David J. Bland, the author of “Testing Business Ideas”, tells you how. To start with, testing or trying out new business ideas to minimise uncertainty is no easy task. Teams often apply the tactics of experimentation without comprehending the principles behind it. They follow certain practices because they seem easy to replicate, but… this can be dangerous, warns Bland.
Think about the automobile industry. Manufacturers tried to mimic Toyota’s Andon system: a cord (later replaced by a button) which workers would pull whenever they noticed a serious problem, the aim being to stop the assembly line and alert a supervisor. That way, they could prevent the fault from moving on and becoming more difficult to repair further down the line when more pieces had been added to the car. Removing those components to get to the bottom of the issue would have meant hours of work and production gone to waste.
Other brands thought Toyota’s idea was great and decided to implement it in their factories. Disaster! Employees would detect a fault and pull the cord, but their supervisors would tell them off for interrupting production – the factory had a target to meet and stopping the assembly line meant that the numbers would not add up. Ultimately, workers would avoid pulling the cord so as not to get fired.
Why didn’t that happen at Toyota? Because they had shaped the practice according to the jidoka principle, which loosely translates as “automation with a human touch”. This concept is essentially written into the Japanese firm’s DNA. At Toyota, every employee knew what to they had to do:
- Detect the mistake.
- Stop the assembly line.
- Solve the cause of the problem with their supervisor.
- Implement lessons learned in the workflow.
Similar scenarios have occurred with experimentation tactics, where teams have copied what other companies did without understanding what lies behind those actions. They could benefit from grasping the principles of experiment flow.