When Building a Proof of Concept, Focus on the Right Idea
When it comes to building out a proof of concept (we call them Proof of Technology), the first thing we need is an idea. Your idea. That thought that started as just a spark and has now consumed you. What is it? How do you envision it working? If possible, how does it change your company, your industry, your users’ experience?
An idea can be difficult to communicate, which makes it hard to get the buy-in you need to move forward. Depending on your company culture and structure, “innovation” gets more and more challenging as your business matures, because time-tested, predictable ways are comfortable, safe, and provide steady revenue. A proof of concept lowers financial risk, allowing you to take an honest look at your business and where an innovative idea like yours could fit before fully committing to building out a potentially risky product. We borrowed some of our learnings from Design Sprints to help objectively assess your business and find where an innovative idea like yours could fit. Here’s how we work with you to take this big idea and get focused.
How to quickly get focused on the right idea
To make sure we’re considering all the necessary stakeholders and educating ourselves about the landscape, we run through two exercises together: Expert interviews and “How Might We…” Expert interviews ask you/your team/department/company “experts” — or the people who actively live in this work every day — questions about their everyday experience with the problem and follow up by asking, “How might we do that?” While it may sound strange, it actually helps frame problems in a positive, actionable, and constructive way.
Before we go too far down any one road, it’s important that we consult the experts. We’re looking to get a better view of the current situation, better understand roadblocks, and look at what kind of goals they have to keep top of mind.
- Tell us about your industry
- Tell us about the technical challenges that you face
- What is the product in its simplest form?
- What problem does your idea solve?
- What would the perfect product look like in two years?
- What are the philosophical goals for this increment of work?
- And any questions that shoot off of answers to help clarify any information uncovered
HMW (How might we…)
The second part of the expert interviews involves a bit of diligent note-taking and a bit of answering a question with a question. Instead of bulleted lists, our notes, taken on Post-its, will be in the form of “How might we [insert interesting challenge mentioned here]?”
- During each interview, we will create a ton of HMW Post-its and display all of them in their raw form at the end
- Our facilitator will help guide this process along by identifying top-level categories and patterns
- The group will help categorize them and move them around
- Everything then comes to a vote:
- Everyone gets two votes (we use dot stickers)
- Decider (previously chosen) gets four vote dots
The desired outcome of this exercise can be surprising.
The goal is not to focus on exactly how we will solve the problem with specific features and functionality. The goal of this exercise is to allow your team and our team to explore the actual problem that needs to be addressed so that various avenues toward the solution open, leading to discussion and evolution.
We’re looking to identify motivations and loosen the narrow focus on solving a problem with a specific technology. Less of “I want feature X” and more of “I want constraint X to be satisfied” or “I want users to be able to achieve this goal.”
Understanding the business value will help your idea to evolve as we learn more together, uncovering what does and does not satisfy a given criterion. Each step presents technical challenges, some that can be overcome and some that turn into roadblocks. The business value will guide us around roadblocks, allowing pivots where needed.