Getting credit for learning

I sat in a colleague’s office several months ago and we actually googled “getting credit for learning.” We were in the middle of a difficult period in which we were making many changes. The two of us knew that the last six months had taught us many lessons that would prove beneficial going forward, but learning doesn’t lift ROIs, increase sales or improve margins. The CFO can’t spend what we had learned. So how do we get credit for learning?

Sadly, google failed me and I didn’t walk away with a good answer. It wasn’t until I read The Lean Startup that I found my answer.

…if the fundamental goal of entrepreneurship is to engage in organization building under conditions of extreme uncertainty, it’s most vital function is learning

 

In the Lean Startup model, we are rehabilitating learning with a concept I call validated learning. Validated learning is not after-the-fact rationalization or a good story designed to hide failure. It is a rigorous method for demonstrating progress when on is embedded in the soil of extreme uncertainty…

 

We were deep in the soil of uncertainty, so using validated learning would have aided us in showing progress. The key to Ries’s methodology is in it’s rigor. The Lean Startup method relies on a Build, Measure, and Learn cycle.

photo credit: http://e7systems.com/

My main take away from build, measure, learn is that you start work in reverse. Here’s how to use the framework:

  • What is it you want to learn? ex Do our customers prefer a new product feature?
  • How can you measure this? ex We will measure sales on a A/B basis. Group A gets the new feature, group B doesn’t
  • What do you need to build? ex We build the systems capable of issuing products with both features.

But the process can also work with process or something personal. Here’s an example of building a new process:

  • What is it you want to learn? Is the new product development process viable?
  • How can you measure this? How long in months does it take to develop a product in the new process?
  • What do you need to build? We take two similar products down two alternative tracks.

On of the reasons I am so attracted to the Lean Startup is that it borrows many of the principals of design thinking.

In other words, we need the scientific method. In the Lean Startup model, every product, every feature, every marketing campaign – everything a startup does – is understood to be an experiment designed to achieve validated learning. This experimental approach works across industries and sectors…

 

Source: static.ddmcdn.com

These decisions are experiments set up by design, for a specific purpose. An work done that doesn’t result in us learning something about a customer (or process) is waste. Also, it should be clear that iteration is an important part of the process.

In design thinking, the process is moving us towards prototyping and testing. It’s a given that your first idea will not be our best idea and we use prototyping as a way to gain empathy – so it would be wasteful to spend an extra 2 months on the prototype because what we’re really after are the empathy and insights.

In the Lean Startup method, we are trying to get to “learn” as quickly as possible and then the cycle starts again.

Do you (like me) want to get credit for learning? If so, please check out Ries’s book and become a student of the scientific method. Be clear ahead of time which hypothesis you are trying to test (what are you trying to learn?) and how you are going to measure success. Think of yourself as a scientist running a lab of experiments.

Please share if you have experience with lean methods. I’ve love how this book has helped me to re-frame work issues. Read the Lean Startup if you want to be stretched and waste less time on features, process, steps and don’t help create learning.

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3 thoughts on “Getting credit for learning

  1. It is easy to get casual acquiescence to “hypothesis” testing, yet the practice is very susceptible to “political trolls” who can take the test out of context and exploit it as a “failure”. Buy-in on a broad scale or at the least at a high level in any organization is extremely helpful in implementing a test & learn approach. This makes it difficult to “experiment” with experimental learning in the midst of an active organization. Like most endeavors, it requires consistent vocal support to protect the people who are being asked to openly test hypothesis with the goal of learning rather than only (short sighted) success.

    • I completely agree. This is one reason to MVP on projects or products that are unloved or that are failing already. If the culture isn’t there yet, the learning will be overlooked, which is the whole point of the MVP in the first place.

      Said another way, if the organization doesn’t value learning, there is no reason to create an MVP.

      Thanks for contributing to the blog!

  2. Pingback: If they come, then build it | Build To Think

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