Ability to Learn Quickly – Iteration

Concept: Iteration Cycle – ability to learn quickly

Skill Goal: Decrease the time required to learn.

The act of repeating a process, usually with the aim of approaching a desired goal.” – Wikipedia

  • The goal of a startup is to discover a successful business model.
  • Iterations can refer to small learning exercises, but is more often used to describe the amount of time required to learn something significant about the business model or ability to lean quickly.
  • The iteration length is therefore not the amount of time to build a new version of the product, but also the amount of time required to gather significant information as well as the amount of time required to make a decision.
  • If no information is collected to base a decision on, then the iteration length is infinite because nothing is learned.
  • Companies can decrease the iteration length in a variety of ways:
    • Use continuous deployment with automated testing to increase production.
    • Reduce product requirements to create Minimum Viable Products.
    • Increase the amount of customers sampled for each test.
    • Simplify the decision making process.
    • Focus on qualitative data instead of quantitative data.
    • Etc.

Example: Production Bottleneck

A team has 10,000 visitors each day, but can only iterate once per week. Additional marketing may increase sales, but will not increase learning.

Example: Marketing Bottleneck

A company with a 5 person development team working on a simple survey application and practicing continuous deployment has demonstrated and ability to iterate every day. However, there are only 10 people visiting the website each day. A sample size is 150 people, so the team has 14 days of wasted development per cycle. The team needs to focus on marketing.

Additional readings:

Cash is not king

Iteration Time = Time to Learn, Not Time to Build

Individual Exercises:

  • A company XYZ wishes to optimize it’s on-line sales. It has two new home page designs it can test. It takes the engineering team three days to code, test, and deploy a new website home page. The website currently has 150 visitors each day and the CEO has decided that 150 visitors is a sufficient sample size of information to make a decision.
    • What is the iteration length?
    • What is the bottleneck?
    • How would you reduce the iteration length?
  • Determine your average iteration length.
    • What are the bottlenecks?
    • How can you reduce iteration time?

Thought / Discussion Exercises:

  • How does iteration length differ in larger established companies? Is this good or bad?