One of the things you’ll learn when measuring ROI is that you need an effective way to quickly test ideas for effectiveness before big marketing dollars are put behind them. One of the biggest challenges we’ve seen with marketing teams is that it costs too much money to implement an idea before they know whether it will generate a positive ROI. Marketers want a quick and efficient way to test before slamming large budgets behind an idea that may not deliver a positive return on investment. Enter Lean Rapid Prototyping.
We’ve been using a Lean Rapid Prototyping Approach for the last year at SME Digital for ourselves and for our clients, and it yielded tremendous results that create the exact testing methodology your marketing team needs. I thought I’d share the approach so you could decide if it’s worth testing with your marketing team. First, let’s start with a little background.
What is Lean Rapid Prototyping?
Lean Rapid Prototyping is a combination of Lean Start Up principles and Rapid Prototyping principles that have been adjusted to work for marketing teams. To put this in perspective, take a look at how Tom Chi rapid prototyped Google Glass. When I ask marketers how long they think it took to rapid prototype Google Glass, most say anywhere from 1-2 years. The reality? 1 day.
How Can Lean Rapid Prototyping be Used by Marketing Teams?
Marketing teams are constantly fighting the battle of which shiny new idea is worth investment vs. the tried and true tactics that have consistently delivered results. Lean Rapid Prototyping provides an excellent framework that allows marketing teams to explore new ideas in a way that is consistent, objective, and doesn’t require marketing investment until an idea has been proven. It removes all the political barriers and all of the emotional decision points we commonly see for new ideas. It also provides a safe way for marketers to test and fail until they find something that sticks. We recommend using Lean Rapid Prototyping for any new idea, any marketing project, any marketing campaign, and anything else that is utilizing resources from the marketing team. While it is a great way to test ideas, it is also a new framework for project management that helps projects move far more quickly and integrates audience feedback much earlier in the process.
What are the Rules of Rapid Prototyping?
Tom Chi defined 3 rules for rapid prototyping that are spot on. You need to understand the rules in order to make sure you know how to properly build prototypes.
Rule 1: Find the quickest path to experience
This isn’t about building some big, perfect thing. It’s about finding something quick, dirty, and simple that gets you closer to the experience you want to create. You noticed that Tom Chi used sheet protectors, paper clips, and chopsticks in his prototype. He didn’t design a computer model to simulate the experience as the first step. Why? Because a computer model doesn’t allow an actual person to feel the experience of using Google Glass. That is the frame of mind you want to be in when you think about what your prototype will be.
Rule 2: Doing is the best kind of thinking
Often, we want to set time aside to really think about a solution to a problem. In rapid prototyping, it’s about actually doing something to try and solve a problem or test something out. When you overthink it, you actually create solutions that are far more complex or more difficult to implement. You are looking for shortcuts to experience, and the best way to get there is to actually do something.
Rule 3: Use materials that move at the speed of thought to maximize your rate of learning
This goes hand in hand with the first two rules. You want to use materials that move as fast as you can think. I’ll give you a tip. A lot of times it’s a piece of paper and a pen. Sometimes, it’s post it notes and a marker. Other times, it may be tools like Tom Chi used. Ultimately, you want to find tools that move quickly and that you can test in seconds.
How Does the Lean Rapid Prototyping Process Work?
Step 1: Define conditions of satisfaction
The first step is to define your conditions of satisfaction for the project with everyone who has a vested interest. This usually includes the person with the idea or project, other people who will have a role in the project, and the senior leadership who will oversee the project or have a vested interest in the outcome or budget allocation for the project downstream. As an example, we recently defined conditions of satisfaction for the new Social Media Explorer | SME Digital website that will roll out soon. They looked like this:
- The new site must provide a seamless experience between the Social Media Explorer blog and the SME Digital consulting site for digital marketing measurement services
- The new site must quickly get people where they need to be (blog, consulting, speaking)
- The new site must show all of the brands and companies we represent and have a vested interest in (Social Media Explorer, SME Digital, Actionable Intellect) and allow navigation between these sites in a seamless manner without interrupting the user experience
- The new site must make it ridiculously easy for blog readers to convert into an email subscriber, SME Rock Star, and Consulting lead, where appropriate
- The new site should make it super easy to find the type of content you are looking for through navigation and through search
Step 2: Define your Minimum Viable Product to ship for feedback
The second step is to define the minimum viable end to the project that is ready to send out for testing with your audience. In the case of SME’s website, it was draft wireframes to get feedback on. In the case of content, it might be a status update on our social channels or a blog post. In the case of an infographic, it might be a sketch of what it could look like. The goal is to truly define the minimum viable thing you can put in front of your target audience for feedback. This allows you to iterate before you’ve done all the work, based on what your audience says. Notice, the audience for feedback isn’t your internal marketing team; it’s your “real” audience. This removes a lot of the subjectivity in feedback we receive internally. No one will argue with the feedback or direction if it comes from your target audience, but if it’s Nancy, your Marketing Manager’s, opinion vs. Lucy, your Director of Marketing’s, opinion, there are politics that will come into play. Lucy may win by default even though her opinion is irrelevant to the target audience’s opinion.
These two steps are critical in determining what needs to be done to make sure it meets the conditions of satisfaction and the minimum thing you can put in front of your audience. The next step is to define the first rapid prototype.
Step 3: Define your Learn, Measure, Build (L, M, B)
To do this, we ask three key questions and answer them.
- What is the first thing you need to learn to move forward? (L)
- How can you measure that you’ve learned it? (M)
- What can you build in under two hours to test it? (B)
In the case of the website, we decided to tackle the navigation between the blog, the consulting site, and our partner brands.
Learn: How can site visitors navigate between the various SME sites in a seamless way?
Measure: Can site visitors go between the sites from any page? Yes or No?
Build: List of options for seamless navigation to review
Step 4: Check risk assessments to determine if you have the correct first Learn, Measure, Build
When you are new to this process, a couple of things will happen. Many times, your build is something to do with the end of the project versus the first step, or it’s something that will take much more than two hours. Other times, it’s the wrong learn for where you are in the project OR your measure doesn’t actually measure the learn. You probably won’t pass the risk assessment test the first few times and that’s okay. It will train you on how to think about your future Learn, Measure, Builds.
- Is that the right learn for what we are trying to deliver?
- Does that move us toward our minimum viable product?
- Is that the right measure to show we have achieved the learn?
- Is that the right build for the stage where we are today
Step 5: Build your prototype
You have 2 hours and only 2 hours to build your prototype. You defined your prototype when you defined your build in the L, M, B. Complete it and you have your first prototype.
Step 6: Get feedback from the target audience for the project
The final step of Lean Rapid Prototyping is to get feedback. The best way to get feedback is by scheduling a 15 minute in-person meeting, but if that isn’t possible, sometimes we use video or phone conversations. The key is to make sure you are getting feedback from the target audience for the project you are working on. In many cases, this means you need to get outside of your marketing team. If it’s for an external marketing project, put it in front of actual prospects and customers. If it’s a sales enablement tool, get it in front of a few sales people. This is where a lot of people get hung up. They don’t like to get feedback on something that isn’t final. If you can let go of that, you will get amazing feedback that truly makes sure that what you deliver as final has already been tested by the market with positive results.
The format for getting feedback is to ask these questions:
- What really works for you?
- What could make it even better?
- What do you want more of?
- What do you want less of?
We call these Plus EBIs. “What really works for you” is essentially asking for their number one plus (Plus), and “What could make it even better” is defining what would be even better if (EBI).
Step 7: Iterate, rinse and repeat
Once you have the feedback, iterate your prototype until you get to the point that people say it is perfect and they wouldn’t change a thing. Then move onto the next Learn, Measure, Build to get you closer to your MVP.
This is a big mindset shift for how to manage projects. We find that doing weekly Rapid Protoyping calls helps to hold space for completing prototypes because it’s easy to fall back into your old patterns. The reality is that a blog post probably isn’t enough to make this stick. We typically do a day-and-a-half of training with teams and do live rapid prototypes to cement the methodology. However, you can definitely take this and try it.
To help you, we’ve designed a training aid that you can download and use as a worksheet to help you define your first prototype.
Oh, and if you are wondering where we landed on the navigation between sites for our new websites, we are going to do something similar to how gap.com allows you to quickly bounce between their brands. What are your Plus EBIs on that?
Does your company use rapid prototyping? How has it worked out for you? What really works for you in this model for project management? What would make it even better? Leave a comment to share your thoughts.