42nd Street Company (#42stc)

Planned in-cycle with clear focus; aimed for optimizing learning

By on October 20, 2013

What are the similarities between Inspections, Lean-Startup and the ‘Innovation as usual’ model? Probably not a lot, yet there are some interesting similarities.

Lean-Startup is the new defacto standard for how to run a startup. Before then, making a new business was a bit of black magic powdered with old school MBA stuff.

‘Innovation as usual’ is explaining how leaders should stop getting all the ideas and instead create an organization where innovation is possible.

Inspections is a bit of an odd bird in this context. However, there are some interesting common factors. Inspections is the most powerful technique by which a group of people can read a document for the purpose of finding major defects. It’s empirically proven that you get the best results by Inspecting samples of documents of just a few pages, by giving each and every Inspector a clear focus for the Inspection and finally by ensuring sufficient preparation time. By rule of thumb, most Inspectors will find the optimum number of major defects pr. page with a preparation rate of about one to two hours pr document page. Even inexperienced Inspectors can find hundreds of defects pr. page in a requirement specification, if it has not been subject to formal Inspection before. This has been proven over and over again in companies around the world.

Anyway, that’s not the point. The interesting point is that the long term benefit of formal Inspections is in the learning of the person who wrote the document. It’s also proven, that by successive, frequent, well-planned Inspections, an author can about half his or her defect injection rate in each iteration. Starting from about a hundred pr. page, then fifty, then twenty-five, etc.

The long term benefit with Inspections is in the learning – people learn not to make the same mistakes again. It’s impossible to Inspect everything and find all the defects – the more you Inspect the less you find. But, by optimizing in the learning impact you can dramatically improve the quality of your documents over time. This is the key to successful Inspections and effective document quality control.

Now take Lean-Startup. Here you optimize for fast Build-Measure-Learn cycles, with a clear focus on validated learning and smallest viable sample, sorry, minimum viable product. Based on what you learn, you either persevere or pivot. The whole model is based on optimizing the learning cycle, so you will know as fast as possible, whether your business model is on the right track or not.

Similarly, in ‘Innovation as usual’, what you really need to do is to learn how to make innovation possible in the organization, you avoid all the bad ideas by giving clear constraints on what innovations you want and in this way reduce the sample size significantly. Part of the model is also to bring innovation back into the daily routines, so that it happens on an ongoing basis, not just now and then.

Recently I was discussing with my colleagues in a cafe in Copenhagen, close to Nyhavn. It was in this conversation that the above similarities surfaced. All of the three models appealed to me the first time I heard about them, but I never made these connections before. It all came from discussing the importance of focus in ‘Innovation as usual’.

Nyhavn-by-Morten-Elvang

Focus – very important to sharpen ‘what you are looking for’ – without a clear notion of what you are looking for, you are likely to not find anything at all. Interestingly, it has been documented in Inspections, a clear focus also helps you find important things outside your immediate focus. Things you would not otherwise have found. Focus is important for being able to dig deep. It sharpens you, but it doesn’t actually constrain you as some people would have thought.

Sample size – if you try to cover everything, most likely you will achieve nothing. The sample size must be small enough that have enough time to get to the bottom of things in the available time. Working with to large sample sizes brings you under comand of the ‘let’s ship it first and fix it later’ regime – you will be very likely to fail on some of your projects critical success criteria. Working with small, controled samples is an ingredient in a lot of successful project management approaches.

In-cycle/fast and frequent – it’s well known that fast and frequent feedback is an important enabler for learning. That you must learn while you still remember. If you are not providing fast and frequent feedback, then you also have time to keep replicating the same mistakes over and over again.

Finally, learning, is what all of these three models optimize for. The more we learn, the faster, the fewer risks we will have for the future. Fewer defects, better innovations, fewer  new businesses failing far too late.

Interesting connections.

(This version is a bit raw – might clean it up later)

PS: This post is inspired by the work of Tom Gilb, Eric Ries and Paddy Miller & Thomas Wedell-Wedelsborg. Except for the connections and possible misinterpretations little above is mine.