What to Focus on During the Ideation, Validation, and Prototyping Phases of Product Development

During the earliest phases of product development, when you’re creating your idea, doing research with potential customers, validating your solution, and creating your first prototypes, you can either make smart, well-informed decisions or critical missteps. Labs mentor Malcolm Paul, product management and development consultant at NITM, hosted a Labs session about the ideation, validation, and prototyping phases of product development. Here’s what you should focus on during each phase.

Ideation phase

“You don’t want to spend too much time thinking about an idea,” Paul says. “You want to spend time thinking about what goes into the idea. So as soon as you think of an idea, start plotting it out and figuring out what it could actually become. You want to think quickly about whether the idea makes sense and if it does, start taking action on it.”

There are six questions you want to answer during the ideation phase, Paul says:

  • What problem are you solving?
  • Are you adding value or creating entertainment?
  • Is there a need or a want for what you’re creating?
  • Has it been done already?
  • If it has been done, how can you do it better?
  • If the idea makes sense, is it worth your time?

Research

Primary and secondary research will help you get answers to those questions. Primary research involves talking to potential customers through methods like surveys and focus groups, and you need to focus on people who’d pay for your product one day. “If you don’t do this research from the perspective of the person you’re trying to sell to or add value to, you’re going to create something they don’t want,” Paul says. “Only talk to your friends exclusively about the idea when you first think of it. If you continue to talk to them it becomes an echo chamber. You want to do the potential focus groups with people who might pay you or benefit from your idea.” The questions you ask are crucial, too. “It’s not yes or no questions,” Paul says. “You want to ask open-ended questions because you’re not looking for specific answers—you’re looking for insights. So instead of, “Do you like using this app?’ ask instead, ‘What do you like about this app?’”

Next, do your secondary research, where you’re seeking information from other people’s work or research. Think market research reports from large research firms like Nielsen or IBIS World, review for competitor’s products, news articles related to your industry, and more. “If you’re developing a music app, you want to know how many people are willing to pay for music,” Paul says, so find the market report that gives you that information. This can help you quickly understand whether the idea makes financial sense for you.

Visualization

“You want to have an idea of what your product will look or feel like,” Paul says. “You don’t want to build something before visualizing it. Start to think about what it would look like. Do you want users to click, scroll, or swipe? You’re not thinking about design yet, just creating the roughest sketch you can with your skill set that represents what you’re thinking of building.”

Validation

“You’ve come up with the parts of your product that you want to eventually build out, whether it’s a physical product, an app, a website, etc.,” Paul says. “The idea during validation is, does this make sense? And what is the process that your end user will actually go through while using this product?”

Solution maps

Creating solution maps helps you and your team confirm whether you’re addressing customer pain points or providing value in effective ways, and whether your idea for how you’d do it is actually feasible. “On a solution map, you put your major stakeholders on the left and you put your outcome on the right. Your stakeholders need to eventually get to that outcome. The question you’re working on is whether the product that you’re developing allows you to get to that outcome,” Paul says.

Your primary research should heavily inform the solution map and the features you’ve decided on before you start mapping, too. “Before you get to this point you should have talked to potential customers who told you how they’d like a product like yours to work,” Paul says.

Involve your major internal stakeholders when you’re creating your solution map—your head designer, lead engineer, your manufacturer if you’re making a physical product. “They all need to look at whether the solution you’ve thought of makes sense,” Paul says. Maybe there’s a technical roadblock, like a functionality that would be essential for your product that your engineering team simply can’t create. You need to know that before you try to move forward.

Once you have your solution map, go back to your primary research sources and get their input on your proposed product, and keep iterating until your research tells you that you have a product that people would want to buy.

Prototyping

Once you’ve validated your idea, it’s time to create your wireframe, which is a very simple drawing or sketch of what your product will look like. Next come mockups, which are “where you take the wireframes and add more visual detail.” Mockups have no functionality but they should be digitally created so they look more uniform and professional. Finally, you create your prototype, “which is where you’re adding functionality like clicking or tapping, like simulating the login process for your app or user flow for your digital product,” Paul says. “A prototype helps you test the user experience and see what their feedback is. You want to know what the user likes about this product and make sure that the user experience makes sense. Once that’s done, then you bring in the designer and you do design. That’s where the interface comes in,” Paul says. There’s no data attached to your prototype, and you can create and host it on platforms like Invision or proto.io.

By the end of the ideation, validation and prototyping phases, your should have a product you’ve iterated on based on potential customer insights, feedback on your proposed solution, and a prototype you can use to gain valuable insights on how people use and engage with your product.

Want to know more about the various stages of product development? Read our explainer post here. And for more insights on product development, check out this page.

This post is based on content from a WeWork Labs programming session.

Interested in connecting directly with this mentor? Ask your Labs Manager for help.

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