Software startups routinely live by the mantra of “fail fast.” They want to quickly validate an idea or a feature. But the enterprise has historically moved much slower with a less risky, "bolt on" approach, leveraging existing solutions rather than building its own.
When it comes to building new products or features, it's hard to know where to start. The scale and process alone can be intimidating. And, an estimated $30 billion is wasted on building products that users don’t want or need. But, some teams are able to overcome that intimidation and lower their risk through design prototyping.
This is why we often hear of companies that “work like a startup” inside of larger companies. There is a relatively quick and straightforward process that enterprises can adopt to make the product transformation process less risky and less daunting.
Enter, rapid prototyping and proof of concept. Offering a significant time, resource and financial value, design prototypes are a great way to test new features and ideas.
Overcoming Analysis Paralysis
A proof of concept is a product focused design effort aimed to validate an idea before engaging a development team. It gives companies a way to move fast on new features, new functionality and new integrations without expending significant resources. Rapid proof of concepts deliver the flow and even a potential initial design but does not include the full functionality.
Rapid prototyping is generally thought of as a software development process that puts less emphasis on planning and more emphasis on getting a minimum viable product to the testing and evaluation stage. It has been around since the late ‘70s and was a reactive response to the rigid engineering processes that came out of building physical products such as buildings. But software is different. It is quickly adaptable and subtle changes can have systemic impacts — both good and bad.
Both proof of concepts and rapid prototyping are ways to test assumptions without the lengthy and expensive development processes associated with new products. These are not new concepts and have been buzzy buzzwords for a long time. And while they are not magic potions that have the power to solve your business’s problems, they can help create an environment of empowering your teams at scale.
Here we are focusing on the value of designing a proof of concept, a lightweight way to quickly produce a representation of an idea to get to the evaluation process as fast as possible. It’s a great way to validate a product feature or even a new business venture. It does not need to have a polished design in order to validate or invalidate an idea.
Investigating every idea your team has doesn’t need to cost a million dollars. Teams can spend a smaller amount of time and resources to quickly validate an idea. It is easy to get intimidated by the idea of committing to a project and the potential resources needed to develop, scale and implement those ideas.
Taking this approach is great because your business doesn’t have to spend the time and resources of your 15-person development team. You can dedicate a small product team to quickly have a functional version.
Quickly Learning Right from Wrong
When people get an idea in their head, they naturally want to be proven right. But oftentimes, being wrong is just as valuable as being right. But you have to put something in front of somebody in order to see if you are right or wrong.
And that’s what we were able to do with a recent project for a global oil and gas company. The company’s network of engineers had an issue that the spreadsheets they had historically used to track the real-time metrics of an oil well were messy and ultimately hard to use. The idea was, what if we can visualize the well in a real-time, 3-d environment so we can solve problems and make decisions immediately.
The important part of the work we did was that the company was alongside for the entirety of the project. We wanted to shift the perspective of the team to realize the value a proof of concept can provide.
We utilized a process of:
This process gave us the opportunity to conduct user interviews, design wireframes and deliver a clickable design prototype within days, instead of the traditional longer sprints.
The real test of a new digital transformation of a historical process is if it brings value to an engineer on a well site.
By building an interface that showed data such as well locations with production and status overlays, we could quickly give engineers a snapshot into the well’s health and insight into any issues that might need to be addressed.
Historically, Operators heavily utilize wellbore schematics as official project tools. There is currently no product on the market that autogenerates a well schematic with enough detail for distributed usage. Companies prefer to use an in-house excel template they can fully customize and trust to reflect reality of the wellbore.
By capturing end-user feedback of a working model, we can ensure that we are building a product that overcomes the comfort with the established and known solution.
At the end of the day, the real value of the work we did with the client is that it was able to learn and even implement a new methodology for validating internal ideas. There’s a lot of power in exploring the answer to “What if…”
While it can be a tough task to overcome the all-or-nothing development paradigm that many internal teams are centered around, a proof of concept can be a valuable tool in validating assumptions and building confidence before dedicating large sums of money and time to a new endeavor.