Great Prototyping Disasters of the 21st Century: Why My Cheap Prototype Nearly Cost Me Â£5m
Prototyping can be an effective way to test out innovative ideas early in your development cycle. They enable user to validate assumptions and benefits before significant investments are made, letting you â€œfail often to succeed earlierâ€, to use IDEOâ€™s phrase. But this is only helpful if youâ€™re failing because your prototype needs fine-tuning, not because youâ€™ve fundamentally misunderstood the point of prototyping; a distinction that nearly cost me a Â£5m deal.
We were working with a retailer that needed to simplify its customer experience. Exploring options for tech-enabled innovation we identified that biometric speech recognition had the potential to dramatically increase the scope of self-service processes, the audience it addressed and remove the customers number one issue: logging in.
Because speech recognition technology was new to the (somewhat risk averse) client we agreed to create a prototype to validate that the approach worked:
- We worked with voice talent to create branded persona for the service (think Siri, but with a nicer English accent).
- Our application team created a simple shopping application and set up accounts for the retailerâ€™s board members.
- Then, the telephony team enabled the client to dial a dedicated number and try the service before our next steering committee.
Weâ€™d developed the prototype in days. We were boarder-line smug and expected adulation.
Did you ever expect a standing ovation and bouquets but get boos and rotten fruit?
Having tried the service and the client’s comments ranged from the polite â€œclunkyâ€ to the melodramatic â€œbrand destroying train wreckâ€. The project was close to being canned. We had to think fast, agreeing to reconvene the next day with something that would get us back on track.
The question that you want to answer may not be the question that the client actually asked.
Our team was confused. Weâ€™d shown them that we could deliver something revolutionary, using bleeding edge technology and in virtually no time. Why was this not seen as a good thing? Where was our ovation?
We decided to reframe the issue in the context of our clientâ€™s comments: Our prototype had answered a question but it hadnâ€™t been the clientâ€™s question. We had answered:
â€œShow us how this technology is mature enough to deploy and that you have the skills to deliver our solutionâ€. However what the retailer had asked was â€œHow can we dramatically improve our customersâ€™ experience?â€
Not the same thing at all.
We told the app team, the telephony team to go home while we sat in our hotel room with glass of fine English wine and prepared for an all-nighter. Ultimately, we wrote and then recorded a four basic scripted interactions. The only technology involved was a dicatphone.
When we played this back to the clients the next day. They smiled. There was no talk of Wizard of Oz trickery and nobody mentioned technology at all. The client got it; they liked it and they ultimately bought it.
Years later Steve Dâ€™Amico, from P&Gâ€™s Clay Street Project, told me a similar story.Â A.G. Lafley radically refocused P&Gâ€™s approach to innovation by shifting away from a technology-centric view, or what he termed the obsession with creating â€œa superior molecular experienceâ€, to focus on the end consumer experience. Fundamentally, there was a shift away from â€œLook how smart we areâ€ to â€œWeâ€™ve understood your need and our opportunityâ€.
Understanding this fundamental truth from the outset enables you to create stronger prototypes that accelerate the innovation cycle. It may even save you from all-nighters fuelled by English country wine.
image credit: disgusted expression image from bigstock
- Daily — RSS Feed — Email — Twitter — Facebook — Linkedin Today
- Weekly — Email Newsletter — Free Magazine — Linkedin Group
Stephen Wood: For over 20 years Stephen has focused on technology’s potential to address business issues and to unearth new opportunities. His current research interests includeÂ tech-enabled innovation and the facilitation of creativity in business.
NEVER MISS ANOTHER NEWSLETTER!
One of the most important driving factors for any successful business is a high-performing team. Having people working for you…Read More