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Why Do You Need the Rapid Learning Cycles Framework?

The Benefits of the Rapid Learning Cycles Framework

Today, over 100 companies have adopted the Rapid Learning Cycles framework as the way that they run their Research, Design, Innovation and Product Development Programs. Here are some of the reasons why:

  • Faster speed to market. Long, slow learning cycles equal product delays that Rapid Learning Cycles teams don’t have.
  • Learn fast to fail fast. If the idea has obstacles that can’t be removed, the team will find them faster, and move on to the next idea. But if the idea is a great one, it won't fail in execution, because the Rapid Learning Cycles framework help teams delay decisions until they can make decisions that stick.
  • Build new platforms that set up the business for fast follow up. Platforms developed this way are more extensible and reliable, because teams make better decisions that lead to more extensible product architectures. Platforms developed in a traditional way get to market very late - often a lot later than planned. The Rapid Learning Cycles framework drives teams to create "minimum viable products" for their platforms, and then build on them in a series of cadenced releases.
  • Increase the company’s confidence in Innovation and Product Development. If the company has released disappointing products to the market, their partners on the Operations side may lose faith in R & D’s ability to deliver. The Rapid Learning Cycles framework brings these partners into the Product Development Process to increase visibility and confidence, even before the product hits the market.

When innovations can’t get to market because they hit overwhelming obstacles or customers won’t buy them when they do launch because they don’t work, companies begin to see themselves as lacking in innovation, not creative enough, or too stuck in the past.

But that almost never means that the company has no ideas. Instead, the products take too long, cost too much or miss the market target. The innovation team runs into unexpected problems that lead to delays, cost overruns, and cutting essential features. The product development process has turned into one long, slow, painful learning cycle.

The Problem: Long Slow Learning Cycles

A traditional product development process (PDP), even one tuned for innovation, forces teams to make decisions too early. Major decisions about customers, markets and profit targets get locked in before the team knows what benefits they will be able to deliver. Requirements freeze before customers have had meaningful input. Technical specs lock down before the team understands the technology. The more innovative a product is, the more likely a team will be to encounter an unexpected obstacle, yet the PDP eliminates all the flexibility a team needs to respond to new information. And there is no place in a traditional PDP for learning.

The Solution: The Rapid Learning Cycles Framework

The Rapid Learning Cycles framework breaks those long, slow learning cycles down into faster cycles of learning. When teams do that, they can pull learning forward to uncover obstacles earlier, and push decisions later to preserve flexibility. When a team arrives at a major decision, their stakeholders can make the decision with greater confidence, because the knowledge is there to make a decision that sticks.

Learning starts in the earliest phases of product development, when it is the team’s primary focus. Later, as teams move into execution mode, they still preserve some of their time for learning to remove obstacles as they arise and eliminate outstanding risks. In every phase, the team is focused on the most important things to learn about: the Knowledge Gaps that need to close so that the team and stakeholders can make Key Decisions with confidence.

Key Decisions are those decisions that the team must get right in order to build a successful product - and that the team lacks the knowledge to make. They focus the team’s Learning Cycles on the specific learning activities that will increase the chances that the product will deliver on its promise.

For Tangible Products, Agile Is Not Enough and Lean Startup Is Just a Start

If you have had any exposure to Agile Development or Lean Startup, you’ll recognize a lot of similarities. In fact, if you are looking to build a new Web service or software package, then Lean Startup will help you build a roadmap, and Agile Software Development will help you deliver it. Agile’s short cycles allow for frequent re-planning to manage uncertainty, so the Rapid Learning Cycles Framework embeds Agile practices to manage the uncertainty at the front end of product development.

But Agile Development assumes that you can change your product quickly, just by writing some code or tweaking some design elements on a web site, and that features are independent of one another. This is true in well-architected software. Lean Startup assumes that you can experiment on your customers to learn what they need, and if you are just starting out, that is probably true. But if you make a tangible product that requires tooling, process design, regulatory approval, market tests, formulation or upscaling, you’ll run into the limitations of those methods as soon as you need to start making decisions that cannot be undone easily.

The Apple Maps launch fiasco shows that even in the app space, established companies have higher bars for their Minimum Viable Products, and no startup can afford to deliver a tangible product that fails in the field. In situations like these, the Key Decisions we make have long-term consequences. The Rapid Learning Cycles framework helps teams make their Key Decisions with confidence.

The Rapid Learning Cycles Framework Can Help You Get Your Best Ideas to Market Faster

Ideas generate value when they get out into the market - not before. The Rapid Learning Cycles framework can help your teams get their products to market faster, by learning faster and by keeping the options open longer. When teams do that, they are much more likely to hit their delivery dates with products that have the right features and benefits, and the level of quality your customers expect.