rlc framework flow diagram

The Flow of a Rapid Learning Cycles Kickoff Event

This template shows the flow of an event to establish the Rapid Learning Cycles framework for a program.  

Rapid Learning Cycles is a framework for project management that leverages Agile practices for teams that are working in areas of high uncertainty — and high cost of change.  It’s the best fit for areas like physical product development, pharmaceutical research, advanced R & D, strategy deployment, complex IT rollouts and early-stage infrastructure programs.

These types of projects all operate in areas where three core assumptions behind Agile Software Development are not true:

  • Work cannot be easily broken down into User Stories of short duration.
  • Work packages are not independent of each other — instead, project leaders have to manage complex dependency chains.
  • Team resources are not interchangeable. You can’t have a Mechanical Engineer do the work of a Firmware Engineer and vice versa. Even within disciplines, engineers have strong specialization.

These projects experience delays when decisions made earlier in the project have to be revisited later — triggering rework loops, project delays and cost overruns. In the worst cases, they can’t be fixed at all, leading the project to fail to deliver promised results.

For these types of projects, the way to go faster is to make decisions at the right time, with the right people and the best available knowledge. When they do that, they eliminate the root causes behind revisited decisions.

Teams commit early to the goal — the project’s Core Hypothesis, pull learning forward and push decisions all the way to the Last Responsible Moment so that the team has more time to learn, and dynamic situations have more time to settle out.  

They learn to identify which decisions should be made as early as possible and which decisions are Key Decisions — High Impact / High Unknown decisions.  By definition, these decisions have Knowledge Gaps.  By closing Knowledge Gaps, teams build the knowledge needed to make better decisions.

The central element of Rapid Learning Cycles is the learning cycle. This short, focused period of work seeks to answer questions (Knowledge Gaps) the team has about an aspect of their program so that they can make better Key Decisions. During a learning cycle, team members close Knowledge Gaps, and then at the end of a learning cycle, they share what they’ve learned with their teams, then decide what to learn next in a Learning Cycle event. Teams and stakeholders make Key Decisions at Integration Events.

This series of Cardsmith boards support a Kickoff Event to establish Rapid Learning Cycles for a team.

Learn More:

The Path Through the Wilderness:

The Elements of Project Management for Rapid Learning Cycles by Katherine Radeka

About the Rapid Learning Cycles Framework

The Rapid Learning Cycles framework accelerates innovation by helping teams make decisions at the right time with the right people and the best available knowledge. The framework was developed by Katherine Radeka and first fully explained in her book, The Shortest Distance Between You and Your New Product: How Innovators Use RLCs to Get Their Best Ideas to Market Faster. You can learn more about the framework at the Rapid Learning Cycles Institute.