Lean Prototypes

The first step in starting a new business or running with an idea is to find out what problem you are solving. In Customer Development this period is known as customer discovery. It consists of two essential tasks:

  1. Run tests that confirm whether or not there is a problem, and that there are customers who need to solve that problem
  2. Run tests that confirm whether or not your idea, solution or product solves that problem

You’ll notice that I have started right up front by talking about running tests. Why? Because sitting at home guessing whether or not your idea will work is a waste of time. You need to go and find out.

Using Cheap and Nasty Prototypes

Prototyping is all about speed. Getting something tangible into the hands of your customers so you can verify your vision and the hypotheses that vision relies on. If you think people might want to buy water in big containers then you could do worse than renting a trailer and driving around until you find some buyers. If you have a killer web app, you might as well try out your prototypes on your first potential customers. And if you have a great idea for a new medical device but you’re having trouble explaining yourself, build it with cardboard tubes and sticky tape so you can get your point across.

I’ve always thought IDEO have had some great stories about their approach to prototyping. In this short vimeo, IDEO showcase a simple one night test for a new web app designed to pool food trends from social media in your area. You can read more about the curry crawl here. Whilst it may look like a nice little pop-up restaurant, it is in fact a prototype designed to actually drive around with some potential early adopters and find out of the whole twitter feed food recommendations thing works.

Following the IDEO theme, this story tells how IDEO used prototypes to validate a business model for selling water in Africa. Notice how they start by confirming whether or not the problem exists, and find out who the problem affects. IDEO call it human centred design, Steve Blank calls it customer development. Whatever you call it, the message is simple

Fail early. Fail cheap. Learn fast.

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