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Dec 18, 2019 | IN UX Design | BY Klew Still
The Importance of a Learning Bucket for Product Design

It’s the night before New Years, your start-up is ready

For the next fiscal year. Your Roadmap is steady.

The Trello cards are prioritized and set up with due care

But there’s no room for learning, there’s no points to spare.

As you company approaches the start of 2020, you are likely working through creating your Product Roadmap for the next twelve months and in particular for the coming quarter. You are setting Epic estimates and probably padding those estimates to account for overflow, administrative costs, and unforeseen issues. In other words, the known unknowns.

But have you accounted for unknown unknowns?

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Why a Learning Bucket is Crucial

Using a learning bucket - an allocation of velocity set aside for learnings within the quarter - allows us to quickly turn around valuable ideas encountered while staying disciplined to roadmap commitments.” - Dave Martelon, CTO of Active Oversight

A Learning Bucket is a recurring Roadmap item that Product tracks every quarter to represent work to be done during that quarter to address a client need that hasn’t yet been discovered. It allows you to jump on those issues without sacrificing focus on other commitments.

Basically, you can think of a Learning Bucket as a mystery box. You don’t know what’s going in there until you’re in the middle of it. But it’s absolutely essential.

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You can, with a Learning Bucket.

Setting up this process allows you the time and planning capacity to address issues with client needs as they arise in real time. These needs may become obvious through user interviews, field visits, support tickets, demos, sales meetings, or other client engagements. They may be items causing huge, unanticipated pain to a group of users. They may be unforeseen performance issues that make working in your app difficult. They may be blockers in the sales pipeline. Whatever they are, they are the kind of “bad surprises” that cause Product heartbreak because they are the things we want to jump on and solve right away for our users.

And having planned a Learning Bucket, we can do just that.

Setting your Bucket up for Success

Being able to address feedback as it comes in during the quarter shows our customers and stakeholders that we are nimble, can act fast, and care about solving our customers problems as they come up.” - Kimberly Gant, Senior Product Manager of Active Oversight

Nailing your Learning Bucket is a way to show your users that you care about their experience and are responsive to it.

To make a Learning Bucket practice work for you, you have to already be doing the legwork necessary to learn about the things that become Learning Bucket work. That means frequent client interactions in the form of conversations, interviews, observed workflows, or field visits.

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Ask questions incisively and follow up on issues your users mention that don’t fall into the scope of your app - because in the future, they just may. 

And don’t forget to engage the other teams within your company such as Development and Sales to help gather learnings.

One Big Item or Many Small Items?

Once you’ve established a Learning Bucket roadmap item and are performing the legwork to discover previously hidden user challenges, it’s time to start plugging those items into sprints and getting the effort counted against the Learning Bucket...erm, bucket. 

How do you plan this work?

At Active Oversight, we tend to plan our Learning Bucket as a collection of small items rather than banking on a single large feature. However, both approaches have advantages, so you should assess your process and your anticipated needs with your team before the quarter begins.

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One Big Item or Many Small Items?

Once you’ve established a Learning Bucket roadmap item and are performing the legwork to discover previously hidden user challenges, it’s time to start plugging those items into sprints and getting the effort counted against the Learning Bucket...erm, bucket. 

How do you plan this work?

At Active Oversight, we tend to plan our Learning Bucket as a collection of small items rather than banking on a single large feature. However, both approaches have advantages, so you should assess your process and your anticipated needs with your team before the quarter begins.

In general I believe that it is better to plan for a large Learning Bucket item in your earlier product lifecycle, when you have more major features you are dying to implement but that you need to learn more about and get verified by your users. Conversely, as your product matures you may want to switch to planning for a number of small Learning Bucket items that will help refine your existing features and address quality-of-life issues for your users. 

In either case, be ready to change on the fly as you learn new information! 

Continual Improvement

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The Learning Bucket is special because it is a recurring Roadmap item. This allows you to approach it with a discipline of continual improvement that you also use for your product features. 

The Learning Bucket practice has allowed Active Oversight to deliver some incredible features and feature improvements over the years, including Location Contacts, improvements to our work completion and approval workflow, and more than a half-dozen Closeout improvements. 

And there is for sure more to come. We’ve implemented some improvements to our Learning Bucket process itself this year. One such improvement is working more closely with Support to triage incoming tickets, which means Product and Design are immediately aware of support tickets that may become Learning Bucket items. Keep improving the process, and protect the Learning Bucket! It’s a special space to keep your company more responsive to clients without impacting your work velocity on planned features.

Tags: UX Design

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