The benefits of small-scale experimentation

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What are small-scale experiments

Small scale experiments are the experiments that you can conduct with minimal resources – $10 or $100. They are the quick (and dirty) tests that can help gain some understanding of the environment. They are not intended to give full clarity or be as complete as more extensive trials, but rather inexpensive ways of verifying certain assumptions or reducing some uncertainty. Rather than doing a large-scale survey, consider whether you can gain some initial insight by asking for feedback from some end-users you have easy access to. Rather than a high-fidelity product prototype, see whether a cheaper rapid prototype may suffice.

Why are small-scale experiments often better than large experiments

It may paradoxical, but small-scale experiments are often preferred to more costly large-scale experiments. Some of the reasons small scale experiments are often preferable to more extensive testing include:

Only limited money spent on the experiments

The first clear benefit of small-scale experiments is that they are cheap to run. This can be important to getting sign-off – it is a lot easier to justify a $10 or $100 experiment than it is it get approval for a more comprehensive but expensive experiment.

Quick to conduct

Small-scale experiments can be quickly run. They allow you to gain almost instant feedback on a particular issue – right at the point where that information is most useful to the area you are exploring.

This is in comparison to larger experiments, which may take months to coordinate and run. By the time you are getting the result of such experiments it may be too late – the opportunity may have passed, or you may have already committed resources to it. 

Can be repeated based on learnings in the experiment

A final benefit for quick small-scale experimentation is that it can easily be replicated based on learning. If your experiment identifies a new possibility, you can explore that possibility without having to worry about the new expense of running a second experiment. Similarly, if your experiment fails due to an implementation detail (possibly you were targetting the wrong customer segment), you don’t have to worry about needing to justify repeating it. 

Final thoughts: As you learn more, consider increasing the scope or sizes of your experiments

A key thing to keep in mind with experimentation is balancing the stage you are in the development process with the cost and time of an experiment. If you are early in the development process, small-scale experiments that are quick and cheap to implement may be the best approach. As you start to refine your product, more high-fidelity experiments may be better, helping you get the detailed insight necessary to progress in the project. The key thing to keep in mind is the balance between the development stage and the type of experiment that you are conducting. 

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