Respect For Trial & Error, & Success

Throughout the various realms of product development, innovation, and process improvement we experience similar differences in preference. It seems that many prefer to find ways to model the problem or the solution and run simulations to arrive at an answer; the minority will prototype, test, and experiment.

There are many ways we transform questions and uncertainty into confidence, new products, or innovative solutions. Experimentation and trial is one that many seem compelled to avoid. Give respect to the power of trial and experimentation, and to its risks.

Right now I’m working on a project with a friend of mine and it strikes me how differently we approach the development of our vision. He finds it simpler and quicker to run calculations and probabilities. I prefer to lie out a scenario and try it to see what happens.

Throughout the various realms of product development, innovation, and process improvement we experience similar differences in preference. It seems that many prefer to find ways to model the problem or the solution and run simulations to arrive at an answer; the minority will prototype, test, and experiment.

Even in the realm of Six Sigma experts, where designed experiments are not only taught as a powerful tool, but experience with them is mandated for many to earn their Black Belt certification. Because of the expense and time required to develop and conduct careful, scientific experimentation, it seems to be disfavored. We try to find simulations instead.

So, which preference is best? Which is most effective? Are those that prefer experimentation and trial holdouts to a bygone era before computing power enabled rapid and reliable simulation of complex and dynamic scenarios?

Of course, we all know the answer intuitively or experientially. Both simulations and experimentation have their place. One is not better than the other in general, just in specific instances.  At the risk of insulting a reader, or a reader’s manager, those who take a one-sided view probably have little experience with either.

The challenge, and the primary point of contention between camps, is not acknowledging that simulations and trials are both valid methods, but knowing which one is the right one to use at a given time. Let’s explore some real observations and turn those into a guideline for us to follow.

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