Prototyping: Fail Fast to Succeed Sooner

Products can fail at different phases, and usually for different reasons. It is essential to understand that some failures are merely a part of the learning process. When it comes to business, you may have been told that failure is not an option – but sometimes, it cannot be avoided.
The good news is that you can minimize the risk, and one of the best ways to achieve this is through prototyping. Also known as interactive mockups, prototyping may not be the word you would use in your daily vocabulary. You are not the only one who starts thinking about robots or machines after hearing the word “prototype.”
However, in the business world, it is actually about “action” where you build different drafts of your idea. While it could mean creating gadgets, it could also be something as simple as sketching your idea on paper.

How Will Your Business Benefit from Prototyping?

By definition, a prototype is a replica of your future product. It will take on the appearance of how you imagine that product will look when it is manufactured. It can include important details, such as packaging, graphics, and instructions.
Prototyping is considered one of the essential steps in the process of inventing a product. But, whether you own a startup or a small business, you are probably wondering why you need this three-dimensional version of your idea.
Starting or running your business is indeed stressful with its nitty-gritty details, plus a demanding schedule. You may be already swamped right now, so it may not make sense to add one more task to your to-do list. But prototyping is worth your time for the following reasons:
  • With a prototype, you give customers something tangible to observe and review. Users are visual and many people would be more interested in a product that they can see something that they have to imagine first. The prototype you will build fits this bill.
  • When correctly done, a prototype can help speed up the lifecycle of the project. They say that a picture is worth a thousand words. For prototypes, they help save a lot of talking. You present your idea to your team and they can also see your plan without requiring you to discuss more of it. Changes to the plan and the configuration can be modified later as the project progresses.
  • Prototypes will help set you apart from your competition. Just like you, your competitors are also quite busy. Yes, you would like to imagine they are lagging far behind, so you have no problem outrunning them. However, this thinking is not realistic. Your competition is working just as hard to stay ahead of you. Every business will start a website, create a Facebook account, and get involved in other social media sites. These are the normal things that startups do these days. To make your business stand out, start working on your prototype, which will make the process of building your product faster and more efficiently. By prototyping, you bridge the gap between you and your team, allowing you to take a substantial step ahead of your competition.
  • Prototypes can impress your customers and potential investors. Most investors are used to listening to stories and presentations from entrepreneurs as they ask for money. Investors will not hand out checks to every single entrepreneur they listen to, so you should figure out a way to impress a potential investor. Prototyping is one of the simplest yet most effective ways to show them that you understand what your product will be. Show it to them by demonstrating a functional prototype. This way, you confirm your dedication to your product and your company and at the same time, you display how much you have invested yourself.
In theory, your idea works wonderfully and perfectly – that is, until you begin physically creating it where you start encountering flaws. Prototyping allows you to test whether or not your idea is functional since you will never know if there are any design problems or challenges until you actually take your vision from theory to reality.

What Can You Prototype?

40% of business analysts who use prototyping as a means to validate features of ideas and designs. BAs use prototyping to reach a solution faster through testing their target users and stakeholders. Although this method of testing is typically involved in the later part of the evaluation, it is critical in ensuring that customers will accept and buy the product.
Other reasons why business analysts use prototypes are to get reviews and gather requirements and data. With this in mind, you are probably wondering what products or ideas can be prototyped. The answer to this is simple: anything – as long as you have the right mindset for it.
Creating a prototype is often seen as time-consuming but it does not really have to be. In fact, it can be one of the most rewarding steps you will ever take for your business. One reason for this is that you tap into your creativity, which is one of your skills that allowed you to invent your idea in the first place.
It does not matter whether you are making a prototype at home for your business or you have an engineer, a machinist, or a seamstress to accomplish it. What is truly inspiring is that you see your idea is transformed into something real and tangible right before your eyes.

The Stages of Building a Prototype

What would your prototype look like? It would depend on your idea, of course. It would also depend on your goals and your budget. Typically, it is better to begin with a handmade prototype, even if it is rudimentary. For instance, you can make a prototype out of simple household items, such as diaper tabs, empty milk containers, socks, and glue. If it works for the first demonstration, it will be as good as when you use expensive materials.
Eventually, you can move forward with your invention. Often, this is where you will need what is called the “pre-production” prototype, which is especially useful if you plan to manufacture the product and not just to license it. There are no rules in bringing your product to life, so permit yourself to experiment. Your product could be made from different kinds of materials, ranging from chemicals to metals to textiles. Try to be open to as many alternatives as possible, even those you did not originally consider.
For instance, you may have already chosen cotton as the main material of your product. Challenge and ask yourself, “Why?” It may be true that there are other materials out there that might work better, such as Lycra, leather, or nylon. This is the time for you to say, “What if” where you are free to explore your choices. When you create a prototype, you set aside your initial thoughts. While you may end up coming back to those old thoughts, you will know that you have made the best decision.
After you have developed your prototype, you can consider hiring a professional who will help you with the next steps. You can go for a professional prototype developer, designer, engineer, a handyman, or even a student from an industrial design college. The materials and the complexity of your product will help you determine who to hire. Of course, your budget should also be considered.
For example, a machinist or a handyman would most probably charge less than an engineer, but their services may be sufficient for your design, especially if it is relatively straightforward.
Designing and developing a prototype need specialized skills. Specific capabilities may include the need for computer-aided design, CNC milling, FDM printing, and engineering.
The prototyping stage is indeed a great time for you to use your untapped creativity and explore all the options out there. Do not limit yourself to your preconceived notions, including on the materials to use and the professionals to hire and consult. Discover as much as you can, so that you can successfully bring your product idea to life.

How to Use Prototypes for Your Business

As mentioned, prototyping is not just about robots. It can be used no matter what industry you are in:

Do you own a restaurant?

In fact, you can be a chef of a restaurant and you can create a new dish using a prototype. Before you launch the new recipe, test it first by having certain people try and taste it. Using their feedback and the prototype of the dish in various versions, you can improve and refine your dish, either by adding or removing ingredients.

Do you own a department store?

You can prototype the sales experience of your department store with a replica of the store itself. With the replica, you can determine whether you may need to change the layout, or even have a mobile app. This is especially helpful for those who have not started their actual store. Nevertheless, it is fairly common to find stores that did not create prototypes first. It is completely understandable that you would focus on the store itself before you create a prototype.
However, prototyping can assist you in the development process of your store, particularly if you exist online, in which people would expect you to have a mobile app. Prototyping will help you catch user interface and experience problems early.

Are you managing a healthcare facility?

You could also prototype how your healthcare facility will be like in the future. Take a look at what Kaiser Permanente does using the Garfield Innovation Center, which has replicas of doctor’s offices and hospital rooms. Prototyping involves the use of simulations, reconstructed workflows, and simple cardboard mockups.
Using the process of prototyping, Kaiser Permanente is able to enhance their methods without the need to risk their current practices.

Do you own an Internet startup?

Competition is strong even in the online world. As you experiment, there are a few questions you would like your prototype to answer, including how much money should be spent on marketing, how much initial capital is needed, and if you need debt financing.
To start your prototype, you may need to take a closer look at the Internet startup itself. You will eventually learn how to tweak your prototype in order to improve your online company. From your development team’s capacities when it comes to delivering new features to the number of customer service agents you need based on your number of customers to the total number of product designers you currently have, all these things affect how you create your prototype.
You can use a piece of software to simulate the settings using all the data you have gathered. You can perform concrete experiments as well, such as with the money to be spent on marketing. For example, you can investigate first whether your marketing strategies can truly bring in more customers or not.

Are you going to launch an app?

Prototyping your mobile app will surely have a lot of benefits. When you present your app to your investors and you say you will launch an app soon, it does not truly make you special. After all, there are over two million developers competing in the App Store. With a prototype, you can impress your potential investors and even help your future users to make sure you do not present them with a clunky version of your app’s beta.
With a functional prototype for your app, you can get rid of the messy stuff ahead of time and fix them so that the users will not focus on simply testing the app. Rather, they will enjoy using it and will look forward to downloading the final version of your mobile app.
Prototyping encourages you to try anything, from your product ideas to your business model. You do not have to be an expert artist to draw your vision. You will just use the visual as your reference point. Start by napkin sketching your idea, which allows you to form your business model. It is where your company takes its shape with this basic, rough outline. By simply highlighting the key attributes of your business, you can start the prototyping process and end up with a brilliantly refined product.

Key Takeaways

  1. Prototyping is about improving your idea through trial and error.
  2. Anything can be prototyped.
  3. You can prototype to explore, learn, and test.
I’m the Software Nerd who loves to grow online businesses. Unlike the typical marketer, I run experiments and bend computers to my will to achieve my results. Learn from my successes and failures.