Fail Fast

Posted: January 11th, 2015 | Author: | | No Comments »

Part of our approach to academics at Bridge is to “fail fast.”

The general idea is well-described by Seth Godin, for all enterprises. He writes:

Planning on resilience

That thing you’re launching: what if it fails to function?

The challenge of doing something for a crowd in real time is that if it doesn’t work, you’re busted.

You have no way to alert people, to spread out demand, to reprocess inquiries.

Batch processes gives you a fallback. If the first printing is a little off, you can fix it in the second (if the first printing is small enough). When you know the email address of the people you’re dealing with, for example, you can easily reroute people and change expectations. If you know how to contact the ticket holders, you can let them know in advance that the theater roof is under repair. You can fix things today and get them right for tomorrow without disappointing a mob of people in real time.

There’s a huge difference between interacting with customers one at a time, one after another, and learning as you go, vs. interacting with everyone, all at once, in parallel.

The arrogance of most web launches (from hip new sites to healthcare signups) is that they assume that nothing will go wrong if they do it live. So they try to do it live for everyone, at once.

…It’s a journey, not an event, and working in asynchronous batches is a smart way to stay resilient.

With Curriculum, and with Instructional Systems (like peer tutoring, or a new teacher evaluation form), a good approach is:

0. Cook it up as best you can in the office. Ask a few people for feedback on the written idea.

1. Assume it will fail in real life…with real kids, real teachers….

…so try it in just one classroom…so you can listen, watch, truly notice what’s going on. Then tinker.

2. If you can get it to work in one room, then try in a few classrooms. Again, qualitative feedback. Notice new issues. Tinker.

3. If you can get it to work there, and there’s time, try it in 20 or so, ideally in an RCT with data.

And then

4. Perhaps it’s ready to try at scale. Again, assume failure — not success — so your mindset should be towards aggressive outreach to identify where it’s going wrong. That way you can fix it. Be pleasantly surprised it if it’s going smoothly.

The Enemy of “Fail Fast” is “We Don’t Have Time To Do Steps 1-2-3.”

But that just creates a frantic sense of longer-term failure. Everyone gets dejected.

In most large school systems, there’s just “0.” And “4.”

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