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Review of Learning Part 3: Value, Iterative and Incremental Delivery

posted 24 Oct 2014, 07:54 by Robert Taylor   [ updated 24 Oct 2014, 08:52 ]

Focus on Value and use short Iterations and Incremental Delivery

Focus on Value

Ries (2011) defines value as providing benefit to the customer, but observes that in some circumstances who the customer is and what they might find valuable is unknown. This is especially true when innovating or launching a new product into the market.

Ariely (2009) suggests that people being irrational beings, often don’t know what they want until they see it in context. Projects that have defined a large batch of feature requirements up front with the users often find that once delivered and people have had the opportunity to use the features, additional requirements or changes to those requirements are subsequently requested.

Learning from Failure

Argyris (1991) coined the terms single and double loop learning, to distinguish between individuals solving externally presented problems (a project for example) and the need to reflect critically on their own behaviour, through inspection and adaptation. He suggests that highly skilled professionals tend to be very good at single-loop learning, but are often bad at double-loop learning. 

Argyris observes that when single-loop learning outcomes go wrong, individuals become defensive and shift the blame onto others. This defensiveness limits the ability of individuals to learn, and he makes the point that doubt and debate are needed to promote learning. In double-loop learning, he suggests that assumptions are to be challenged, and hypotheses should be tested. 

In Tsoukas (2002) commentary of Argyris' work, he suggests that double-loop (or reflexive) learning is much more relevant in post-bureaucratic organisations, because individuals are more psychologically present in companies that are rich in information, and where employees are required to make more day-to-day decisions based on that information.

Empirical evidence to aid group judgment and decision making

Kahneman and Tversky ( 1973) described in their research that humans make use of heuristics which simply put, reduce the complexity of making probabilistic judgements. They observed that while heuristics are useful they can lead to severe and systematic biases. Systematic or cognitive biases can be a cause of decision paralysis and/or conflicts of direction within a group. When a group of people come together, they will each bring their own heuristics and, therefore, cognitive bias to the table. This in general is a good thing, it prevents groupthink and poor decision making, but the opposite can also be as detrimental to product delivery, as different cognitive heuristics and bias can lead to conflict within the group.

We can address this problem and take cognitive bias out of the equation to some extent, through working in short feedback loops, using an iterative process to test the success or failure of the experiments undertaken through empirical evidence.

Iterative and Incremental

The concept of short iterations and measuring progress with empirical evidence works well to combat Parkinson’s (1942) Law: work expands to fill the time, and can be a much better way of estimating delivery timescales accurately. In my experience timeboxed iterations are a fundamental step towards improving product teams, which may currently be delivering in large batch sizes. Although I consider it a step on the journey towards gaining a better understanding of their capacity and any constraints, while incrementing feature or process improvements.

Deming (1986) presents the Shewhart Cycle as a flow for improving a product or process. The Shewhart Cycle defines the steps as plan–do–check–act (or later revised to plan–do–study–act), as a continuous improvement through an iterative process.

Key points:
  • Focus on delivering value and use experiments to find value
  • Test hypotheses and learn from failure
  • Increment features through iteration feedback loops
  • Use short iterations to enable a faster feedback loop


Ries, E. (2011). The lean startup: How today's entrepreneurs use continuous innovation to create radically successful businesses. Random House LLC.

Ariely, D (2009), Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces that Shape Our Decisions.

Argyris, C. (1991). Teaching smart people how to learn. Tsoukas (2002) Harvard business review

Tversky, A; Kahneman, D (1973), Availability: A Heuristic for Judging Frequency and Probability, Cognitive Psychology

Deming, W. E. (1986). Out of the crisis. Cambridge, MA: Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Center for Advanced Engineering Study, 6.