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Pattern: Research Through Action

People can sometimes use research as a way to avoid making decisions, so hands-on learning through small experiments builds confidence and jumpstarts progress

The challenges are new and complex, information is scarce, and the company is pushing to go fast.

In This Context

In a new or unfamiliar environment, people can analyze things too much and fail to make progress: analysis paralysis.The tendency is to spend a lot of time on research, because making an actual decision is daunting—particularly in an environment where failure historically resulted in punishment. The effort to take in so much new information can also be overwhelming.As a result, people will often skip from one idea to the next before getting enough understanding to guide informed decision making. All of this adds up to procrastination because it is not effective data gathering related to actually moving ahead with a plan—it is research for research’s sake.
• When people are not allowed to fail, they avoid taking risks.
• Quick actions carry a lot of risk.
• If the cost of action is high, people tend to delay and wait for more info.
• In a world with many dependencies, taking action requires involving others.

Therefore

Run small experiments instead of full analysis and research; choose action over extensive contemplation and exhaustive research.We all find ourselves from time to time in front of a massive pile of work without the faintest idea where to start. Doing nothing is the easiest choice, of course, but this won’t lead very far. So then we try some thorough planning to “make sense” of all these tasks, doing lots of reading and Googling. In an uncertain environment, however,we won’t be much smarter after all that work—the best course of action is to simply pick the first task from the pile and do it! Then another one and another one.Keep doing this until you gather enough information about what’s going on, and at that point a bit of planning could be appropriate.
• Experiments and PoCs instead of in-depth architectural documents.
• Limit the risk of action with short deadlines and low cost.

Consequently

You are making minor yet tangible progress through taking small, iterative steps.
+ Uncover unknown-unknowns through experimentation.
+ Increase team motivation and joint learning.
+ Many experiments fail—this is OK.
+ A solution that is not fully baked can still be a valid choice.