99u had a nice piece last week on treating your side projects as experiments. It essentially makes the Lean Startup point that framing it as an experiment makes the end goal is learning. “Failure,” if it leads to learning, is actually success.
I had started framing things this way with clients toward the end of Blue Oxen Associates, and we refined that approach at Groupaya, both internally and with clients. It’s also how I’ve been managing my current work transition, and it’s been a super helpful framing.
I’ve found five keys to making this experimental approach work:
- Declare your hypothesis up-front. Be intentional, but hold it lightly.
- Figure out what metrics to track. Again, hold these lightly. You will almost certainly discover better ways of measuring throughout the course of your experiment.
- Commit to a beginning and an end. This is particularly important, and shorter periods work better than longer. (You can always have many shorter experiments.)
- Write-up what you learn.
- Track all your experiments. I use a digital kanban board (a tool called KanbanFlow) to track my experiments, but I’ve actually been thinking about migrating to paper.
This provides just enough structure to allow you to carry out your experiments systematically without overwhelming them with process. More importantly, it forces you to create time to reflect and synthesize your learning, which increases the chances of that learning actually sticking.