Experiment to prevent rigor corpus - part 3 of 4

Oct 14, 2022

This section covers some challenges you may face during the implementation of an experiment framework.

This is a series of four related posts:


If the team you assemble is not used to this sort of freedom, you can face a bit of an uphill challenge. It is worth the journey if you can get them there.

Learned Helplessness is a real thing. If you have had years of accepting things will never change, you stop looking for improvements. Even worse, the ability to imagine improvements starts to atrophy. It can be hard to get those wheels turning again. Start with changes within the team’s control. Then expand outwards once they gain confidence with some wins.

Tip: There are many techniques out there to elicit feedback and brainstorm. Find some that match with your team.

Sometimes opportunities for change are hard to find. Especially in a more mature environment where things are running well enough. Some will doubt the value of trying to find any improvements. There are a few things to consider:

  • Experimenting can help teams stay aligned with the business.

  • Sometimes inefficiencies are no longer noticed.

  • Experimenting gives a sense of control to employees… great for morale.

Tip: I find that learning the 8 types of waste from lean manufacturing helps. Pick one type of waste. Discuss what it means as it applies to the environment around you. The 8 types of waste apply to any type of team, not just manufacturing. I find it invaluable.

Tip: Create a friction-less collection point for ideas. Create a way that anytime someone notices a type of waste, has an idea, or encounters a pain point, they can easily offload it before they forget. For example, I have a lot of good ideas, I think. I tend to forget about them pretty quick. To help with this, I created an email address just to collect ideas. If I have one, as long as I have access to email from where-ever I am, I can record it. Once a week, I go through it and move them into a more permanent list.

Some people may not participate. I find these fall into two categories: Those that do not want to play and those that are more introverted. For the first, they may see the value or encounter a pain point that is very relevant to them. They may also be valuable in other ways to the team. They may excel at challenging ideas rather than making suggestions.

The second group, the introverts, are actually easier to help. One approach is to pull them into the discussions. Try anonymously collecting ideas for issues. Many tools exist where people can contribute notes to a common “board”. From there, the team can look through them and call out interesting ones. At that point they can come forward and explain the idea. In other cases, they may be drowned out by louder voices on the team. My father had an approach to this I liked. When meeting with new teams, he would make a little diagram of the people in the room. When someone talked, he would put a check-mark next to their name. After a little while he would start drawing them into the conversation.

One caution here: There are many other dynamics at play that can be trickier to address. As the world gets smaller we are introducing people from different cultures into our teams. For example, in some cultures, it may not be okay to disagree with someone more senior. Or, in some cultures, there may be a strong sense of gender inequity. You could have people who have personal conflicts with people on the team. They may not treat it as a safe environment. These are all tricky to solve.

Supporting experiments as a leader

Micro messaging is a real thing. I recommend parts of Micromessaging: Why Great Leadership is beyond words for further reading. The concept is that everything we do carries a little message with it that others pick up on. The weight of the message is multiplied by how much farther up the ladder it is.

Bob, a solid contributor to his team, often works after hours on deployments was up late the night before working. He intentionally arrives at late at work the next day. Consider the comment “working bankers hours, eh?” from two different people.

  • Bob’s co-worker
  • Bob’s bosses boss

Bob’s co-worker may receive the flying finger of friendship in return to his comment. The same comment, no matter how nicely or jokingly phrased from the bosses boss will have an impact. It is subtle, but it will stick with Bob for some time.

Don’t dwell on failure. There will be experiments that do not work as intended. And sometimes bad things will happen. Micro messaging also plays a part here. An offhanded comment like “Gee, would have been so much better if we realized X” can be misunderstood. Stick to supportive phrases like “Can we salvage the experiment?”, “Is there anything I can do to help?”, “What did we learn?”. Be supportive, and remember no one needs to be reminded hindsight is infallible.

At some point the team may become discouraged. Either from a series of failed experiments or a lack of change. This is when the team benefits knowing they have some “air cover” from above. Also pointing out the wins or the things they have learned can help. In any case, treat the team like a friend going through a bad time. A downward spiral can put the whole program in jeopardy.

Address your concerns in a constructive way. If an experiment has you worried about something don’t de-power the team by saying “make sure you don’t do Y”. Once you start exerting influence directly it changes the dynamic. Rephrase to “This looks good, have you considered Y?”

The next, and final section will cover the document format and meeting flow.

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