How a dishwasher became a baby bottle washer – and taught me the importance of experiments and short feedback loops

An organization is not a dishwasher. Or is it? Read this and get 5 valuable tips, plus a bonus tip, on what to remember when conducting experiments in your work (which you should do!).

Baby bottles

Asmus Stolberg

Consultant

ast@syndicate.dk

5

min read

July 1, 2024

In a previous post, I ended with quite a big announcement: a new citizen of the world is on the way. Half a year later, this new citizen has arrived, bringing a lot of changes to my life, both big and small. Among these are a collection of baby bottles, which come in various shapes and sizes and they, of course, need to be cleaned frequently and thoroughly.

To make life easier for new parents, there is actually dedicated equipment available for this. However, we were fortunate to have a dishwasher with an extra drying feature. But can a dishwasher really be used to clean baby bottles?

After running the program for the first time, the initial answer was no. Some small parts ended up at the bottom of the machine, uncleaned. Bottles were tossed around, filled with dirty water. About half needed to be cleaned again.

Not a great start for the dishwasher as a baby bottle washer. So, how did we eventually succeed in getting everything clean and neat? Unknowingly, we adopted an experimental approach.

In short, it means conducting experiments to find the way forward.

What Does an Experimental Approach Mean?

In short, it means conducting experiments to find the way forward. Test possible solutions, determine what works and what doesn’t. Adjust and try again. You might reach your goal or get closer to it, or you might not. Regardless, you’ll have the chance to learn something new.

To increase your chances of success, here are some essentials to remember for an experimental approach:

5 Things to remember:

1) Clear Goal – What Do You Want to Achieve?

Define your goal as precisely as possible. Whether it’s a change in daily work routines, improving error handling, determining the direction for your product, or introducing a new tool, be clear about what you want to achieve.

BABY BOTTLE EXPERIMENT: 97% of all baby bottle parts clean after a wash.

2) Boundaries – Where do we start and end?

What is included in the experiment and what is not? Define the scope and duration of the experiment.

BABY BOTTLE EXPERIMENT: Baby bottle parts, dishwasher, and remaining dishes over 2 weeks.

3) Feedback

The faster you can get feedback, the quicker you can adjust or stop entirely. Ensure feedback is accessible, quick, and relevant.

BABY BOTTLE EXPERIMENT: Clear feedback after each wash, about once a day. Open and inspect.

4) Simple Improvements

Make a few simple changes rather than many complex ones. This makes it easier to see what works and what doesn’t.

BABY BOTTLE EXPERIMENT: Rearrange parts in the dishwasher. Can the cutlery holder be used? Can something be purchased for the machine?

5) When Is It Good Enough?

Accept that it will (probably) never be perfect. The goal may shift as things improve. Ensure the situation is better than before.

BABY BOTTLE EXPERIMENT: When everyone in the household (except the baby) understands how to place bottle parts in the dishwasher and the goal is achieved every time.

Bonus Tip

Document the current situation and changes – from one experiment to the next. It makes it easier to remember what has happened and track development.

In the case of the dishwasher, this wasn’t necessary. The period was short, and it was easy to remember the original situation – I think...

This rarely applies at a workplace where periods and time horizons are often longer and many more factors influence the situation and memory.

Empirical? Iterative? Responsive? Agile!? Call it whatever you want – or maybe just common sense?

My workplace is not a dishwasher!

Of course, you shouldn't put people in a dishwasher, and the context is different when dealing with work, people, teams, organizations, etc.

However, the basic principles of an experimental approach still apply and are even more important in a work situation. At work, there are many more factors at play: dynamics, politics, and a degree of bureaucracy that can distract from the main goal; producing great products (or whatever it may be).

The dishwasher example starts simple and "easy". The experimental approach is a craft and mindset that must be learned. Like an apprentice carpenter, you don't start by making the finest piece of furniture with intricate details and elegant transitions. No, you start with something simpler, like countless hours of planing wood. Then you build on and on until one day, thousands of hours later, you can make the most refined piece of furniture.

This approach reminds me of something, or actually the essence of something. What is it exactly?

Empirical? Iterative? Responsive? Agile!?

Call it whatever you want – or maybe just common sense?

For me, it was the natural and intuitive approach as I wanted to avoid buying another expensive and space-consuming appliance for the household.

I’ll spare you a meticulous review of my baby bottle experiments and simply conclude that all the small experiments and adjustments along the way were a success, and today the dishwasher works excellently as a baby bottle washer.

What is your next experiment?

Fuel for your career