The Problem with Traditional Experimentation

Experimentation and innovation cannot exist without one another. To embrace innovation, we must also embrace the experimental process. But this is not quite as easy as coming up with new ideas and testing each of them. Each new idea will cost a company in time, money, and manpower, and these resources are often limited. Still, experimentation is essential to the innovative process. So, what can companies do to enhance their experiments without overtaxing their resources?

Let’s look at an example. Your team has just finished a long but productive brainstorming session around improving a process. They analyzed data collected from a variety of tools including identifying the process’s constraints, performing a Gemba Walk, and working through the 5 Whys. The brainstorming revealed three possible pathways forward. However, there simply aren’t enough resources to test all three ideas. If your company were to employ a stereotypical experimentation model, they are likely to choose the idea they believe will work best. And, from a logical standpoint, this makes sense. The company will move forward with a large-scale rollout, and the team will collectively hold their breath and hope for the best.

If all goes to plan, the team can take a deep breath knowing their hard work has paid off. If something goes awry, however, then it’s likely the team will need to start over again. What’s worse is that the team has already spent a ton of resources implementing the first idea. This is where traditional ideas of experimentation can be problematic.

Crude Experimentation Offers a Solution

Let’s look at our example from a different angle. Instead of choosing one of the pathways, let’s say that your team decides to experiment with all three ideas. Instead of a company-wide spread, however, your team develops a test plan to generate crude, low-resource experiments that yield quick results. They test one pathway using scraps of old material that were destined for the trash. They test another during the third shift when production is low. And through these small, crude experiments, they learn that only two of the pathway experiments show promise after the first round of experimentation.

This quick turn-around time allowed them to quickly discard a pathway that would have resulted in disaster had they attempted to pursue a large-scale rollout. From here, the team decides to slowly increase the scope and scale of each experiment until one pathway shows huge promise. By performing small, crude experiments first, your team was able to eliminate potentially harmful ideas and prevent any large-scale risk. These experiments also proved that one idea truly was more worthy than the others. In passing a number of smaller experiments, it now has a greater likelihood of success.

Experimentation and Innovation

Crude experimentation is a natural way of reducing risk while driving creativity and innovation. Not only will your team have more fun identifying problematic solutions, but they will learn and grow from the mistakes made during the experimentation process. This process of small, simple experiments drastically reduces risk while driving toward innovative success.