As we've seen, collaborative problem solving does have risks — new ideas might be crushed prematurely, judges might be intimidated, and more. Risks continue when we move to experimentation or prototyping. Let's now examine how to avoid some of the troubles that can arise during experimentation.
- Design experiments to facilitate learning
- Most experimental efforts are designed merely to determine whether an idea "can work," but that isn't enough. We need to know not only whether the idea can work, but also what its weaknesses are, how severe they are, and how we can address them.
- Regard each experiment as an exploration of the solution and how it interacts with a hostile environment. Try to determine the consequences of its misbehavior, and the cost of eliminating that misbehavior.
- Capture learning from experiments
- Experiments — especially well-designed experiments — create knowledge. Since experiments cost time and resources, we must be prepared to capture all the knowledge they create. We sometimes adjust experiments on the fly in response to what we're learning. Although these adjustments can be helpful if the adjusted experiment is still well designed, that isn't always the case. Sometimes the result of adjusting experiments on the fly is a muddled mess from which we can learn little, if anything at all.
- When conducting experiments to test newborn ideas, provide a means of capturing and storing generated ideas in such a way that they don't interfere with the ongoing experiment. When the new learning does demand immediate adjustment of the current experiments, take care to adjust them in ways that can still produce useful experimental results. That care takes time and effort, which means schedule and budget.
- Protect experiments from transition to production
- One of the most common tales of tragedy is that of the prototype that got sold to a customer. The interference of production with experimentation creates two classes of problems. First, because the prototype was intended as an experiment, it often has attributes and structures that make it unreliable and expensive to maintain or enhance. Second, if the pattern of interference of production with experimentation has occurred before, the experimenters learned long ago that they must take steps to make the prototypes more durable than ordinary experiments would have to be.
- The resultOne of the most common
tales of tragedy is that of
the prototype that got
sold to a customer is that experimentation is more expensive than it needs to be, and maintaining or enhancing fielded products that are former prototypes is more expensive than it needs to be. In short, the result is neither a good prototype nor a good product.
- When conducting experiments to test newborn ideas, conduct experiments. Insulate the experiments from any pressure to convert them into products. Your experiments will be cheaper, and when the time comes to actually build a product, it will be built right.
If one of these ideas for experiments is itself a new idea for your organization, try adopting it — but experiment first. First in this series Top Next Issue
Are your projects always (or almost always) late and over budget? Are your project teams plagued by turnover, burnout, and high defect rates? Turn your culture around. Read 52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented Organizations, filled with tips and techniques for organizational leaders. Order Now!
Your comments are welcomeWould you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenHoWzUJVeioCfozEIner@ChacbnsTPttsdDaRAswloCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.
About Point Lookout
Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.
Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.
Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.
Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.
More articles on Problem Solving and Creativity:
- Organizing a Barn Raising
- Once you find a task that you can tackle as a "barn raising," your work is just beginning.
Planning and organizing the work is in many ways the hard part.
- When Fixing It Doesn't Fix It: I
- When complex systems misbehave, a common urge is to find any way at all to end the misbehavior. Succumbing
to that urge can be a big mistake. Here's why we succumb.
- Virtual Teams Need Generous Travel Budgets
- Although virtual team members who happen to be co-located do meet from time to time, meetings of people
who reside at different sites are often severely restricted by tight or nonexistent travel budgets.
Such restrictions, intended to save money, can contribute to expensive delays and errors.
- Disjoint Concept Vocabularies
- In disputes or in problem solving sessions, when we can't come to agreement, we often attribute the
difficulty to miscommunication, histories of disagreements, hidden agendas, or "personality clashes."
Sometimes the cause is much simpler. Sometimes the concept vocabularies of the parties have too little
- Why Meetings Go Down Rabbit Holes
- When a meeting goes "down the rabbit hole," it has swerved from the planned topic to detail-purgatory,
problem-solving-hell, irrelevance, or worse. All participants, not only the Chair, contribute to the
problem. Why does this happen?
See also Problem Solving and Creativity and Conflict Management for more related articles.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming June 14: Pseudo-Collaborations
- Most workplace collaborations produce results of value. But some collaborations — pseudo-collaborations — are inherently incapable of producing value, due to performance management systems, or lack of authority, or lack of access to information. Available here and by RSS on June 14.
- And on June 21: Asking Burning Questions
- When we suddenly realize that an important question needs answering, directly asking that question in a meeting might not be an effective way to focus the attention of the group. There are risks. Fortunately, there are also ways to manage those risks. Available here and by RSS on June 21.
I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenHoWzUJVeioCfozEIner@ChacbnsTPttsdDaRAswloCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.
Get the ebook!
Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:
- Get 2001-2 in Geese Don't Land on Twigs (PDF, )
- Get 2003-4 in Why Dogs Wag (PDF, )
- Get 2005-6 in Loopy Things We Do (PDF, )
- Get 2007-8 in Things We Believe That Maybe Aren't So True (PDF, )
- Get 2009-10 in The Questions Not Asked (PDF, )
- Get all of the first twelve years (2001-2012) in The Collected Issues of Point Lookout (PDF, )
Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500-1000 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info