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Pattern: Exploratory Experiments

When dealing with a complex problem with no obvious available solution, run a series of small experiments to evaluate the possible alternatives and learn by doing

The challenge is new and complex, and the team can’t solve it by using its existing knowledge or through simple research (i.e., you can’t Google it). There is not enough information to make the next step, much less a proper decision.

In This Context

Committing too early to a solution you don’t yet fully understand. Teams are likely to choose a known solution that is not a good fit for the problem, because they understand it; undertake a lengthy analysis of the solution that leads nowhere(analysis paralysis); or jump on the first available solution (availability bias).
• In Waterfall all questions need to be answered before actions are taken.
• People learn best by doing.
• Difficult problems are better solved by a team.

Therefore

Explore the problem space. Mitigate the risk by delaying critical decisions long enough to run a series of small scientific-style experiments to uncover missing information and evaluate alternatives.Each experiment should have a hypothesis that can be proved or disproved by the experiment. When a hypothesis is disproved, the experiment itself can still be called a success. It is critical to avoid assigning blame or punishing those involved in the experiment in cases where the results are not satisfactory.
• Identify one problem/idea and choose two to five small—taking a few hours to afew days—experiments to test it.
• Form a hypothesis to query What is my problem in the first place, does this solve it,what is the cost, and can we afford it?
• Identify and compare possible alternative solutions.
• Establish clear and measurable criteria for success or failure. Collect data and evaluate it.

Consequently

The team is granted time and given a process for experimenting with solutions when it encounters a complex problem.
+ Teams learn by doing this, which helps them in future decisions and work.
+ By showing a small, quick success with an experiment, you are able to make a first small and easy step in a new direction.
- When experiments are cheap and easy enough to run, it can be hard to determine when it is time to stop experimenting and make a decision/move forward.