Cheat Sheet: Iteration

Concept:        Iteration Cycle

Skill Goal:     Decrease the time required to learn.


The act of repeating a process, usually with the aim of approaching a desired goal.” – Wikipedia


  • The goal of a startup is to discover a successful business model.
  • Iterations can refer to small learning exercises, but is more often used to describe the amount of time required to learn something significant about the business model.
  • The iteration length is therefore not the amount of time to build a new version of the product, but also the amount of time required to gather significant information as well as the amount of time required to make a decision.
  • If no information is collected to base a decision on, then the iteration length is infinite because nothing is learned.
  • Companies can decrease the iteration length in a variety of ways:
    • Use continuous deployment with automated testing to increase production.
    • Reduce product requirements to create Minimum Viable Products.
    • Increase the amount of customers sampled for each test.
    • Simplify the decision making process.
    • Focus on qualitative data instead of quantitative data.
    • Etc.


Example: Production Bottleneck

A team has 10,000 visitors each day, but can only iterate once per week. Additional marketing may increase sales, but will not increase learning.


Example: Marketing Bottleneck

A company with a 5 person development team working on a simple survey application and practicing continuous deployment has demonstrated and ability to iterate every day. However, there are only 10 people visiting the website each day. A sample size is 150 people, so the team has 14 days of wasted development per cycle. The team needs to focus on marketing.


Additional readings:

Individual Exercises:

  1. A company XYZ wishes to optimize it’s on-line sales. It has two new home page designs it can test. It takes the engineering team three days to code, test, and deploy a new website home page. The website currently has 150 visitors each day and the CEO has decided that 150 visitors is a sufficient sample size of information to make a decision.
  • What is the iteration length?
  • What is the bottleneck?
  • How would you reduce the iteration length?
  1. Determine your average iteration length.
  • What are the bottlenecks?
  • How can you reduce iteration time?


Thought / Discussion Exercises:

  1. How does iteration length differ in larger established companies? Is this good or bad?