Experiments are at the heart of LeSS


Frameworks as starting point

If you look at the LeSS complete picture, you see that the frameworks - defined by the rules - and the principles are at the heart of LeSS. However, this is not completely true.

In fact, the LeSS frameworks emerged out of the experiments, in response to the need of novice group in large-scale product development domain. In the first two LeSS books, hundreds of concrete experiments are shared. Those experiments are insightful but do not fit for novice group. We may start from the frameworks, then still move towards experiments. Therefore, experiments are really at the heart of LeSS.

Then, what is the essence of experiments? How do they differ from best practices and patterns?

Best practices and patterns

At a glance, experiments look similar to best practices. The below is the description for best practice in Wikipedia.

"A best practice is a method or technique that has been generally accepted as superior to any alternatives, because it produces results that are superior to those achieved by other means or because it has become a standard way of doing things."

With best practices, we focus on adopting and spreading them as they are already proven. Best practices both cater to and nurture copying mindset.

However, using experiments in LeSS is to emphasize that "there are no such things as best practices in product development. there are only practices that are adequate within a certain context". This is meant to encourage a culture of leaning, questioning, engagement and continuous improvement.

Are rules best practices, if experiments are not? Rules and frameworks were created to help novice group get started and form the foundation to support empirical process control for the whole product and organization. Would it encourage following and copying mindset, as these are stated as rules? Probably. To mitigate it, in the CLP (Certified LeSS Practitioner) course, we explore the rules via systems modeling to understand various factors and dynamics behind them.

How about patterns - are experiments patterns? A pattern is a general, reusable solution to a commonly occurring problem within a given context. In a way, patterns are formalized best practices, and they differ in patterns emphasizing the context. With patterns we focus on solving problems within a given context. This helps shift the focus away from the copying. While focusing on problem solving in a context, we are more likely trying to understand how the solution is supposed to solve the problem, and how the context matters. In this sense, experiments and patterns are close, as they both present logic and depend on context. However, they differ in putting which one first - the solution or the reasoning?

Focus on reasoning in experiments

In my view, reasoning is at the heart of experiments. When we learn about experiments, we don't focus on copying the solution, we don't even focus on learning the solution itself, we focus on learning the reasoning about the solution - how this solution is created, what factors and dynamics are involved, etc., so as to reason about our own problem and context then create our own solution.


This view made me think that the current format of experiments - try/avoid - does not promote enough the focus on reasoning. Let me use two different formats for one experiment to illustrate the difference.

  1. Try - one product backlog shared by multiple teams.
  2. Understand - the impact of number of product backlogs on adaptiveness

With the first format, the focus is immediately on the practice or the solution (share one product backlog) itself; while with the second format, the focus is on the problem/goal (adaptiveness) and the potential leverage (number of product backlogs), thus, the reasoning.

I have to admit that it is unappealing to focus on "understanding" for many people. Unfortunately many people often just want to copy something, thus, any attempt to reason about factors and dynamics with them is seen too slow. However, this is exactly what we need in the complex domain such as large-scale product development.

The experiments are evolving, and never-ending because of continuous improvement. The first two LeSS books documented only those experiments collected till that time. Although we can wait for a revision of those two books, considering the nature of experiments, we would benefit from having a more dynamic collection of experiments made by and for the community of LeSS practitioners.

In summary, here is the shift of focus from best practices to pattens further to experiments:

  • with best practices we focus more on copying the solution than understanding the logic
  • with patterns we focus on learning the solution as well as understanding the logic - its problem and context
  • with experiments we focus on learning the logic - factors and dynamics, then creating solution on our own

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