The practice of building quick, inexpensive, and rough study models to learn about the desirability, feasibility and viability of alternative solutions.”
Prototyping is common in the design professions for physical artifacts but you can also apply the practice to your business idea. Use the activity of making quick and rough study models by rapidly sketching out several canvases. Focus on a different theme for each prototype. Explore business models that are scalable, have recurring revenues, lock customers in, that include strategic partners, or that use different channels.
To unlock the power of prototyping, resist the temptation of spending time and energy refining towards one direction only. Rather, use the principles described here to explore multiple directions with the same amount of time and energy. You will learn more and discover better business models as you quickly explore radically different directions for the same idea with the following prototyping techniques.
10 prototyping principles
1. Make it visual and tangible
These kinds of prototypes spark conversations and learning. Don’t regress into the land of blah blah blah.
2. Embrace a beginner’s mind
Prototype “what can’t be done.” Explore with a fresh mind-set. Don’t let existing knowledge get in the way of exploration.
3. Don’t fall in love with first ideas — create alternatives
Refining your idea(s) too early prevents you from creating and exploring alternatives. Don’t fall in love too quickly.
4. Feel comfortable in a “liquid state”
Early in the process the right direction is unclear. It’s a liquid state. Don’t panic and solidify things too early.
5. Learn faster by failing early, often and cheaply
Fear of failure holds people back from exploring. Overcome that with a culture of rough and quick prototyping that keeps failure cheap and leads to faster learning.
6. Track learnings, insights, and progress
Keep track of all your alternative prototypes, learnings, and insights. You might use earlier ideas and insights later in the process.
7. Start with low fidelity, iterate, and refine
Refined prototypes are hard to throw away. Keep them rough, quick, and cheap. Refine with increasing knowledge about what works and what doesn’t.
8. Use creativity techniques
Use creativity techniques to explore ground-breaking prototypes. Dare to break out of how things are usually done in your company or industry.
9. Expose your work early — seek criticism
Seek feedback early and often before refining. Don’t take negative feedback personally. It’s worth gold to improve your prototype.
10. Create “Shrek models”
Shrek models are extreme or outrageous prototypes that you are unlikely to build. Use them to spark debate and learning.
- Spend a maximum of 5 to 15 minutes on sketching out your early prototypes
- Always use a visible timer and stick to a predefined time frame
- Don’t discuss too long which one of several possible directions to prototype. Prototype several of them quickly and then compare
- Remember constantly that prototyping is an exploratory tool. Don’t spend time on the details of a prototype that is likely to change radically anyway
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Be sure to practice prototyping business models before ever testing and building real products and services. This will help you explore alternative business model possibilities so that you uncover the best opportunities. We've all experienced spending time and money on a project only to realize later that there was a better approach. Use prototyping to minimize the risk of committing to inferior options.
Also make sure that you test your business model and value proposition prototypes with customers and stakeholders as quickly as possible to inform subsequent prototypes (topic for a future post). Prototyping and testing is a continuous back and forth until you reach market success.
Have you experienced the power of prototyping business models and value propositions? Is this a standard practice in your organization? We'd love to hear about it!