Iteration is the act of a repeated process, or the result of that process. In Scrum, the time dedicated to an iteration is called a Sprint, and I’ll cover that in another article. Today, I’m going to describe a Lean version of iteration, which focuses more on the product than the process.

Suppose you’re making a business website. Many entrepreneurs that I work with find themselves paralyzed by the belief that they need to finish the entire website before launching their business. They’ll spend hours picking out the perfect design, worrying about which technologies to use, and trying to develop a huge library of pages. Needless to say, that takes a long time and seriously delays the start of their business.

The truth is, most of the time all they need is a landing page to let their customers (a) know what they’re offering and (b) purchase it. This can be done in an afternoon, which allows them to be in business more or less immediately. In addition to letting them get started selling stuff, that one-page website allows them to begin the learning process of what kind of web presence they need. The landing page is now the first iteration of their website.

The reason iterations are so important is because it is only at the end of an effort that you get the results which allow you to learn. A writer only learns how people are going to respond to their ideas after they publish. A developer only learns how their app impacts their users after it gets into those users’ hands. Someone aspiring to regular workouts is only going to learn how to get themselves to go to the gym regularly once they actually go there.

Therefore, whenever you are operating under conditions of change or uncertainty, it’s usually best to do many small versions of your project instead of one large one. In the case of the writer, for example, that would be a short story or an article.

You can always expand on your effort later. Maybe the writer does a second article, and then a third. Each time they publish, they’re able to get feedback from their readers, and use what they’ve learned to write better and better articles. Eventually they will have enough writing to become a book. More importantly, because they’ve been learning from their readers the whole time that they’ve been writing it, they have written a much better book, which is far more likely to be successful than the one they developed without this process. There’s a whole community based on this paradigm called Lean Publishing

Only finished work is valuable. It’s tempting to start a bunch of things, beginnings are very inspiring. And it feels productive: you have a dozen half-finished articles, for example. But unfinished, unpublished articles have no real value because no one can read them. So you must ensure you have some finished item in each iteration, lest all of that invested time go to waste. It doesn’t have to be a big thing, it just needs to be big enough to get something done and let you learn from it.

The Basics: Iteration