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Friday, October 21, 2011

Pretotyping - From Ideas to Reality

Anyone can come up with ideas. It's the selected few that can make them become reality. This is the difference between ideas and innovators. This is also one of the core points of Patrick Copeland's QCon keynote, "Innovation at Google".

Not every idea is worth developing into a full-blown product. How then do you identify which ones are? This is where pretotyping comes in. It is important not to mix it up with prototyping. According to Copeland, these two concepts operate on different level. Pretotyping is all about coming up with a testable version of idea with minimal cost and effort. Prototyping aims to produce something way more concrete.

This means your pretotype might just be a piece of paper or a block of wood. It is supposed to resemble the real thing enough so you can interact with it in a primitive manner. Instead of having the computer to perform the logic, you might handle that yourself or get a buddy to do that for you and act as an "oracle" of some sort. Whatever you can come up with at minimal cost works as long as it's enough to illustrate the concept!

Once you've got your pretotype up and "running" you might want to use it for a while to see whether or not it really works. Some ideas seem great initially but then fizzle as you get bored with them. It's better to get bored with a pretotype than something more concrete. In the best case you end up wanting to implement the idea because it's proven to work on basic level.

What's the point of all of this? Pretotyping allows us to shuffle through a significant amount of ideas till we find the one that works or at least seems to. I don't believe it's a silver bullet. There are no such things in our industry. It does seem like a viable way to come up with new concepts for products in a lean manner.

Pretotyping moves the focus of development to the right place. We're better off building the right things "wrong" rather than building the wrong things "right". Ideally we should be able combine a proven, top-notch idea with a stellar implementation.

If any of this rang a bell, check out the presentation and the free book that's available. I have to admit coming upon this concept changed the way I see things quite a bit in a positive manner!