Embracing Iteration: Creating Opportunities for Improvement
Creating a mindset and process where errors are seen as opportunities for improvement and growth.
In a previous piece entitled, “Fail Forward with Feedback” I talked about how failure has the potential to be a productive tool for learners of all ages. In this piece, I want to expand on the idea of using errors and iteration in order to discuss how you can begin to intentionally build opportunities for improvement into your development plans. I will suggest the ideas of creating an iterative mindset to embrace the value of errors, creating opportunities inviting failure and feedback, and making a plan for improvement.
A Quick Review on Why Failure Can Work
The idea of using failure for improvement means we must move beyond the “fall down seven times, get up eight” mindset in order to ensure that we aren’t just rising again to fall down the same way. Failure is an indicator that something in your idea was afoul and trigger a divergence from the goal. By adding in reflection to this process, we can identify the error that led to the failure. We can then seek to determine ways to reduce or eliminate that flaw.
Creating the Iterative Mindset
With perfection valued highly in our society, we forget that if the curtain of development were pulled back, we would see mounds of failure before the final success was found. It is also more common to hear that something perceived as an “overnight success” was actually the produce of thousands of hours of work and sacrifice.
Fostering an iterative and failure prone mindset for improvement requires us to shed the concern with perception and embrace the fact that some degree of failure is likely inevitable. It is through this acceptance of errors that you will see the errors not as mistakes, but as flags that indicate an opportunity for improvement. Whether it is the colored lines produced by a grammar assistant or feedback provided by a peer, it is important to see those as indicators for improvement not indicators of irreconcilable fault.
Inviting Failure by Testing and Trying
As a computer science teacher, the opportunities for testing and failure present themselves very frequently in the classroom. Merely hitting “run” on a program is inviting the chance for an error, which I see as more of a chance to improve the work done thus far.
In other scenarios, these chances don’t always present themselves as easily, meaning more active choices must be made to invite the opportunity for feedback. This is even more challenging when the endeavor is very personal, such as in writing or painting, among many other things.
This is why we must choose to invite the opportunities for failure. The value of choice is that we can select when we are ready for the feedback that will come and frame the way in which feedback is provided. When considering implementing a fail forward iteration model, you have much more control than you think. Consider the following ideas to help prepare:
Consider the people that will provide you feedback. Sometimes friends can give you the best feedback, but also there is the chance for the worst. You know your friends, so choose wisely.
Determine the scope of feedback you want. You don’t always need a full review of your product. Perhaps consider isolating a small section to improve at a time so that the volume of feedback is more manageable.
Think about how you want to receive feedback. Depending on the product, a live feedback session can be helpful, but don’t underestimate the value of a feedback form where you can target the area for feedback and the type of feedback you receive.
Ensure the feedback is actionable. This not only means from a technical standpoint that you can actually fix the problem, but also that it can be done in a reasonable amount of time. The more errors you fix the more progress you will see with your product.
Making a Plan for Improvement
Part of iterative improvement is planning, dare I say hoping, for mistakes to happen. It is through this that you can use the feedback to improve the product. In this light, it is important to formulate an approach for addressing failures before they happen. This not only helps reduce the “shock” of the mistake, but maintains a perspective as the error as an opportunity.
While there are many tactics that can be employed, a few things must be maintained to ensure no bias is applied toward ignoring or downplaying the errors that arise.
First, if possible, document every error that occurred or piece of feedback that links to a changeable element of the product. It can also be helpful to provide context and additional information about the error. This can come from the feedback process you created.
Second, sort and prioritize the errors. This is an important step in the iteration process. By spending time evaluating the errors, you not only can formulate a plan of action, but you also are able to embrace and determine how they can contribute toward improvement.
Third, document how you intend to address the error. If possible, use a system that allows you to combine all of these steps together. Spreadsheets are a great tool as you can use conditional formatting and data sorting to help you with the organizational elements. Documenting the approach will also help you ensure you remember the goal if there is time between reflection and iteration on the error.
Fourth, celebrate the change! As you complete the improvements, make sure to check off the task and celebrate the POTENTIAL for improvement. Notice that I didn’t say success. Remember that errors may take multiple attempts to rectify, but the change you made is an incremental and essential step.
Fifth, repeat. Just as with any other process, you will not catch all errors the first time. In addition, new changes may create new errors or even more errors. Don’t let this get you down. Everything is complex and everything has nuances that change throughout the process. If you keep you eye on your goal and embrace errors and iteration, success is on your side.
What I hope you take away from reading this is…
… a greater willingness to take risks.
… an acceptance that errors and mistakes are part of the process.
… empowerment that you can always improve.
… that some things take time and they are often your largest successes.
I put my thoughts out there as an exercise in this process. Please respond to this article with your ideas and feedback on how I can improve the product as a means of reaching and helping more people.