The Art - and Science - of Iteration

The Art - and Science - of Iteration

If you’re in business, you know that technology moves fast and continues to accelerate.

Simply consider the fact Steve Jobs famously introduced the iPhone—a product that has spawned a technological revolution in countless industries and literally transformed the world in less than a decade—only nine years ago. In his book, Think Big, Act Small, Jason Jennings famously coined the axiom that in business, it’s no longer the big that eat the small; it’s the fast that eat the slow. 

Your company’s speed and agility is more important than ever. But unfortunately, the speed in which information travels is faster than ever. With more than half the world’s population now using the Internet, more than 3 billion people have access to learn, try, and talk about your company or product. longer a pipe dream, but indeed a very possible pipeline.

Using iteration to stay ahead of the competitive curve

How does a company stay ahead and succeed with such high stakes and such demand for speed? Science gives some insight. Science 101 at UC Berkeley reveals that the process of science is not one of process or methodology. The real process of science is iteration. Science finds the truth by building a hypothesis and repeating tests until the truth emerges. This is an invaluable lesson when starting new ideas or ventures with your company.

The industries we’re in have exploded in the past five years, with events and fundraising becoming more popular than ever. Combine these rapidly changing industries with ever- changing web technology, and you have a substantial challenge in order to stay ahead and relevant. Here are seven steps we’ve used to turn iteration into art form. With them, we are able to stay ahead of the market while rapidly introducing products and features that customers love.

1. Start with why

Perhaps the greatest Ted Talk on earth is one by Simon Sinek who gives the powerful revelation on why some products and services succeed while others die. At the root of your iterative process, you need to be convinced why your work is important and meaningful. In other words, you should aim to have a clear, documented vision regarding the benefits or market need for your product or service.

2. Document it

All ideas seem like good ideas until you fully flesh them out. Try getting the entire concept from start to finish on paper. Documenting your idea, even in rough form, makes it real and quickly evaluates its merit. We use tools like Balsamiq and to create mockups, interfaces, diagrams, and flow charts. Get your ideas out and fast. If all looks good, start planning your project with AsanaBasecamp, or Trello.

3. Create a prototype

Development and manufacturing is expensive. Yet today’s tools allow you to quickly produce prototypes for your software or product without a huge investment. For every new feature or idea we have, we make a clickable prototype using Invision. We can actually simulate how the feature will look, feel, and function within a short number of hours. Timothy Ferris’s book, The 4-Hour Workweek, features an excellent section on quickly prototyping any kind of business or service without breaking the bank.

4. Beta test with real customers

When we develop a new feature, we don’t blast it out to the world and cross our fingers. We selectively release it to a handful of customers who will use it, test its limits, and give us feedback. At any given time, we have half a dozen secret features that are released to a handful of customers. This allows us to get the kinks out and save ourselves from getting egg on our face because we launched too soon.

5. Gather immediate feedback

Data is everything. Do people use it or not? Do they love or hate it? Is it intuitive or clunky? Get the truth. There are countless tools and resources like UserTestingKissMetricsMixpanel, and Optimizely that will help you discover what users really think about your product or service. Don’t rely on gut instinct; get real, honest data.

6. Refine, prune, and enhance

At this point, you have real data and real-use cases. You get to see what got used and what got ignored. You see what worked and what didn’t work. Most importantly, you find out what you missed. After you get feedback from your initial group, you quickly find out what you need to improve on. Take this time to prune things that people didn’t use. Be aggressive in removing features and enhancements that may not be absolutely necessary.

7. Repeat and release

Take what you have learned and repeat the above process until your product or service is ready for prime time. Not only will your product or service be proven, you will have a trove of ambassadors who will sing its praises upon launch. Best of all, they will be begging you to work on your next big idea—where you get to start the entire iteration process all over again.