mandag den 28. september 2015

Prototyping -what and how?

By Thomas Klem Andersen, Published on september 28th 2015

Last week DTU Skylab hosted an inspiring event on prototyping. Here are some insights that helped me wrap my head aorund the concept.

We so often get sucked into the trance of specifications and feature building forgetting actual user needs in the process. Engineers tend to build maximum viable products before testing them in the market and thereby risk building products that no one will ever use.

Instead you should ask yourselves: What’s the least we can do to satisfy people using only the most needed features? That will be your minimum viable product (MVP). You need to identify what it is you want to validate and then focus on that. What is the least we can do in order to validate the most critical assumptions of our value proposition? Next you find the people having the need our are building a solution for and go test whether you are actually solving their problem.

What is it and what is it not?
When talking about prototypes most people associate with it an early version of the final product which looks like the final product and have some of the same functionalities. Today however the entrepreneurial gospel seems to be that you should prototype as soon as possible and that you can do so successfully in very low fidelity (which is the case with the MVP).

At the Danish product development company Kapacitet they distinguish between functional models and prototypes. Whereas a prototype in their terminology has all the functionalities, the right size, the right materials but is not produced with the right production methods a functional model has some of the key functions but does not necessarily look like the end product.
A functional model can let you test some key assumptions about your value proposition before even building the first version of the final product. As such it can help you reduce risk, save time and money and fail fast if failure is inevitable.

According to Thomas Olund Kristensen, R&D Engineer at Kapacitet you should test commercial feasibility long before you finish your technical development. To emphasize this Anders shared the following ratio: If an idea is worth $1, and the development $100, the advertising is worth $1000 in matter of importance. You have to be quite confident that you have customers before you finish your technical development. You might spend a whole lot of money building something for which you can’t find any customers for in the end.

Serial entrepreneur Jakob Konradsen from DTU (Le Vego, NoviPel, Eupry) agress with Thomas and introduces a thrid concept to the development vocabulary: Pretotyping. Pretotyping is all about testing commercial and technical assumptions as early as possible and even before you are able to present a prototype.

“If you can’t sell the product without a prototype you shouldn’t even build the product. You need to be able to convince people in a 30 sec pitch and you can go far with just a powerpoint slide.” Jakob Konradsen

When pretotyping a simple powepoint slide can serve as your MVP to test commercial feasibility. Jakob elaborated further by saying that engineers are very perfectionistic in relation to technical solutions. In his view better is the enemy of good. No matter how much time you use, there will always be a new version of the product. You’ll never be finished developing.. At one point you just need to stop and take it to the market and see if it can make it.

In the case of the startup Eupry (monitoring of vaccines in the cold chain). Jakov and the team test a very early model in Nigeria expecting Africa to be their prime market. The test showed them that the African market is incredibly hard to penetrade because of conflicts of interest between their product and the users (not the buyers). It proved to be too large of a challenge and Eupry pivoted to a new local market: Danish doctors and they have now tested that there is a market feasible market for them in Denmark.

Available tools
Michael Kai Petersen, associate professor at DTU Compute stressed that today there’s there’s so much infrastructure to build on top of when working on entrepreneurial projects. You really don’t have to start from scratch.

  • The business model canvas is great to take all elements around the idea into consideration.Prototyping is about making mockups of the business model as well as the technical solution.
  • Arduino and electric imp are great for electronic prototyping 
  • 3D printing lets you print early versions to present to partners and customers and they will get it right away. 
  • CNC milling lets you build robust physical products fast and easily. 
  • Fablabs rants you access to these resspurces. According to Nicolas Padfield, lab leader at RUC Fablab, Fablabs are going to do for things what the internet did for communication. They are the frontrunners of a democratization of production. 
  • “Pop” lets you sketch out mockup apps on your smart phone. 

But even with all these ressources readily available the prototyping tool of choice for Michael Kai Petersen is still pencil and paper.

So now there’s no excuse. Go build stuff!

Funcional modeling

Prior to technical development

Commercial feasibility

Low fidelity

Hand held functionality (concierge etc.)

Pretending to have the product

Fake it ‘till you make it

During technical development

Technical feasibilty

Modeling functional parts

Make fragments to test

After tech-development, before production


High fidelity

1st version of final product

Present to sell

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