by Jeff Fourman and Leezan Omerbell
Ideas are abundant. Ideas that evolve into prototypes are rare. Prototypes that become essential tools for clients are even more scarce. And if you want to talk unicorns, then build a product that becomes essential for your clients. Hopefully, your team can gain insight from CountryIntel’s lessons learned, which we compiled while applying a lean approach to creating viable products for our government client base.
Budget: When assessing the budget for product development, it is common practice to simply “go big” and request a large price tag. While this type of proposal might be accepted, the request for a large amount is often unappetizing. From experience, we discovered it is easier to pilot products with a smaller, more reasonable budget when building lean. Then you can focus on the key pain points that your prototype addresses. This approach keeps your team focused on a lean solution that can deploy rapidly with effective results and an undeniable proof of concept. With this approach, your client reaps the benefits sooner and with a greater return on investment. They will also be more likely to continue to invest in the solution with iterative enhancements to rapidly address the most problematic pain points.
Prototype: It is tempting to present a finished and highly polished product which you think is “just right” for your clients. But operating under such assumptions can present challenges. Initially developing too far down the technology roadmap for your solution is risky. You may not incorporate all the client’s feedback necessary to guide you down the right path, and you may end up wasting valuable time and funding on a solution that only partially meets the client’s needs, paints you into a corner, and creates problems of its own. If the client wants something that only partially meets their needs, they could simply buy a Commercial Off-The-Shelf (COTS) solution and overpay for features they will never use or that require unwieldy workarounds to operationalize. Remember, the pain points should guide you, not the sparkle of a shiny penny.
Do not gamble with your budget and assume you know all your client’s wants and needs from the start of a development road map. Gamble long enough and you are certain to lose. Then you will have to backtrack, make costly adjustments, and potentially need to restart completely if you do find yourself surrounded by wet paint. Again, when building, keep the prototype lean and minimal at first, and keep open lines of communication with the client so honest feedback can be collected. And do not be afraid to ask, “What stinks about this prototype?” They will tell you, and it could keep you from having to start over if there is a nagging nuisance which they are afraid to tell you about in early prototyping.
Maximize end-user feedback loop: The purpose of building a lean prototype is to provide the client and end-users the opportunity to assess the product and provide feedback and recommendations. Optimizing the end-user feedback loop enables you to make these changes and provide the client with a viable product that suits their specific needs. This also helps justify a budget to further enhance the prototype into a more robust operating product. Ultimately, this approach increases client confidence and trust that what they are paying for is exactly what they need.
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