In the book, Art & Fear: Observations On the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking, a story is told of a ceramics teacher that ran an interesting experiment. He told half his students they would be graded solely on the quantity of their work. The more they produced, the higher their grade. The other half was told they would be graded on the quality of their work. A student only needed to produce one pot to earn an A, provided it was of perfect quality. Which group do you think produced the best quality pots?
Those students focused on quantity produced the best quality pots. Why is that? Because (generally speaking) the more you do something, the better you get at it. The students benefited from the empirical approach of “do, experience, learn, and adjust.”
I have found this to be true in many of my home improvement projects. Whether it is laying floor, hanging cabinets, or mudding drywall, I get better as I go. Despite taking my time to think it through, measuring twice to cut once, or going slowly, the first bits of my work have always been the worst. I always get better as I go because I benefit from doing, learning, and adjusting. Real life circumstances also rarely align with pre-planning. I make assumptions and spend a lot of time trying to plan around them only to find my assumptions were wrong to begin with. Can you relate?
We can translate this into our product development world by recognizing that we never really know for sure what the “best” thing to do is in the beginning – we are working from assumptions. Think back to how we used to do projects. Our goal, our approach, was to try and get it right with perfect quality in one shot (one pot). This is why we had such long “requirements” phases and detailed design sessions before we ever started coding anything. We were focused on trying to get it right the first time – in one shot. Well, we all know the outcome of that approach. Requirements were really just assumptions that proved incorrect after we did all the work.
An Agile approach, on the other hand, just gets started, learns, and adjusts – it produces many increments (pots). The more we work toward a solution, the better the solution becomes. It is not always perfect or right at first, but it never will be until we simply get started and get better. The same applies to our practices.
So, the next time someone suggests you take some more time to “get it right,” or you feel like the thought process is more focused on a one-shot opportunity to deliver the best quality, remember this ceramics class experiment. We get better as we do, we learn from experience, and small learnings lead to impactful adjustments over time. Quality indeed comes through quantity from that perspective.
A shift in perspective changes everything
Agile transformation and organizational agility is more about mindset and culture shifts than adopting practices. For that reason, management is just as critical to the movement as are the development teams. Timeless Agility believes that Mindset Transcends Methodology™. To dive deeper into the Timeless Agility perspective, become a free member where you’ll receive weekly email insights, and purchase and read the book, Pursuing Timeless Agility: the Path to Lasting Agile Transformation.