There is a lot more to effective prototyping than just the process of making the prototype. Done the right way, you can learn a tremendous amount of information from each round of prototyping…here’s how!
Like most anything in life, if you want to prototype well, it takes good preparation. With prototyping that preparation starts with thinking about how you can best use your time and resources to move your business forward with the results of the prototype. It’s common for hardware startups to get a bit caught up in the process and prototype itself, simply trying to make it better and better. But, making a better prototype doesn’t always help move the business forward. Sometimes doing it cheaper, or faster can be more productive than trying to make it perfect.
In the early stage, there are typically lots of unanswered questions about how you will develop a successful business. Think about those when you are prototyping. What are the main barriers you face? Some common hurdles are: confirming a certain UI feature is elegant enough for your market, overcoming a major manufacturing hurdle, getting market validation, impressing investors (ie. raise funds), making a pretty video for crowdfunding…. A major hurdle is almost never making a prototype just for the sake of making a prototype. A prototype is business tool to answer questions and get validation to help make business decisions and when designing and creating your next round of prototype that is the thinking that should be applied.
Be Clear about Inputs and Outputs
Scope creep is a very common problem with prototyping and is often the result of not being very
clear about what will go in (and working to limit that input to be effective) and what is expected to come out. Fundamentally, what goes in is time and money. Try to understand how much of each will go in before you get started so you can balance that with what you expect to get out.
What comes out can cover quite a range, as just discussed. Instead of being vague, try to identify exactly which questions will be answered and how you can optimize those outputs. Besides helping define the business plan, prototypes can be used for PR, marketing collateral, investment pitches, building up the buzz, an excuse to reach out to that major partner…. Many of these things take time to organize though and if you’re not thinking about them ahead of time, you may not realize the opportunity until it has already passed.
Reach out to that big time blogger ahead of time to let her know that your newest version prototype will be coming out in a couple weeks and you’d like to send it to her for review. She may be on vacation that week and wouldn’t respond if you sent the email at that time, but if you are proactive, she may connect you with someone else from her team to do a review, saving the opportunity. These kinds of improved value from preparation will happen a lot more often than you might think. It shows a professionalism that is impressive and will open doors that would otherwise remain closed.
Once you know the outputs, review the costs of the inputs and adjust accordingly. Maybe you should skip a round of prototyping because the questions you would be able to answer wouldn’t be worth it and you need to just move on to a future version in order to answer the concerns that really matter. Or, maybe you can answer the important questions with a much cheaper/faster prototype. Balance the risks and rewards, costs and benefits and make sure you’re getting the most out of your prototyping process.