Stratelight #4: Shipping vs Learning

The Build Trap

Melissa Perri talks about the build trap in her rather famous book Escaping the Build Trap. The essence of it is that you are in a build trap when you focus more on delivering features on time than you do on learning from released features.

Shipping vs Learning

A great question to ask for build trap awareness is "Are you shipping faster than you learn, or learning faster than you ship?" - by Tanner McGrath

Many teams will recognize that they are shipping faster than they learn and there are a couple of reasons for this:

  • Non-value producing product complexity slows teams down and lets them focus on the wrong part of the product - solving problems which are only hard because of its own complexity rather than learning from releases.

  • Accumulated learning leads to teams saying "we know everything there is to know, we just have to deliver now". This shipping focus in turn means you don't learn as much as you can and you will more often than not miss the mark.

  • Shipping has a clear and visible output, learning does not, if you don't actively make it visible.

  • Learning capabilities (data scientists, UX researchers) are usually short in teams, so the remaining functions usually don't have room for research and focus on shipping instead.

Moving to Learning Faster than Shipping

To get started, John Cutler recommends visualizing the feedback loop, to get the image of parallel tracks out of everyone's head.

Once that's done, you should implement positive forcing functions to equalize learning with shipping.

Available forcing functions are:

  • Learning reviews

  • Starting together

  • Exploratory research (together)

  • Kill-a-feature day

  • Weekly usability testing and customer interviews

These forcing functions are needed because learning doesn't come naturally, it needs to be promoted actively to make it a habit.

Closing Note

Don't use full blown research and discovery on everything. With making everything a big deal you lose your influence for strategic initiatives with a lot of uncertainty which benefit most from research and discovery.


🕵️For the full picture, read TBM 29/53: Shipping Faster Than You Learn (or…) published in The Beautiful Mess by John Cutler.


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