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It’s Time To Consider Rapid Prototyping

It’s Time To Consider Rapid Prototyping

If you have not yet considered rapid prototyping, now may be the right time.

According to Forbes:

A common urban legend in the world of product development is that 95% of products launched in the U.S. fail (though empirical studies point to failure rates for new products more likely being somewhere around 40%). In any case, the long process of bringing a product to market only to fail its objectives can be demoralizing at best and financially disastrous at worst.

Technology executives often look at a successful product launch as akin to a batter hitting a home run — that is, make the right move with the right timing, and you’re certain to knock it out of the ballpark. While perhaps not as universally accepted of a sports analogy in the marketing world, I would argue that a product launch should be more like practicing yoga — something that is practiced daily with continuous efforts toward improvement, with the result being a strong foundation to move forward with.

Rapid prototyping gives product teams the ability to quickly iterate and refine their solutions using customer feedback. As a result, product investments involve less risk and produce better outcomes since the prototyping process delivers greater clarity of the product’s usability, value and scalability. Unfortunately, there are still product companies that choose to build products without consistently engaging customers in early prototypes.

There are two false assumptions to debunk with this approach. First, customers will not view shortcomings in early-stage prototypes as a weakness. As each prototype improves rapidly, the process will instead demonstrate your team’s strength, agility and speed. Second, rapid prototyping does not slow the product development process down. While it may delay a release, the highest priority for the team should be the business outcome that the release delivers, not the release itself. Prototyping is the most powerful tool that product developers have to achieve the outcomes they want faster.

For technology leaders who are considering implementing rapid prototyping but have not yet taken the plunge, here are three reasons to consider it as part of your standard operating procedure:

Creates Space For Innovation

There is a myriad of innovations that can address market needs, but the decision to invest in a specific innovation comes with great financial risk. When product teams are unable to make data-backed proposals, it’s often up to the C-suite to decide which ideas move forward. With an eye on finance, executives often lean toward the least risky choice, leading to a product that is practical but often less than inspiring.

This decision-making process can look very different when there’s a method to test out the most promising ideas without a high upfront cost. Creating a process for rapid prototyping empowers the product team to go to executives with clear recommendations on more envelope-pushing concepts since there’s data to back up the decision-making. It also allows more ideas to get tested, meaning there’s a higher likelihood the company can deliver on the big, transformative ideas…

Encourages Customers To Become Ambassadors

Rapid prototyping tests assumptions using prototypes that look and perform like the final product. We get to see what customers like, what they don’t and what might be missing. It’s a constant back and forth between the customer and product team leads, which always include a product manager, tech lead and design lead. The customer will have insights into what’s needed, while the product team will have insights into what’s possible.

Some executives may be hesitant about putting unfinished products out in front of customers before they’re fully functional. However, most clients enthusiastically engage in the process and ultimately become some of the biggest supporters of the product once it’s released. Incorporating customers into the process doubles as a sales tool — they’re now an inherent part of shaping the product and will feel a sense of ownership because of it.

Helps Achieve Desired Outcomes Faster

The worst thing that can happen with bringing a product to the market is missing the window of opportunity, and the executive team realizes this pressure. While rapid prototyping takes some extra investment upfront in terms of time spent on testing and improving initial designs, it ultimately saves significant expenses by avoiding the roll-out of a product that doesn’t meet the market’s need.

In order for rapid prototyping to benefit an organization, there must be buy-in from the executive leadership team, and instituting rapid prototyping as part of the product development process often requires a culture change. Without the leadership on board, it’s not going to work. The Silicon Valley Product Group has a fantastic guideline for addressing difficult questions about the process that may arise in pitching this process as a standard business practice.

Ultimately, companies that master rapid prototyping are the ones that are going to win in the long run. Prototypes, when done correctly, should be more akin to practicing yoga than hitting a ball out of the ballpark. It’s a constant process of ideating, improving and evolving, and it can reward you with stakeholder buy-in on an innovative and useful product.

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