Category Archives: iterative development

Iterative vs. Front-loaded Processes

Why iterative processes are good for uncertain environments while font loaded processes are better suited for more certain environments.

When looking for the light switch in a pitch black room, you are better off taking two steps at a time then feeling around than charging ahead 10 steps before getting your bearings. It’s difficult to assuredly measure your progress, but you are less likely to ram your knee into something and more likely to catch yourself early if you are headed to the wrong wall.

Like a dark room, entrepreneurs often work in highly opaque and uncertain environments. Like your search for the light switch, entrepreneurs are advised to do a little work on their product and then asking the market if they are headed in the right direction. This is called iterative development and in most cases it works a lot better than charging full speed into the darkness and hoping for the best.

What if the objective were to turn the light on?  It would be ridiculous to take two steps and “feel around” for the light switch when you know exactly where it is, what you need to do to get to it, and how to turn it off. When the light is on, it makes perfect sense to take ten steps at a time.

This is the usual business case. You know what you are trying to do (increase efficiency, reduce scrap metal, increase customer satisfaction etc.). There are often efficiency gains for batching your work and it’s easy to measure your progress.
Note: I suppose the optimum formula for the number of steps to take deppends how likely you are to be headed in the right direction, what you learn from each step, the cost of going in the wrong direction, cost of checking where you are, and the efficiency that might result from batching your steps, among other things.

Fear of Failure

Tonight I was discussing the irony of how I am writing a paper about entrepreneurial best practices such as iterative development*, and yet I have been working in this little hole of mine for months without getting any of my work to market. Why not? I care about how my work is perceived and thus I haven’t wanted to exhibit work that I felt was not of sufficient caliber. Basically, I let my work and my identify become intertwined. How unentrepreneurial of me. After all, the quintessential entrepreneur is supposedly completely internally driven, indifferent to other people’s opinion of him or her.

In most professional pursuits, the goal is known, criteria for success are clear, and measuring your performance is easy. In these scenarios, it is possible to “get it right” the first time. And thus, you are incentivized to front load your efforts to avoid the detrimental effects of failing- even if you don’t care what other people think, their opinion can impact you (e.g. they wont work with you).

Entrepreneurs face a very different scenario, and thus it’s no surprise the people drawn to entrepreneurial endeavors exhibit very different behavioral patterns than those who choose to follow more “traditional” pursuits. For those trying to create something brand new, goals are often undefined and dynamic. Because the criteria for success are ambiguous, there are no good standards by which to measure your performance (at least in the beginning). Since you are highly unlikely to “get it right” off the bat (whatever “it” is), you are incentivized to stage your investments, taking small steps, and then asking the world to validate your work. There may be detrimental effects from failing (not to your psyche though), but they are vastly outweighed by the losses you would incur from spending your time building up “castles in the sky,” businesses or product for which there is no demand outside you skull. Entrepreneurs are thus incentivized to fail early and fail often.

And there lies the linkage between the behavioral profile of an entrepreneur (internally driven) and an entrepreneurial best practice (iterative development).