Prototyping In Product Management

Our most recent Product Talks event was entited “Prototype This!” and focused on how Product Management professionals can make use of prototyping.

Guest Speakers

  • Hilary Cinis, Senior Web & Interface Designer, ABC iview
  • Jess Rouse, Information Systems Development Manager, AUSTAR
  • Andrew Simpson, Principal, Industrial Designer, Product Engineer, Vert Design

The origins of prototyping

Prototype is a Latin word that essentially means ‘primitive form’. Wiktionary defines a Prototype as:

  1. An original object or form which is a basis for other objects, forms, or for its models and generalizations
  2. An early sample or model built to test a concept or process

Our discussion kicked off immediately with analogies and metaphors contrasting the concepts of prototyping with evolution in the animal kingdom. Hilary Cinis referred to David Attenborough’s First Life. Whilst watching First Life, she noticed that each creature in an ecosystem serves a purpose for a particular point it time. Some die but others transform into its present state to optimize its chances for survival in current conditions.

Prototypes are simply a snapshot of the product or service at that ‘point in time’. Each prototype serves a purpose. It helps the business make the next decision. Prototyping is a process but not a continuous one. There must be an end point. Jeff Rouse said “prototyping cannot go on forever.”

Hillary also referred to prototypes as a “collection of artifacts” that provides the business with a physical or visual view of the decisions that its made.

Why prototype?

  1. Reduce business risk.
  2. Develop worthy solutions that solve real problems.
  3. Communicate and demonstrate the solution to the business.
  4. Obtain customer feedback.
  5. Gain insight.

Easy or hard

Prototyping is both an art and a science. Our panel of experts shared many examples which were easy and quick to implement. Whether it was simply sketching out ideas on paper (low-fidelity prototypes), using software such as Axure or Balsamiq to draft up some basic wireframes or creating a physical model from clay or cardboard, Product Managers – and anyone with ideas – can easily start realizing these.

Prototyping can work in any industry and for almost any product or service. For example, Andrew Simpson creates physical prototypes for medical organisations which are tested across many users.

The panelists and audience all agreed that it was better to start prototyping sooner so that you can develop understanding and take stakeholders on the product development journey.

User beware

Whilst prototyping is great tool there are some wise words that the pannelists shared about the process:

  • A great deal of prototyping focuses on how we can better solve functional or usable problems. During this process, it is important to manage customer feedback. The loudest customers may not be representative of your target audience and customer expectations may be unrealistic. It is no use creating a product or service that customers love which will end up costing the company too much to make profitable.
  • Prototyping is a collaborative process. Product Managers should involve all relevant stakeholders in the prototyping process – including sales teams, operations, marketing, customer support, finance, engineering and senior management. Further, making sure stakeholders understand the purpose of the prototype and providing clear context and guidance for reviewing the prototype is important. Define what inputs and feeback you require and why – this helps stakeholders stay focus on what’s important. Jeff also advised that it is important to clearly define roles and responsibilities upfront so that team members what type of feedback to provide.
    Whilst collaboration is important, Hilary advised that we should be careful NOT to design by compromise.
  • It’s also critical to keep an eye on how customer needs continue to evolve and change. Whilst prototypes facilitiates a product or service to market, from a Product Management point of view, the product or service in-market must continually evolve to stay abreast of changes in the market. Product Managers must be attuned to customer needs and wants and to continually work to refresh and improve products and services. NetFlix is one example of an orgianisation that is very attuned to the needs of its customers. It is moving its strategic focus away from DVDs-by-mail to streaming – finding new ways to deliver the content its users want in ways that they want.

Don’t forget customer problems

Prototyping is a tool to help companies articulate or bring to life solutions to problems. Product Management is about understanding customers and customer problems. Prototyping solutions to unkown problems may mean that the launched product or service functions well but may not meet its sales and revenue targets.

A beautifully working product that solves a non-existent problem and delivers no customer value is still considered a failed product.

Brainmates services

Brainmates are experts in designing, developing and deploying products and services. We offer many services for organizations looking at prototyping and other ways to add value throughout the product development and in-life management processes.

  • Understanding and articulating your strategic intent
  • Identifying and defining customer problems, needs and wants
  • Defining and validating how your product innovation will create lasting value for your customer & business
  • Develop low & high fidelity prototypes
  • Define product requirements and work with your internal teams to develop and implement these

Contact us on 1800 BRAINMATES today to learn how we can help your business.