You have a big idea for a digital product. It may be a portal, it may be a tool, it may enable transactions.
But whatever the purpose, it’s likely you’ll be confident that it will connect people with your business, give value to your B2B customers (or more importantly the people whom you imagine to be your customers) or bring efficiencies to your internal teams.
Your big idea needs financing by internal budget holders, and it is very likely that you won’t be able to get those critical funds without showing the non-believers and naysayers just what you mean and how useful it will be.
A common urban legend in the world of product development is that 95% of products launched in the US fail - studies point to failure rates for new products more likely being somewhere around 40%.
Put simply, that's why you prototype: To prove your concept has value and relevance to its intended users, to help convince internal backers and to ensure you get the all important cash to take you forward to building your product and realising your dream.
It’s the foundational process for developing your product from idea to functioning item, a way of challenging your assumptions and ensuring your big idea isn’t simply a very large smelly fish of the red herring variety.
So, how do you ensure you get the most out of your prototype?
1. Gather around a white board
Gather a team with relevant experience, representative opinions and skills and leave your ego at the door. If you do this at the white board (which can be virtual – I like Miro, for example) it can be an amazingly powerful facilitator. The genesis of an idea may be owned by an individual, but the best ideas evolve through collaboration. A good guide to getting started with purpose can be found in the seminal work of Jake Knapp, which provides the foundation of Google’s working process for product development.
2. Question everything – particularly your own assumptions
In the genesis of your idea you will have developed some strong opinions based on assumptions you have made about the needs you have identified, and the ways in which those needs can be met. After all, you are a visionary, right? You can see right through the slurry to the perfect solution.
Your assumptions may be quite wrong and you should be prepared to have each of them kicked out of the room. Equally as important is to allow the assumptions of others to be challenged. Being candid and allowing for open and frank discussion is where the white board can help. B2B business can learn a lot from B2C in this regard – it’s worth reading how they do it at Netflix in Reed Hastings’ insightful No Rules Rules.
3. Test and test again
That way you understand your intended users and the value of your product. In order to understand where the value of your product truly lies you need to be test and learn-focussed. By doing this you will be able to ruthlessly prioritise features.
Remember at all times if there is no clear value exchange and you can’t hit the ‘sweet spot’ – the intersection of business need and user demand – it's not worth doing. Just because a feature may drive value to your business, be sure it delivers for your users. If it doesn’t… bin it immediately.
4. Work quickly and be prepared to throw things away
You know you have to bin the features that don’t work or resonate, but how do you arrive at those decisions? Answer: You build a measurement framework which allows you to score potential value. You categorise, quantify and measure so that you can hold a light up to the relative merits of your proposed features. And you do this quickly. If your framework is smart enough it will allow for rapid and clear progress.
5. Don't assume your product is finished because your prototype is great
If your prototype can evidence the clear value exchange between business and users – you found the sweet spot! – and you get that funding you were after. You will move onto the next phase – actually building out the proposition. But while your prototype is a product of real value, it's still only the embodiment of potential. Next is an MVP which will bring your baby to life – often in surprising ways taking your prototype above and beyond.
Be prepared to be a happy parent and watch the infant grow.