There is something intrinsically romantic and inspiring when a remarkable individual, or team, have a sudden moment of magical genius and creativity, resulting in a new technical invention to improve the current “best in class.”
These stories are memorable and make great Hollywood movie scripts. But in reality, product development is quite often very different, something Kevin Ashton discusses in his book How to Fly a Horse.
Rather than through a eureka moment of inspiration, new creations, inventions or discoveries are the result of many small, incremental steps. Continuous, and sometimes endless, loops of “try-assess-adjust” activities are undertaken by common individuals who have abundant grit to persist despite missteps along the way.
There are many thought-provoking points in Ashton’s classic. However, the timeless idea of delivering great innovative products as a sequence of continuous “ant-size” iterations rather than the result of infrequent giant leaps is even more relevant today in the world affected by coronavirus – the black swan of 2020.
The word “continuous” is frequently used in business context. Quality managers discuss continuous improvement process. Product and software managers explore continuous product delivery. And more technically-minded folks consider continuous integration as one of the “must-have” engineering practices.
Continuous improvement is a mindset. It is any effort to improve products, services or processes in an incremental fashion or as a “breakthrough.” It originated in Japan after World War II and is how Toyota expanded from a small local car-maker to the largest automobile manufacturer in the world.
Today, the concept of continuous improvement widely applies to business practices, including the International Organization for Standardization of a Quality Management System (ISO 9001:2015) and an Information Security Management System (ISO 27001:2005). Continuous improvement ideas are also at the core of agile software development.
So, how do we apply “ant steps” innovation to product development in the highly regulated clinical trial market? There is no silver bullet or “one size fits all” approach, but there are a few universal ideas to stay nimble and deliver business value via continuous product delivery.
Continuous product development is a mindset – it’s a journey and not a destination. It is also a multi-dimensional topic. For example, I haven’t even addressed the topic of good engineering practices, which are critical to continuous product delivery.
While COVID-19 has disrupted everyone at some level, it shouldn’t be a roadblock to continuous product development. Rather, it is a time to find strength – both as individuals and teams – to overcome obstacles. This applies to software development and any other passion we have in life.
For example, a few days ago, I had the opportunity to listen to Patrick Mouratoglou, a world-renowned tennis coach, speaking to students of his tennis academy on a video call. He had a very powerful message to his students – some of whom are likely to be future professional athletes. Despite lockdown, Patrick told them that professional players stick to their daily routine as much as possible to continue to make ant-size improvements in their game.
Whether tennis, software development or something else, continual improvement comes with thousands of ant steps. I would like to hear your thoughts. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.