Learn Fast

Nikki HughesAgile / Lean, Culture

Experiment for growth

Fail fast. This is a phrase we hear a lot, but listening and practicing are two completely different things. No one likes failing. No one wants to release a product that isn’t perfect, but sometimes, you must be willing to take risks to learn fast, even if (and especially when) it means investing in a technology or an area in which you’re not an expert.

If you wait until you have all the information or for the perfect conditions or have the motivation to forge ahead, your competition will leave you in the dust. Again, the goal shouldn’t be perfection: it should be to learn.

At Realtracs, we want to learn as fast as possible. And we have outlined two principles for our team that drive that outcome home:

  1. Start before you’re ready
  2. Progress over perfection: Embrace iteration

We set big goals, knowing that we will have to course-correct along the way. We believe that the more frequently we release, the more opportunities we create for feedback (and learning!). Getting feedback quickly enables us to create a better product and experience for our customers.

This does not mean we rush in blindly without a plan; what it means is that we start with the intent of learning fast, even when we don’t have all the information upfront. We believe that any action is better than no action.

We are currently embarking on a journey to learn about SEO (search engine optimization) and to improve how listings in Realtracs rank in search results. We are not SEO experts (yet!), but we are learning and experimenting along the way.

In the spirit of starting before we’re ready and iterating frequently, we are following a basic pattern:

  1. Hypothesize.
  2. Experiment.
  3. Learn.
  4. Repeat.

Our team did some early research through blogs and videos on what factors would contribute to SEO and the considerations we would need to make based on our architecture, but rather than wait until we felt certain of every single thing, we started with the basics (setting up a robots.txt, sitemap, meta tags, page titles, etc.) and have begun iterating through various ways to ensure we are picked up by search crawlers.

While we hope our hypotheses aren’t wrong, we recognize that there is always an opportunity to learn when we don’t get it right. When our experiments don’t have the outcome we expect, we do more research and try something else with new information.

Ultimately, we aren’t rewarded for getting it perfect the first time, we’re rewarded for learning. And we celebrate our progress along the way.

In some organizations, perfection is expected, and imperfections are perceived to break the trust between teams, departments, and customers. The notion that we have “one shot to get it right” dominates the culture, so meticulous research and analysis is done on the front end followed by committee discussions around prioritization. By the time the engineering team is brought in, sometimes months or even years have passed! And when the feature misses the mark (because let’s be honest, it might), rather than iterating and responding to feedback quickly, the cycle of “research -> analysis -> planning -> handoff to development” repeats itself.

At Realtracs, the product engineering teams are given problems to solve rather than being given a solution. We work collaboratively with other departments and our customers to determine how to solve those problems best. This collaboration builds trust and creates room for innovation and iteration — rather than having only one chance to get it right, we can respond quickly with new information.

In our SEO journey, we also recognize and acknowledge the trade-offs; investing time to learn and iterate may require deferring work on other enhancements, but we are playing the long game. We’re going to continue to hypothesize, experiment, learn, and repeat. This also applies to our other development endeavors as well. Our goal isn’t about perfection. It’s about learning, responding quickly, and celebrating along the way.