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Virtual and Working Prototypes

Virtual Prototype

Your next step is to take the best of your ideas and bring them to life. Manufacturers do this by designing and creating real working prototypes upon which they base the design of future models. These prototypes allow them to test and experiment with new ideas before going into production. It may or may not be necessary for you to go to that extent and expense with your product development, but every business can benefit from this basic concept.

The business tool we will use here is called the “Virtual Prototype.” This is a detailed document, describing potential future products, services and features for your company and it is where all new product and service development should begin. What happens after that will depend on your particular needs. In some cases, especially with service and information based companies, you may be able to test your ideas directly from your Virtual Prototype. In other cases, it may be necessary to go through some level of pre- production.

Finally, review your notes above and create written, Virtual Prototypes that outline your ideal future products and services. If you only have one or two ideas right now, that's fine. This is just the beginning of an ongoing process.

Incorporate the previous information to create a Virtual Prototype System.

cardboard chair

Working Prototype

If applicable to your situation, this is the point at which you would develop one or more models or working prototypes for testing. The variables are too broad to list here, but if the process is applicable to your business, it should be documented as well.

Write a system for developing your working prototypes. If appropriate, use the Project Planner located at the back of this book for this. If cost is a significant factor, you'll want to create a budget for each project as well.

Test Your Virtual or Working Prototype

Testing takes time and resources, and you may not currently be at the stage where you are ready to begin. Nonetheless, testing will eventually be necessary before you commit large amounts of money, time, or other resources in any particular direction. With this in mind, read the following and begin to organize your thoughts around this topic.

Prototype Testing System

Functionality Testing How well do your ideas work? Test and retest them to make sure that they do what they are supposed to do. In the end, it is cheaper to fix problems before you go to production, rather than to wait until they show up as customer complaints.

One method is to put your products in the hands of a limited number of potential customers in order to test their functionality. You may find features, for example, whose benefits do not outweigh their costs. If there are problems, it's always better to find out before you go into full-scale production.

Many software developers use this method extensively by releasing beta versions of a computer program to certain members of the public for free, in order to receive feedback prior to its official release. This allows the company to fix problems before the final program is officially made available for sale.

How will you test the functionality of your new ideas?

Market Testing

How will your prospects react to your new product? Will they consume it in droves, will the response be slow but steady, or will sales be inadequate? While it is impossible to accurately predict the future, you can increase your odds by sample-testing your target market's reaction. This type of information is especially valuable to have early on, especially considering the high costs typically associated with mass production and promotion. If a product turns out to be a poor seller, you'll want some indication of this as soon as possible.

One way of finding out what your Target Market thinks is to organize a focus group. This is the process of pulling together a group of your potential or existing customers in order to get their direct feedback on your new products or services. (See “Marketing” book for more information on using focus groups.)

Another way to find out what your Target Market thinks is to test a sample of your market. Offer your new products or services to a small sampling of your Target Market, and then, track and record your results. Your results may not reflect 100 percent of your Target Market, but they should give you an idea of the kind of response you can expect from a larger marketing campaign.

How will you market test your new ideas?

McDonald's uses this approach on a regular basis. They first introduced their breakfast menu, for example, in rural areas to gauge the response. A few franchisees picked it up and then it spread like wildfire. It now accounts for 35 to 40 percent of McDonalds’ revenues.

Create a Prototype Testing System.