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Validate your strategy using prototypes.

Strategy is about Deliberate Intentions.
Execution is about Deliberate Action.
You need both, often in equal measure, to win.

Amit Somani

Amit is a Managing Partner at Prime Venture Partners, and I had the honor to work with at Google. I completely agree with Amit on the quote but believe there is one more aspect that is important. That is the core value. According to me:

Value is about Deliberate Motivation

Execution follows strategy. Strategy follows values.

I have a three step process that is foundation on which Value Centered Design is based.

  1. Value: A value encapsulates the reason why one is building the product. One arrives upon this by articulating how the product empowers the user to achieve their purpose.
  2. Strategy: There are a number of ways how the value can be delivered to the user. Each of this represents a valid strategy.
  3. Execution: The execution of the value is the actual design that gets built.

Validating strategy

Plan to throw one away. You will anyway.

Fred Brooks, IBM

Honing in on your core value is an important first step. But after that, you will come up with a number of strategies that you can use to fulfil the value. Idea generation and filtering is a key aspect of developing winning strategies. There are various ways in which these strategies can be validated before execution, however the best way to do is to create a prototype and put it in front of the user.

There are four types of prototypes that one can develop. These are:

  1. Feasibility prototypes
  2. Low-fidelity prototypes
  3. High-fidelity  prototypes
  4. Live data prototype

Feasibility prototypes

These are exactly that. Checking out feasibility risks before it gets too late. Very often they are engineering prototypes. Sometimes it could be a new algorithm or performance analysis. It can even be a process that need to be tried out before implementing. Most of these might be throwaway implementations, but some can work as stepping stones to final production versions.

Tom Chi talks about his work with Google Glass where they tried myriad feasibility prototypes. Some of which took as little as 45 minutes to develop.

Tom Chi Talks about Rapid Prototyping at Google X

Low-fidelity prototypes

Low-fidelity prototypes don’t look real but function realistically. It is essentially an interactive wireframe. It is usually a simulation and not something real. So you can try out functions like ‘Checkout’ as many times as you want without actually buying anything.

Balsamic is usually the tool of choice here and there have been plenty of other choices available. Typically product managers and interaction designers create these prototypes and are great for getting an internal buy-in on the strategy. Depending upon the maturity of the team, simple paper prototypes or hand drawn sketches also work great in this regard.

High-fidelity prototypes

High-fidelity prototypes are the magical illusion that leads one to believe this is the real thing. The images and the visual design looks realistic as does the data. And it takes a keen eye to discern that this actually is a prototype.

The prototypes are good for finding out high level reactions and usability issues. It is also great to communicate a vision within the team. However, it is not good to find out if users will actually buy your product. That is a lot more complex decision and can only be tested out with a more complete product.

There are many tools like Adobe XD and Invision that allow you to create these High-fidelity prototypes. One of my current favorite is ProtoPie. Check it out, I’m sure you will love it.

Live data prototypes

Live data prototypes are much closer to the real deal, however it does not go through the full process of building and testing and is only is a limited implementation that typically tests out just the critical use cases.

Usually a live-data prototype is tried out in an A/B test, however, invite only tests or gated tests are good ways to get both quantitative and qualitative data out of live data prototypes. The important part is the actual users will use the live-data prototype in a legitimate scenario, and this will generate real analytics that we can compare to our current product to see if this new approach meets the set goals.

So you can decide on how you wish to go about validating your strategy. Choose the right type of prototype. And while you are at it, make sure you follow the 8 steps to create inspired prototypes and products.

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