Stop Iterating, Start Adapting.

UPDATE: There is a newer, shinier, quiz version of this post here.

Our team recently did an interesting exercise. We each had to say which historical figure we would most like to meet.

Alex and I both said Charles Darwin, the great scientist.

Darwin wasn’t just a great scientist though, he was the godfather of Agile. His famous quote applies to products as well as species…

It is not the product with the most users that survives, not the one with most features that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.

For example, MySpace was the most popular social networking site in the world in 2008 but now it’s faded into insignificance. MySpace failed to adapt.

Agile is all about adapting. One if it’s principles is “harness change for competitive advantage”. The world’s most successful products succeed by adapting and taking advantage of change…

Amazon saw that the internet changed the rules of retail. Facebook started out as a student directory before evolving into a social network. Apple saw that advances in hardware could turn the phone into an easy-to-use computer in your pocket.

FILE - In this Sept. 20, 2005 file photo, Apple co-founder Steve Jobs smiles after a press conference as he opens the Apple Expo in Paris. Since his death in 2011, Jobs has been the subject of documentaries, books, a film, even a graphic novel.(AP Photo/Christophe Ena, File) ORG XMIT: LA105

How fast does you product adapt?

The Challenge

The landscape is constantly shifting. Our competitors are changing. Google, and other platforms we rely on are constantly changing. (Google do a major algorithm update every three months).

Our users are changing. They moved to remote working during lockdown which impacts, usage, for example. The devices and browsers they use are changing. Customers are changing are adopting new technologies like CDS Hooks are emerging.

Customers and institutions are changing too, in response to the changing economy. They are also changing in response to new technologies like CDS Hooks.

And of course our team is changing – Eva left the team last month, and new people are being recruited. Over time our understanding changes as the team learns about our users and our technology. We’ll revisit that in a minute.

The wider organisation too is always evolving, and making changes such as migrating our auth systems.

Why Iterating Is Misguided

The definition of iterate is “to repeat”.

In product development, iterating typically means “do two weeks work at a time”. What if you have a three month plan and work through it linearly two week at a time? That’s iterating, but it’s not adapting.

Repeating is not adapting. Working linearly is not adapting.

Success (what it really looks like) TG ver

5 Secrets To Adapting Faster

1. Adapting fast does NOT mean adapting every two weeks. Adapting needs to happen daily, hourly, whatever it takes. That’s why standups are every day but there should be conversations and decisions being made in-between standups. That’s why one of Agile’s principles is “business people and developers must work together daily”.

Someone needs to look at the data whenever is needed, not just every two weeks.

2. If you’re really adapting, then even a two week plan will change. That’s why one of Agile’s four values is “respond to change over following a plan”.

Planning is important, but if you’re serious about adapting to change then measuring Jira tickets against the plan isn’t meaningful. You need to measure something in the “real world” (such as active users, for example). You need real world feedback.

3. You need to adapt at different levels. Take the iPhone, for example. Apple adapted at the product level (from the failed Newton PDA, to the successful iPod, to the failed Motorola “iTunes phone” partnership, to the successful iPhone). They also adapted at the feature level – the iPhone launched without even an App Store!

No solo el RAZR: Motorola tendría planes de revivir el Moto ROKR
The Motorola Rokr, aka the iTunes Phone.

Apple also adapt at a lower-level, enhancing existing features and capabilities.

4. Accelerate learning. Over time your team can naturally discover more about it’s users, employees and technology but you need to actively accelerate this. You need to be laser focused about exactly what you learn about. Read my recent blog post about it.

Part of this is having a clear vision. It helps focus the team. It’s the vision, or mission, that remains constant amid all the change. This is where the evolution metaphor breaks down. Darwin’s evolution through natural selection doesn’t take advantage of a vision.

5. You need a mix of deep collaboration and deep individual work. Read more about how to strike the right balance in this article.


Two week sprints aren’t enough to be agile. You need to adapt!

Categorized as Agile

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