This topic is really about short feedback cycles. You want to learn stuff as quickly as possible, try something, decide if it worked, and go again. Lean describes something called the Plan Do Check Act or PDCA cycle. Dr. Deming made it popular, but it is really just an extension of the Scientific Method. In the Scientific Method you hypothesize, experiment, and evaluate.
We go through this cycle each iteration. For us an iteration is typically a week, but it can really be any short period of time. I have done 1 month, 2 week, and 1 week iterations. 1 month was a bit longer than I recommend, but depending on the project, it may be the right length.
A team will plan their work for the iteration, do the work, check the work (Deming switched to Study instead of check after a while), and finally take action based on what we learned in the check step. In terms we use, we have planning, then the work starts, we have a retrospective to learn what went well, what didn’t go well, and what we want to try, and then finally we make changes that we think will make improvements. Then we repeat.
The idea is we are always learning. Always improving.
We do these PDCA cycles without even thinking of it. We do it when we drive. You plan a route, start driving, decide if the route is the best for getting to the destination, and make changes if needed. We do it when we write. We do an outline, start writing, assess and make changes, and iterate. Think about it. We do this kind of thing a lot. We tend to have very short cycles in our iterations when they have to do with personal things. It happens naturally when practicing an instrument, when having discussions, and even when writing a blog. Researchers use these methods and they have been seen in manufacturing, hospitals, and construction. It’s not new and it shouldn’t seem foreign to us.
Whether your iteration is a day, week, or 6.5 hours, the important part is that you’re allowing for short feedback loops where you are looking at the work, deciding what to do, complete the work, study how it went, and then make improvements. If you get used to this routine, your work will naturally begin to add quality, innovation, and you will be able to respond to the needs of the business much more quickly.