In the previous post, we established that digital products (i.e. connected devices) are an intricate part of our everyday life and yet pose significant challenges in development. At the end, I outlined three key learnings that I re-iterate here. In order to reduce the time to market, to de-risk the investments in early stage of product development and to optimize delivering value, act on the following three aspects of prototyping, platforms and connectedness.

  • Rethinking prototyping can speed things up
  • Platform decisions are business critical
  • Being ‘connected’ allows to rethink rules of prioritization

This and the following two posts will elaborate a three-point framework that ties into each of the above learnings. These considerations should help translate a time intensive, expensive and linear product development into an iterative one. Let’s begin with the first one.

1) Expand Prototyping for Digital Products

‘Prototype’ brings different visualizations to different people. For example, some think of a 3D-model made of plaster-of-paris. For others it could mean loose copper wires and printed circuit boards. Yet for some others it could remind them of crude application for user-tests with wire-frames and interaction designs.

While prototyping in these individual areas is common, the novelty is about the ‘scope of prototyping’. In essence, expanding the scope of prototyping beyond a single aspect of the product is essential to achieve an iterative product development process for digital products.

Prototype to activate feedback loops that involve customers

Before you begin, first ask, why prototype? The objective of prototyping is to learn, get actionable feedback especially by involving customers in the feedback loop. In one of my past experiences, we invited our retail customers from across the globe under one roof where we showed them the designs of our next generation product range. We also demonstrated the new features on the software. But most importantly the feedback from customers was used to evolve the product direction before making substantial investments.

Prototype to learn and get actionable feedback, especially by involving customers

Prototype across all product attributes

When prototyping digital products, consider the complete overall user experience including the form factor, the hardware and the software. The form factor is the look and feel of the physical product. The hardware on other hand is the enabler under the hood that delivers the right experience. Finally, the software is the interface between the product and the user. Prototype across all three areas for the elevated end user experience. Typically, prototyping hardware is considered expensive and time intensive. However, there are plenty of tools available to test radically new concepts with hardware. These include rapid development boards (Raspberry Pi, Adruino, …), emulators and the ACK (The Alexa Connect Kit) to name a few. Keeping track of the latest and greatest of the tools will help find appropriate solutions, keeping investments low during early prototyping phase.

Collaborate & Communicate

While you prototype across the three areas using feedback loops involving customers, ensure that all of this is synchronized. If there’s no one person keeping an eye on the overall evolution, all hell can break loose. Have one champion uphold the overall brand philosophy and ensure consistency. Typically, a product manager with strong cross-functional collaboration skills or one who is strong at evangelizing internally is a great candidate for this. Acknowledge that there are dependencies across the three areas. Keep open channels of communication across these teams. Converge to a common end goal in terms of product vision.

Let’s look at the example of the automobile industry. Tesla has dramatically changed the electric-car segment and re-imagined cars for the end users. Traditional car-makers focused on the ‘design’ of the body of the car. Tesla, on the other hand, delivered a complete experience through great under-the-hood performance & an innovative user interface on its dashboards.

In the next post I will elaborate on the second part of this three-point framework. Click here to read further.

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