Iteration, Iteration, Iteration

Posted on by Brandon Klein


Trying to materialize a perfect solution is difficult and frustrating at best—one cannot just write it out as if taking dictation. Normal work divides into chunks for completion then sequentially assembles into a whole. The coming together is left for the end and each period’s effort is measurable toward the final goal. Often this results in siloed effort, misalignment, rework, and extended time to integrate.



Seven iterations produces a thousand-fold improvement in the solution. Iteration means coming at a solution multiple times. Each recursion is taken at a little more detail, challenging the material already in place to see if it is still valid. This may seem redundant, but ensures a robust solution. You can tell a great writer by how much is in his waste basket.

Iterative work seeks to develop the whole from the beginning and add levels of definition and understanding over time. It allows for simultaneous work on parts and the effect of those parts on the whole. Working iteratively allows the incorporation of an emergent behavior into the solution. The solution emerges like a viewfinder coming into focus. It is the same as rapid Design/Build/Use loops.

Iteration also allows you to come at a complicated issue from multiple directions. Frequently, a challenge is whether to organize in functional groups that are all dealing with the same issues, or issue groups that cut across a whole set of functional areas. Iteration allows you to try both and see which is the more effective way to organize around the problem.

When organizing the iterative nature of your DesignShop, consider the value of frequent remixing of the groups (as well as the exact group mix), timing and how long to let each group run, and the way you change the tone or style of the assignment. Sometimes random teams is the way to go. Other times the sponsors should be very intentional about who is in what team. A cross-fertilization re-mix allows new eyes to look at a model in progress and frequently make it stronger.

Make it easy for the good ideas and real issues to rise and be remembered.

OODA Loops. OODA stands for Orient, Observe, Decide, Act. In Korea, U.S. jets were fewer in number, operating at long range, of poorer quality and still decisively won against their North Korean opponents. The reason? Larger cockpits. That allowed the pilots to go through OODA Loops more frequently than the enemy. When an organization can get through decision loops faster than competitors it confers enormous advantage and greater flexibility. Frequent iterations are like built-in OODA Loops. The idea is to pass Go and collect $200 as often as you can.

The Take-A-Panel exercise didn’t always exist, for example. There was a session that MGTaylor was doing and they didn’t know how to design it. They knew that once the participants understand the question, then the thing gets going. So they came up with the idea of making the participants write the question on the board and tell the facilitators what it was. That is the origin of Take-A-Panel.

“The practice of using fast feedback and fast adjustment cycles predates the Web. Hewlett-Packard pioneered that practice to develop several innovative products: People would build a prototype and leave it lying around in the open for others to talk about. Instant feedback allows for instant adjustment cycles. The more iterations you can go through, the faster you can execute your project. David Kelly, a design genius and the CEO of Ideo, had it exactly right when he said, “Fail often to succeed sooner.” --Tom Peters, ‘The WOW Project,’ Fast Company #24

Danish Poet Piet Hein:

The road to wisdom?

Well its plain

and simple to express


and err

and err again

but less

and less

and less