Why rapid prototyping helps avoid product failure

We’ve been infatuated with space since the dawn of time. Distant stars were used to foretell individuals' fate as well as capture the vision of humanity's future. Our first attempts to escape the dominating force of gravity began right after the World War II. Both the Soviet Union and the United States developed advanced rocketry for the purpose of annihilating each other. However, following the war idle hands reused the technology for space domination.

rapid prototyping

Space travel, we discovered, is risky. Things tend to heat up, burn, explode, and come crashing down in an atmospheric waltz of destruction. Coincidentally, innovating with digital products shares similar patterns of risk. Where a failed rocket launch sequence that ends in a catastrophic crash can cost close to half-a-billion dollars, according to Forrester Research, the IT industry spends $30 billion annually on products that don’t deliver value. For many of our clients, this type of failure is not an option. One proven way to avoid this is through rapid prototyping, which can be used to decrease the scope of failure and ultimately eliminate catastrophic, irrecoverable failures (i.e., completely exhausting the product's available funding) altogether.

I recently spoke at an Illinois Technology Association event on Rapid Prototyping 2.0--a methodology of using lean requirements and limited-scope prototypes to manage risk on complex digital initiatives. At its core, failure should be expected, yet managed, just as any other metric of the product delivery lifecycle. In fact, using rapid prototyping, failure can be deescalated to a manageable level from a financial standpoint. In other words, we want the innovation team to try risky ideas and be able to fail without burning through its entire product investment.

rapid prototyping test

In a recent meeting with senior technology executives at a Tier 1 bank, we discussed the notion of, “Building a Death Star (a reference to Star War's ultimate weapon: a moon-sized space station with the ability to destroy an entire planet).” We compared this to a large, complex project that takes a massive amount of effort, funds, and time to complete. The experience shared in the room told us what we already knew--every single attempt to build the Death Star ends in catastrophic failure (albeit without anyone purposely sabotaging the project by sneaking a torpedo into the reactor core as in Star Wars).

So how can it be done better? The best analogy for rapid prototyping we could come up with was a show from the 80’s called Voltron. A team of astronauts pilot individual lion robots that, when the situation is dire, combine into a massive, universe defending robot. It has immense firepower, however, the strength lies in the idea of small, nimble individual contributors. Agile, design thinking, and the recent rising interest in microservices architecture all use the same analogy for getting things done while managing risk and avoiding catastrophic failure. You can download the deck from the event and don’t hesitate to reach out if you would like to discuss further.

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