It’s a long journey from ideation to having a working product that has prospective customers excited about it. It is no longer enough to have a great idea, one also needs to have a great way to communicate the idea – a process for learning and improving, while possessing the agility and foresight to recognize changes and execute them quickly.
To be successful in this lean startup world, an entrepreneur needs to have his ear to the ground and be able to openly and effectively communicate ideas. If the communication of an idea is not effective, then the idea itself is unable to generate any impact.
It is in this context that I am shedding some light on the necessity of building a prototype. By definition, a prototype allows one to test an idea, the assumptions behind the idea, and the understanding of the problem. Building a prototype helps one to figure out the right thing to build – something customers want and will pay for. As a result one need not spend months waiting for a product beta launch to change the start-ups’ direction. Instead, entrepreneurs can adapt their plans incrementally, inch by inch, minute by minute.
A prototype doesn’t need to be perfect, or be built to scale, but it should accurately translate one’s vision into something real and tangible. For products with longer development cycle, it can simply simulate the look and feel of the final product. Some of the important points to remember while building a prototype are – validating the customer need, the opportunity present, feasibility of developing the end-product, and demonstrating to the people around that the idea is implementable.
There are no rules as to how a prototype should be made. Infact it can be made on paper with sketches or paper prototypes in case of tangible products, while sketches of page flows or building wireframes would help if it’s a web services product. I would go a step further here and say that the uglier the prototype is, the better. The biggest problem facing the start-ups today is that instead of focusing on building quick and dirty prototypes companies are increasingly replacing it by polished ones and this is where all the trouble begins. While, with rapid prototyping one gets an outside perspective on the full merit of a solution; with an extremely detailed prototype, especially the one’s build early on in the development process cause a ‘ball and chain’ situation.
From my personal experience I have come to realize that something odd happens when people evaluate a clean and detailed prototype – they concentrate on the prototypes form and function. They end up ignoring the remaining ambiguities about the problems the product is supposed to solve or the obstacles in its way. Instead of throwing clarity on the path ahead, the prototype puts halt to the useful brainstorming. This is especially true with respect to technological products that are a bit complex in nature.