“Test fast, fail fast, adjust fast” Tom Peters
Many unknowns are encountered during the development and commercialization of new growth strategies, new product categories, services or business models. In order to improve one’s knowledge, decision-making, and probability of success as well as mitigate the risks within this “fuzzy front end,” thorough, thoughtful and frequent experimentation is critical.
Tom Peters eloquently highlights the importance of testing, speed, and learning to drive the process. We would add seeking means to manage/ minimize the costs as well as performing parallel testing to round out these principles.
Based on these principles, a brief review is presented on some of the potential experimental approaches involving models, tests and sampling of customers as well as the value of combining these approaches.
Scale models and prototypes are an obvious place to start. With the advent of 3D printing, in many cases they are becoming faster and more cost effective to produce. A model allows one to really see and understand the product and in many cases can be used for testing. The rough assembly of off-the-shelf equipment is another quick and less costly means to develop a testbed. We worked on a breast cancer screening procedure/ device that was initially constructed from modified ECG equipment and manual measurements.
Computer graphics and simulations can be used to demonstrate the look and functionality of products before they are built. This is of course common in the automobile and airline industries and becoming popular with home renovators. In addition, non or partially functioning mockups of applications can be quickly designed to demonstrate the user interface and future functionality. This is a very common approach used to flush out the specifications for smartphone apps. Finally process flowcharts and simulations are often a valuable contribution to understanding how a new product or service will be made and/or used and to identify potential issues early on.
Having developed physical or virtual models or even a first version of the product, these or the key components can then undergo testing. Physical tests and examinations might include functionality, ruggedness, aerodynamics, ease of assembly and service, and means to reduce the number or complexity of the parts. We once built a mocked-up office to test a power wheelchair’s maneuverability. For virtual models and mockups, many of these same physical tests can be computer simulated including aerodynamics, spatial constraints and assembly.
Obtaining potential customer and expert opinions through sampling is another important part of the new product development process. This can be carried out using many of the techniques marketers employ: focus groups, trials, samples and promotions in order to collect valuable feedback. It is not necessary to have a fully functional product to solicit opinions. The parallel testing of different models simultaneously (with the same or different individuals) can save significant time although there is a tradeoff with cost.
Combining multiple experimental approaches can be very powerful. We have already touched on how many models, especially larger and later stage ones can go on to extensive testing and various forms of sampling. In addition models that combine physical and virtual components can be developed. Our second generation breast cancer screening device involved custom built electronics controlled by a personal computer, prior to the final fully-integrated device.
By developing a list of questions around the unknowns of your new product development and then brainstorming as to which models, tests and sampling can get you the answers in the fastest and cheapest manner, will allow you to learn and make the necessary modifications along the way. Too many entrepreneurs believe they have the “answer” and forge ahead to the final product with minimal experimentation, only to find it is not a satisfactory solution.
“It is possible to fly without motors, but not without knowledge and skill.” Wilbur Wright
© Duncan Jones 2013 All rights reserved