Experiments or Best-Practices?

We live in a constantly changing world of technology and innovation. If we will try to stick only to our best-practices, we will progress only that much. We must be able to experiment in order to discover new ways to do things, new ways to innovate, new ways to interact with our internal and external customers. This is the reason why we at Avaya encourage experiments throughout our product delivery pipeline. Sometimes we fail, sometimes we succeed. When we fail, we learn — we learn what is not working for us, which is important as much as learning what do work for us.

Here is an example from the trenches of our software engineering group. We see high value in education and we invest into the education of our teams. Our best practice on that aspect was asking the teams for their needs once a year and building a yearly education plan where we bring in live instructors for 1–3 days course. That worked nicely, but had its downsides as well — many times the technology and products changed fast, which made the yearly education plan irrelevant. The trivial enhancement to this process was asking the teams more frequently and updating the plan constantly. However, we wondered whether there is a better approach. We decided to take an experiment by doing… nothing — no asking, no yearly plan, no nothing. Instead of following our best practices, we decided to move to experimentation. The motivation behind this was to try and discover better ways to behave on this education topic. The image below is a Celebration Grid template, where it shows that most of the learning happens by experimentation, and this is exactly the approach we have decided to take.

At first, nothing happened — people didn’t drive forward their education, they were used that management pushed education upon them instead of them pulling education per need. In order to understand why we failed, we conducted a few 1-on-1 discussions with the team members and through those discussions we understood that one of the main impediments was lack of access to a proper online training platform. This was a great learning — for people to deep dive into serious education of technology, using Google search is not enough, and we need to look for more professional and accessible education platform. This is exactly what we did — we looked for a platform and came up with Safari Oreilly. We were now ready for our 2nd experiment round.

We have briefly introduced the online training platform to the teams and waited to see what happens. People started to experiment with the platform. They started their education journey only per need, not before, as they discovered that they learn the best when there is immediate need and immediate opportunity for practice. Secondly, they chose a few people that will do the education pilot for recommending on a specific online course, and only then others will join. The others didn’t really wait for the pilot to finish, but rather waited for initial feedback on the quality and relevance of the online course. When more people joined the online learning, the team started to experiment with the new knowledge and technology. Only then they decided whether they want to budget an onsite course. It appears that most of the time they decided they don’t need any onsite course, because they learnt what they needed through the online platform. In the other times (when they requested an onsite course), they knew exactly what they want and adjusted the course agenda for their specific needs. This education flow became our new best practice.

To sum it up:

  • We had best practice for education flow
  • We decided to abandon our best-practice in favor of experimentation
  • The first experiment failed, but we have learned we need to obtain a proper online education platform
  • We have found a proper online education platform (Safar Oreilly) and introduced it to the teams
  • The teams came up with new education flow through experimentation
  • The new flow became our new best practice for education flow

We got to the place where people got the knowledge they needed when they needed it AND the organization saved a lot of money by reducing the costs of onsite courses. Using the experiments zone in the Celebration Grids is something we should constantly encourage (on top of using the Best Practices zone). For further information about the importance of experiment, please refer to Management 3.0 Celebration Grid.

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