Monday, August 01, 2011

Little Bets and The Value of Crude Prototypes

I just finished reading a great book titled Little Bets, by Peter Sims.   The author makes a strong case for the concept of acting first, learning, and refining your ideas - rather than spending tons of time planning before doing.  Others, of course, have made this argument in the past few years, yet Sims does a terrific job of tying together multiple threads of work, ranging from design thinking to Karl Weick's work on small wins.  Moreover, he infuses his argument with lots of stories from different domains - from Pixar to Chris Rock to the U.S. Army.

I found his discussion of prototyping particularly interesting, as he discusses P&G's push to engage in more crude prototyping in its innovation process.   Many firms make the mistake of trying to "perfect the prototype" - a process that takes far too long and diminishes opportunities for rapid learning and improvement.  At P&G, managers discovered how keeping the prototypes simple has several key benefits, besides reduced cost and enhanced speed.  Chris Thoen from P&G explains:

The problem with showing something to consumers when its almost totally done, people don't necessarily want to give negative feedback at that point, because it looks like, "This company has spent a lot of money already getting it to this stage and now I'm going to tell them, 'It sucks.'" On the other hand, if something hangs together with tape, it's clear that it's an early prototype, the mindset of the consumer often is, "These people still need some help, so let me tell you what I really think."  

In sum, consumers will offer more candid and constructive feedback if firms keep the prototypes very simple/crude.  Moreover, Thoen also argues that managers within the firm will be more open to feedback, because they won't have become overly committed to a particular design.  In other words, crude prototypes minimize the sunk cost trap, which can prevent managers from adapting their ideas based on consumer feedback.


Riley said...

Fantastic. Thanks for this relevant post. I heard a woman from P&G speak at the HOW Design Conference a few years ago about crude prototyping. We've instituted it at my company and the results are clear.

Alexandra Kate said...

I really liked this part of the article, with a nice and interesting topics have helped a lot of people who do not challenge things people should know, you need more publicize this so many people who know about it are rare for people to know this, Success for you.