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Optimizing Your Project for Learning

link to original storyMar 18, 2017
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In Tech we have huge bias for Execution - building and launching the product as fast as possible and with the right quality. However, a million underwhelming launches later we now know that there’s a second important thing we need to focus on: Learning — systematically discovering the right product, market and business model. All execution and no learning exposes us to launching a great product no one needs (we’ve all been there). All learning and no execution gets us stuck in the quagmire of analysis paralysis. How to progress on two different fronts at the same time? What’s the right balance?

I’m going to go over three options you know — Waterfall, Alpha/Beta and Lean Startup, and one you may not know, but should — Learning Milestones. This should give you a good idea on where you are with respect to learning.


Waterfall (the best practice when I got started in tech in the 1990s) splits the project neatly into stages, each performed assembly-line-like by a different team — a pure attempt at execution optimization. Putting aside all the issues with waterfall (primarily that it doesn’t work), from a pure learning perspective it is seriously sub-optimal:

  • The product definition phase is supposed to encompass all the research needed to define the product in full, months, sometimes years, before the product ships. In reality, with no product to test on, very little actual learning happens here. Most of the “requirements” are created based on ”market research”, opinions and consensus and are then rushed over to the development team to meet the schedule.


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