The Role of Log Files in Experiments

Editorial Note: I originally wrote this post for the LogEntries blog.  Head over to check out the original at their site.  LogEntries provides a service that allows you to centralize, monitor, and search your log files, so if you’re interested in logging and related topics, there is a lot to check out.

You have heard, no doubt, of the Lean Startup.  If you need a refresher to place the name, it’s a book, but it’s also a business trend with such momentum as to have a website advertising it as a “movement.”  And, frankly, that advertisement is hardly a stretch.  The title and the terms coined in it are on everyone’s lips in the tech industry these days because people at companies of all shapes and sizes want to capture some of that startup magic.

For instance, it’s pretty likely that you’ve heard a process described as “lean,” and it’s a veritable certainty that you’ve heard the term “minimum viable product” tossed around at some point or another.  You may even have heard these terms used correctly.  I say this because the use of these terms has become so ubiquitous among the book’s readers that non-readers adopt them as well and map their own situational contexts onto them.  Definitions drift.  “Minimum viable product” has come to mean “beta” or “prototype” and “lean” is a hipper, newer version of “agile” that has something to do with Toyota, or something.

But if you peel back a layer from breathless use of buzzwords, you’ll find genuine, serious substance underneath.  To summarize the Lean Startup in a ridiculously short sound byte, I would offer, “apply the scientific method to your business.”  And that’s an extremely powerful concept.

You’ll note that there’s nothing in my description about startups, per se, and that’s intentional.  As Eric Ries argues in the book, there’s nothing to say that the same approach can’t be leveraged within large, established businesses.  He even gives a number of examples of exactly that application.  Make no mistake; the Lean Startup approach has lessons for you no matter what your business and no matter how well-established.

Business, Science, and Software

For me, and for most reading, our business is the business of software.  The question thus becomes, “how can we apply the scientific method to building software?”

To do that, let’s consider the scientific method a bit more formally.  Here is what it involves, quoted from the linked page.

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