I found a way to explore more and churn less on incubation (i.e. R&D) projects. It helps to think of your project experiments and key risks in terms of these three categories and in this order:
1. user experience
2. technical feasibility
3. business value
Sequence matters. If you don’t get the user experience right first, who cares if it’s technically feasible? Once you get the user experience right, meaning customers get value, the business value will follow.
Here’s how I learned this the hard way …
My project was time-boxed and budget constrained. To keep our stakeholders happy, my strategy was to deliver incremental value. This translated to short ship cycles to test with customers. We used a rhythm of shipping every two weeks. This let us track whether we were trending towards or away from the right solutions.
While this was a relatively short feedback cycle, it wasn’t actually efficient. Most of our prototyping was around exploring user experiences, although we didn’t know this at the time. We were focused on shipping prioritized customer scenarios and features. Delivering these scenarios and features, mixed exploring user experience, tech feasibility and business value. It’s not a bad mix — it just wasn’t the most efficient.
Necessity is the mother of invention. When we weren’t “learning’ at the pace we expected, we had to find a better way. We moved to rapid prototyping user experience with slideware and walkthroughs. This meant faster feedback and less do-overs than our software prototypes. It also meant, in our software prototypes, we would consciously and explicitly focus on technical feasibility
User experience was the real challenge and the most value. Spending a week to build a software prototype to test technical feasibility and identify engineering risks makes sense. Spending a week to build a software prototype to test user experience, sucks. In other words, what previously took a week or more to build out and test (the user experience), we could now do in a few hours.
In hindsight, it’s easy to see that incubation was about user experience, tech feasibility and business value, even though I didn’t realize it at the time. It’s also easy to see now that the dominant challenge was usually user experience.
The moral of the story isn’t that you can use slideware for all your user experience testing. Instead, the lesson I would pass along is be aware of whether you are really testing user experience, tech feasibility or business value. By knowing which category you’re exploring, you can then pick the right approach.