hold water. If we can speed up our ability to build, measure, and learn, we can beat our bias and reduce sunk costs.

Three pillars uphold every implementation of empirical process control: transparency, inspection, and adaptation.

The Scrum Guide

If we learn fast, we can deliver a better solution for our customers’ needs. This will break us free of our tendency to march toward our original plan.

In product development, this is best achieved with lo-fidelity tests. These inexpensive experiments help you learn fast if your ideas are right. And they bring insights before you commit to building complete, enterprise-scalable working software.

To focus on learning fast, don’t over-design and over-plan up-front when knowledge is lowest. Instead, allow learning to guide your path through small, inexpensive experiments. This allows your “right product” to emerge.

2 Realize the Past Is the Past. Sunk costs are history. It is time, money, and effort already spent. If you spend it on the wrong thing, the faster you can abandon that path the better.

This is not an easy thing to do as proven by my first attempt at this post. But the less time and effort you invest, the better. Learning fast with minimal investment will help you leave behind bad decisions.

For product development, this mentality is critical. Imagine you spent several months or years designing and planning before building anything. How likely are you to abandon your investment when learning knocks at your door? And believe me, it will come knocking.

Instead, favor trying and testing an idea with minimal planning and effort. You will find it easy to pivot when the idea does not work.

3 Partner With Your Customers. Breaking a promise made with bad information is better than delivering on it. Even if we believe our solutions are right, we must test our ideas.

With whom do we test our ideas? We test them with our customers and our stakeholders. This requires that we engage with them often to inform the path taken.

Through close partnering, we understand their perspective and their plight. This allows us to take a walk in their shoes. As a result, we can better understand our customer and stakeholder needs and how best to solve them.

To do this, we have to engage before, during, and after delivery with our product community. This forms a partnership and beats a promise any day.

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