Small bets & Pilots

Tim Hartford, the "undercover economist", has written a nice article about the economic benefits of plotting and prototyping which, I think, will appeal to my Agile friends. It ties in nicely with how Zara works but it's talking about projects. 

"The option to conduct a cheap test run can be very valuable. It’s easy to lose sight of quite how valuable. Aza Raskin, who was lead designer for the Firefox browser, cites the late Paul MacCready as his inspiration on this point. MacCready was one of the great aeronautical engineers, and his most famous achievement was to build the Gossamer Condor and the Gossamer Albatross, human-powered planes that tore up the record books in the late 1970s. 

One of MacCready’s key ideas was to develop a plane that could swiftly be rebuilt after a crash. Each test flight revealed fresh information, MacCready figured, but human-powered planes are so feather-light that each test flight also damages the plane. The most important thing a designer could do was to build a plane that could be rebuilt within days or even hours after a crash – rather than weeks or months. Once the problem of fast, cheap experimentation was solved, everything else followed."

In my language, projects are a bet, and running pilots (or delivering incrementally with the intention of abandoning a bad big bet and celebrating) is loading the dice. One of the ways we load the dice is to dramatically lower the cost of failure, then fail!


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