Change as a series of experiments

  • Benoît Pointet

What if progress was nothing but a series of experiments?

This idea, that progress happens best as a series of experiments, an idea at the heart of the Lean Change Management approach, still puzzles me while being nothing completely new to me.

A few reminiscences of my work life to navigate this tension…

Development spikes

The first echo comes from my Agile software development days, when from time to time, the team would get its joker out and propose to the product owner: "we need a spike for that". A what? A spike. A time-boxed (mostly technical) exploration of a possible solution. A spike, contrary to a user story, isn’t delivering an increment, but insights.

Those spikes were attempts to breakthrough into the unknown. Yet clients were reluctant to pay for that, calling on our expertise to take the right decision at first shot.

User tests on interface mockups

The idea of experiments also calls memories from my UX design days, when I desperately tried to sell some testing of my skeletons, the clients would rather blindly believe my expertise and be seduced by some user interface skeletons.

Here again, clients were unwilling to invest in something that did not seem like a deliverable and that would bring more questions than answers, more problems than solutions.

Online marketing

That field, in which I also acted for a few years, is full of experimental mindset. It’s a messy field full of tips and tricks, rumours and weird beliefs. Not a science at all.

Everyone long enough in the field thinks in experiments, forecasts success in a probabilistic manner. Many installed terms of online marketing denote the experimental nature of acting in this field: A/B testing, growth hacking, …

Holacracy Pilots

Nowadays introducing Holacracy to organizations , I have come to recognize the "power of pilots". Clients asking "Is it reversible? Until when can we decide to interrupt the process? Can we keep it an experiment and not do any promises?"

Here, interestingly, there seems to lie some interest in seeing that kind of change as experiments, as things we try out before we decide.

So What?

The doers know why experimenting

You can read through this short recollection that the "ones who execute" know why it’s worth experimenting. In all the situations described above, it’s the doers that wish for it.

Experimentation is a dialogue with uncertainty

At the heart of every experimentation, the same few words: "we don’t know how …", "we would like to figure out if …", "we should validate that …", … Experimenting allows exactly this: a dialogue with uncertainty. Every experimentation is a communication channel with the unknown, a probe in some remote corner of the (yet im-)possibles.

Experimenting is not toying around

Most experienced clients tended to say yes to the crucial spikes, user tests, and experiments. They also scrupulously checked what results the experiment would concretely bring, what was it that we were trying to move from "uncertain" to "tried" or even to "proven" and often challenged us on this.

Interestingly, Lean Change Management brings a nice template to formulate change experiments; a formula which covers such considerations:

We hypothesize that
we will
which will have
as measured by .

A formula I wish I would have had with me throughout these years.

What about adding a bit more experimentation in your worklife?

Artwork: LoC

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