All Solutions Are Iterative

I’ve spilled a lot of wind and electrons talking and writing about iteration as a path to solving problems, in a business analysis context and elsewhere. My framework incorporates multiple levels of iteration, of course, but through earning and maintaining my certifications, and a lifetime of working and learning, I’ve encountered many formal and historical approaches to solving problems in this way.

  • DMAIC: This Six Sigma technique for process improvement is an acronym for a series of steps which are always performed in the same order. The steps are Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control. (Wikipedia article)
  • DMADV: This Six Sigma technique for process design (it is also known as DFSS or Design For Six Sigma) is an acronym for a series of steps which are always performed in the same order. The steps are Define, Measure, Analyze, Design (the improvement), and Verify the design. (Wikipedia article and also here)
  • PDCA: This technique for process improvement is an acronym for a series of steps which are always performed iteratively in the same order. The steps are Plan, Do, Check, and Act. (Wikipedia article)
  • OODA loop: This iterative process, originally designed by an Air Force colonel, is used in operational situations. My impression was that it was originally conceived as a guideline for how to think in a real-time combat situation, but the approach has been expanded to apply to longer-term activities involving people, especially when in opposition (e.g., in legal proceedings). The acronym stands for Observe-Orient-Decide-Act. (Wikipedia article)
  • The Five Whys: This approach to root cause analysis asks investigators to continually ask “Why” something is happening, continuously digging deeper (or sideways to explore other possibilities if the current one appears to be a dead end) in an iterative fashion until the problem is correctly identified and a correction potentially applied.
  • Scrum, Kanban, etc.: As the briefest of overviews, Scrum (Wikipedia article) is an approach to developing processes and products that iteratively (and relatively quickly and often) iterates toward a (reasonably well-known) goal while applying as many resources as it takes to reach the goal in the allotted time. Kanban (Wikipedia article), by contract, works in a similar fashion but proceeds at whatever pace is supported by the resources available. Other variations and combinations are practiced (e.g., Scrumban), but after a while it all gets to be arguing how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.
  • “Agile Is Dead!”: This talk (on Youtube), hosted by one of the authors of the original Agile Manifesto (who ought to understand what problems the manifesto was actually trying to address), suggests that we should spend less time trying to adhere to the formal rules of various management frameworks, and spend more time communicating with each other and making continuous, small course corrections based on what we learn. In other words, we should iteration often and together.
  • The Scientific Method: This approach (Wikipedia article) to learning about the workings of nature (and systems), asks us to rigorously ask questions, develop and test hypotheses, and compare the results of reality against our conceptions, in a continuous and iterative way until more thorough and accurate understanding is achieved.
    • Understanding Thermodynamics: This book describes the history of the attempts to understand thermodynamics, a process which took over 150 years!
    • String Theory or Whatever: … is basically a mess, and may well be a time- and resource-consuming dead end in the search for understanding the deeper physics of our universe. Given how long it took to understand Thermodynamics, we see that deeper and more correct understanding may take a lot of time, consume a lot of resources, and in general require a lot of iteration. This may not be fun, but it is necessary and inevitable.

In short, almost nothing worthwhile is accomplished on the first try. If it looks like some expert breezed in and made something look easy, you can probably be assured that they iterated the skills needed to achieve the result an awful lot of times. Just because you don’t see the iterations, doesn’t mean they didn’t happen.

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