Agile Explained Agile Operating Model

How important is the agile “test and learn” approach?

(Or as we like to say – Mistakes are not just ok – we insist!)

Agile is essentially about developing solutions quickly.   Iterating quickly.  Adapting.  Not quite right? Change. Go Again.  Lets test.  Adapt. Change. Learn. Improve.  You get the idea. 

That’s cheekily a 101 of Agile, but sometimes things get over-complicated.     And what happens when things get over-complicated?  Some of the basics get lost.     This is why we wanted to re-address the Agile  “TEST AND LEARN” approach.

Assuming you understand the theory of Test and Learn in business practice, we won’t delve too much into that for now. (although if you want to fast forward to the end of this article – we have a bonus section where we spend time with our Polish team member Slawek Koziol who goes a little more in-depth into how Agile Teams use Test and Learn).

Simply put – Test and Learn is set of Agile practices that allows a business to test with real customers, real products, to understand impacts on experience and productivity.   From there, you learn what needs to be improved.  And you do it again and again.   It’s efficient, cost effective, and ultimately returns a greater ROI.

It’s important to continually remind ourselves of why we are here.  Why is something important and other things not so.   When you think about it – as humans, we are the living example of Agile personified.

As children we are always testing and learning.  We test (don’t brake too hard on a bicycle), and learn quickly throughout our lives.

As adults we continue to test and learn.  We learn to be vulnerable in order to develop ourselves as complete humans.  And we learn that through mistakes.

So simply applying that very humanness to a business practice makes complete sense.    (if you want a genuinely great story on how one couple uses Agile Scrum on their relationship – look here)

The woman of the moment, Brené Brown says in her latest book Rising Strong “The goal of the (rising strong) process is to rise from our falls, overcome our mistakes, and face hurt in a way that brings more wisdom and wholeheartedness into our lives.”

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So how important is the TEST AND LEARN approach in business?

One of ADAPTOVATE’s associates – Shilen Modi, reminded us of something Franklin Roosevelt said “It is common sense to take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something.” 


[bctt tweet=”“It is common sense to take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something.” Franklin Roosevelt” username=”adaptovate”]


Shilen explains “The ‘testing and learning’ approach we love to shout about at ADAPTOVATE is exactly what Franklin Roosevelt’s message is about. I think it’s a great mindset to bring to many situations, both in the workspace and out!”

“Testing and learning is essentially the backbone of Agile. “ Tiong Yeow from our Singapore office says.  He continues “It’s the way we can accelerate delivery of key outcomes and ensuring that what we developed addresses the needs of the customers, and not creating something (products/services) that are of no value to the customers. The faster we are able to test, the more time and effort we will be able to save.”

Rachna Verma in our Australian team says “Crucial! Test and learn helps to derisk the project in the early stages and enables a feedback mechanism to incorporate in the next iteration.”

(A note: In Agile we call this a Growth Mindset. A person having a “GROWTH” mindset on the other  believes he/she can get better with practice.  

“I haven’t done too well but I believe I can improve”.“I’m just happy to give it a go to challenge myself and learn”.

You can catch up on the origins of the Growth Mindset here in this video. )

5 Steps to the Destination

When Steve Walton, from our USA ADAPTOVATE team, was invited to share his thoughts on Test and Learn, he said “Test and Learn is everything.   It is how we find our direction when we feel we are in the dark.

“We reach out and see where there is resistance to the direction we want, when there is, we do further tests to see if these are real blockages and are things we can work around. When we don’t meet resistance, we go forth one step at a time, constantly sense checking to understand if we are still in the right direction.” Steve explains.

Steve explains how you do this in five steps.

  1. Planning where we are going first. Where do we regroup? How are we going to proceed to get to our first destination? Do we need to take a stride or a small step based on what we know about our challenge?
  2. Talking with each other to make sure we are still together on our journey, do we need to balance each other? Has someone learnt new information?
  3. We pause along the way to talk about if we are still aligned to our overall destination. Do we hear the noise from the destination?
  4. Listen for feedback. Do we hear water? Is there an echo? What was that sound?
  5. Learning along the way, we pause regularly to see what we are doing right and what we need to change. Was tying us together helpful as we walk through the dark, or did we trip on the rope?

Steve summarizes “If we don’t test and learn, we risk unintended consequences which will likely take longer to recover from, we also risk going the wrong direction, finding out that our destination does not exist.”


Mark Barber, from our Melbourne office, puts it simply “The short answer is that there is no agile without test-and-learn loops.”  He expands “More specifically, a truly agile way of working features two top level test and learn cycles, or feedback loops.

One around the work that we deliver and another around the way that we deliver that work. We use feedback loops to validate assumptions about our problem-solution space to ensure customer needs are being met.

We also use them around our system of work so that we learn what works (that is, the practices and principles that we should amplify) and what does not work (those that we should get rid of or do differently). This helps us to deliver value more effectively.”

Life without TEST AND LEARN

One of the key ways to appreciate a method – is to think about life without it!   So take a moment to think about not testing and learning, in your life or in your work. Where would that leave you?

Kayla Cartwright, a consultant from ADAPTOVATE in Los Angeles says “Without test and learn, employees and teams often stay in a fixed mindset zone, seeing a mistake as a failure rather than as a chance to learn and improve quickly.”

Organisations that are successful, are the ones that have embraced the Test and Learn approach within their culture and processes.    We believe the best way to go about that  is by adopting the Agile method, as it’s a sure fire way to get Test and Learn fast tracked and embedded within teams and at scale quickly.


Editor: ADAPTOVATE would like to thank our fantastic team who regularly contribute to our articles.  This article features the following team members.
Please reach out to any of them :

Shilen Modi 
Steve Walton
Rachna Verma
Mark Barber
Kayla Cartwright
Slawek Koziol
Tiong Yeow Tan


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