Blog‎ > ‎

Cognitive Heuristics, Biases and Lean Product Delivery

posted 6 Feb 2013, 15:28 by Robert Taylor   [ updated 21 Mar 2014, 14:31 ]

I went to a very interesting talk back in September last year, where Megan Folsom (ebay, amazon, ibm) and Dan North were presenting on the subject of lean product delivery. Although Dan's insight is always great and he's really engaging, Megan really focused on the psychology of people and groups of people (in teams), stating: -

"Lean (product development/delivery) is a way for irrational people to make rational decisions and still like each other".

Context: She made that case that people are creatures of habit, our brains are really good at following the behavioural patterns (heuristics) we've built up over our years of our experiences. She raised the subject of cognitive bias which can make otherwise rational & logical humans become irrational and illogical, if faced with a problem or something we haven't encountered before.

More context:
In the early 1970's, Tversky and Kahneman described a research orientation which has dominated the judgement and decision making literature ever since. They argued that humans make use of cognitive heuristics which reduce the complexity of making probabilistic judgements. "In general, these heuristics are quite useful, but sometimes they lead to severe and systematic errors".

In my mind these cognitive bias (and any resulting systematic errors) are the cause of decision paralysis and/or conflicts of direction within a group. Basically put a bunch of people together and each of them are going to have different cognitive heuristics, which in general is a good thing, but can lead to conflict with others who have different cognitive heuristics and bias.

So what?
Well the point is we can address this problem and take cognitive bias out of the equation (to some extent). How? Through working with short feedback loops (using an iterative process) and focusing on empirical evidence to measure the success or failure of those results. In other words a lean process helps people work together, by giving them a way to take the ego out of the decision making process, and enabling that by making the feedback loop as short as possible. 

We do this in much the same way as the scientific method steps are defined: -
  • Formulate a question: or propose the problem.
  • Hypothesis: conjecture based on the knowledge obtained while formulating the question.
  • Prediction: determine the logical consequences of the hypothesis.
  • Test: conduct experiments and get feedback.
  • Analysis: determine the results of the experiment and decide on the next action to take.
So picture doing this process, (perhaps every two weeks) focusing on the highest priority features/problems/questions and getting feedback on the original question/problem. By doing this I feel we're in a great position to move people, products, a business towards its longer term visions / goals.

I think cognitive heuristics and bias links nicely to Structure and Agency (see Structuration) too, but need to ponder... (or maybe just get out more!)

NB. They also recommended a few books: Predictably Irrational (kindle version available) and A Mind of its own