Prototyping is a tool and method used by designers to test and model how a product or service actually functions. The word prototype originally refers to something “first or primitive form”, meaning that it’s bringing out something new to be developed and to be tested by the future users. Did you know that prototyping can also be used for larger intangible artefacts, such as business model creation?
A good prototype is inclusive, iterative, questioning, tangible, future-oriented and speedy. It’s learning by doing, and we can all understand it. That’s what makes the concept of a prototype so charming; with a prototype you can gain understanding of your hypothesis and iterate it towards better functioning one. Prototype has also proved to be a brilliant vessel for testing stuff; it cannot fail, since it’s whole purpose is to fail fast and find the loopholes.
Don’t take me wrong here, when shaping our business models and making our strategic and operational choices we are already modelling them in several different ways. For example, we might have our various data sources under a PowerBI model to provide a view on our business and to poke it from various angles. We tweak the data and relentlessly find parameters that might guide our decisions towards the desired goals. We have grown to understand that it is essential to capture, materialise and measure our business goals, performance, processes and structures. Our business partially exists on these materialisations.
Question is: do these actions carry the right qualities that make a good prototype? Are they part of an inclusive, iterative, questioning, tangible and future-oriented process? What business prototyping can bring on top of the modelling and metrics is the human factor, inclusiveness, collaboration and tangibility.
We humans tend to seek for organised patterns in our behaviour and practices. Therefore businesses are organised in different ways; through structures, processes and hierarchies. This way we aim to save energy from rethinking these things over and over again. While we try to build our businesses operating like fully organised and smooth machines we often forgot one thing – we humans being very complex and sensitive part of the machine.
So, imagine now putting the solid business logic and human logic into the same room. Welcome to your every day: your employees and your customers are dealing with your business logic from the moment we step out of our excels and powerpoints. For them, their motivation for any decision may be unconscious and freely motivated, and they simply don’t care what you have planned. If you thought your business logic is guiding people, it turns out that it is actually the other way around: people are leading your business logic. Both customers and employees.
The shared direction and focus of our efforts could be easily achieved, if we just force ourselves to ask in each single moment of our business design: have we prototyped that early and constantly enough? Have we validated the true needs we should arrange ourselves around? I’m not speaking of just customer-centric visions, customer strategies and their steering models as if they were a separate entity. But whether it’s our whole strategy and business model, new ventures or offerings, IT architecture, HR processes, sales model: did we prototype it? Did we justify our decisions in an inclusive, questioning and tangible way, correcting early assumptions and validating the model with the actual future users and customers?
How should we then prototype something this abstract with the future users? Roughly put, we always need the human factor as our material, and we need the human feedback.
The idea of “material” has been widely discussed within service design and the design of immaterial constructions. In our business context and in our prototype anecdote, the answer can be as simple as treating the human factor as material to prototype with. The talks, the thoughts, the emotion, the action. Of course, it takes effort to collect the qualitative insights, condense it into material and structure the needs into our business. But it is far from impossible, and there are multiple ways of doing this.
Also, in order to have the perfectly inclusive prototype, the human factor has to be as well invited to test and give feedback on your prototype. There are again many ways of doing this, depending on what we’re prototyping specifically. You might have for instance design sprints where you collaborate together on the business model, or you might test simulated service situations at which you’ll find how the people understand and value your business logic.
What is the earliest point you could imagine infusing the human factor into your prototype, and getting feedback for it from your customers? For example, when modelling our business markets and demand, we should reach beyond the traditional quantitative sources, market analysis and general trend insights. If we introduce qualitative customer research besides our traditional means, we have the possibility to get feedback from our future customers by revealing well-framed futures targeted precisely on our business context.
We recently conducted an early validation on our client’s business model hypothesis here at Deloitte Digital. Client’s service product seemed winning on paper, but our customer research and testing of our hypothesis revealed that it is not actually the planned setup the customers would be eager to pay for, and not with the logic we had on mind.
Instead there was a need for greater supporting services and phasing of the service, that together formed a bundle that’s appealing for the customers. This made us adjust the service’s pricing logic, forced to give more focus to our client’s partnering ecosystem, and modelled the role of digital channels throughout the customer’s journey.
Prototyping the business model and collaborating with the end customers at a very early phase revealed the faulty assumptions of what customers found valuable. With small tweaks gained from the understanding of the end customers’ needs we were able to steer the business model towards the optimal shape and focus the future efforts right. Ultimately, capturing the human need is the only way to achieve excellent business results. This holds true beyond business model design to any business decision.
Do you already have your prototyping challenge in mind? We here at Deloitte Digital with our multidisciplinary team are happy to change any further thoughts on how apply the human factor to your strategic choices and to your everyday operations.
Viivi Tuominen works as a service designer and a devoted prototyper at Deloitte Digital Finland - whether it’s about fuzzy business challenges, processes or an app. Viivi has related experience from various private sector industries and public sector clients, including City of Helsinki.