During customer research, many entrepreneurs are overconfident and don’t test their assumptions enough. One simple way to combat this mistake is to use rapid prototyping.

As part of the EWOR Academy, Om Marwah gave a lecture on the science behind rapid prototyping and how to apply it to any product. Om was the Global Head of Behavioural Science at the American retail corporation Walmart before becoming the CEO of Stealth Mode.

In this article, you’ll learn the basics of rapid prototyping and how to use it for your venture.

What Is Rapid Prototyping?

Traditionally, start-up founders don’t use science principles to build prototypes. However, rapid prototyping allows you to test any hypothesis and take advantage of behavioural science.

Developing a product is always about changing people’s behaviour. It’s that link between behaviour and product that can change the way you approach prototyping.

At its core, rapid prototyping combines science with a series of customer experiments in as many variations as possible. Using the simplest level of prototype as a starting point, it helps move on from ideas that don’t work.

Why Is Rapid Prototyping so Valuable?

The vast majority of new products fail because founders underestimate the effectiveness of customer research and overestimate the value of their idea.

“Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.” – Steve Jobs

– Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs believed that the ability to innovate without fear will make you a great leader. The more you risk during innovation, the more you will fail and learn.

To find the one idea that will mature into something valuable, you need to kill the worst ones early. Thus, rapid prototyping is one of the most effective ways to save time and money during product development.

Problem-Solving: The Link Between Data and Design

Behavioural science and rapid prototyping offer data-based ways for customer-driven innovation. In other words, analysing data is a great way to discover what your customers need and thus, will buy.

Combining data with design-based problem-solving helps sustainably build successful new products and services. From a design perspective, you start with core concepts instead of assumptions about the solution.

User needs drive every design you will test during rapid prototyping.

Creativity As Science

The stereotypes about creative thinking are not accurate. It’s less about tortured artistic minds who are a bit crazy, but rather about a scientific process.

Creativity is divergence followed by convergence.

Sounds complicated, so what does that mean for prototyping?

Design and creativity don’t follow one path, but instead, break down problems into their core components and put them back together. Creativity is about understanding every aspect of the problem in prototyping.

Rapid prototyping enables this constant producing and connecting of ideas.

The Six Steps of Validating User Needs

To confirm customer and product needs, you’ll need a solid game plan. You have to understand the nature of the problem, craft a hypothesis, and build a solution.

We’ve compiled the steps to Om’s problem-solving approach that you can apply to your customer research.

Step 1: Determine the Problem

The first step is to collect user and customer insights to discover and define the problem you’ll solve with your product.

Step 2: Analyse the Problem

After defining the problem, learn from your findings through qualitative and quantitative analysis. In other words, use both data-driven research and interviews to understand your customers and their problems.

Om recommends looking into motivational, social, and organisational psychology during this step. Choosing as many angles as possible will help you in your analysis.

Step 3: Literature Review

A part of your research should  review how others have approached this problem so far. Look at the features and services other businesses offer to the market and what ideas work best.

Step 4: Form a Hypothesis

The fourth step is about forming an assumption about a potential solution to the problem. After extensive research, this theory stage is key to rapid prototyping. Write a clear hypothesis with clear metrics to test as every experiment needs to be testable and time-boxed for usable results.

Step 5: Iterative Testing

Once you have a hypothesis, it’s time to test it through repeated experiments that come closer to an ideal solution with each repetition. When you prototype and re-evaluate your ideas constantly, you’ll find out what works best.

“Learning is the currency of innovation.”

– Om Marwah

Step 6: Repeat the Process

Rapid prototyping means you’ll have to start over and form new assumptions to test. Failed experiments reveal hidden breakthroughs and help you redesign.

Tips on Iterative Interviewing

The more you interview your customers, the more insights you’ll generate that can help you improve your prototypes. By understanding the most important features, you’ll have a better chance of creating a great product.

Start broad and use core questions to validate your hypotheses. Make sure to interview a diverse range of customers wherever possible, and find incentives to gain their attention.

How to Run a Prototyping Design Studio

You can use design to conceptualise and hypothesise underlying causes of an unfamiliar problem. Rapid prototyping only works with a good team as part of a design studio and a structured process to find hypotheses.

Here’s one of the most effective procedures to run such a design studio:

Step 1: Get the Right Group in the Room

You need good team members to conduct research and experiments. Spend time picking the best people available to you with a collaborative mindset. It’s wise to assemble seven people at most for effective teamwork.

Step 2: Present the Problem and Relevant Research

After gathering the team, present the problem and any relevant research. Take your time explaining every detail of the problem, so your team can generate the best solutions.

Step 3: Brainstorm Solutions

After presenting your research, the team brainstorms ideas on sticky notes or digital tools. Spend enough time on this exercise to come up with viable solutions, but don’t overthink it.

Step 4: Each Person Presents Their Ideas

Once you’ve spent enough time brainstorming, every team member presents their ideas to the group. Go into detail and ensure everyone in the room understands each of the presented ideas.

Step 5: Rank Highest-Impact Assumptions

The last step of this process is to rank every idea based on impact and feasibility. Focus on impact first and choose the highest-impact hypothesis for your experiments to create the highest value for your customers.

Final Advice

While rapid prototyping, don’t overbuild your experiments. Focus on the simplest versions. Prepare your hypothesis, make sure everyone knows what data you’re measuring, and find out what causes success and failure.

Product development works well with iterative rapid testing, but it takes time. Strip your idea down to the simplest version of your prototype and test it in experiments with real customers.

About the author

EWOR is a school conceived by Europe’s top professors, entrepreneurs, and industry leaders. We educate and mentor young innovators to launch successful businesses.

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