MEREDITH Strategy + Design

We design the places and spaces where people come together to do great work

Sketching and testing to develop rich solutions leanly

This was a nice diagram in David Aycan's article, "Don't Let the Minimum Win Over the Viable," in the Harvard Business Review blogs. Although written around the idea of "lean startups" and specifically around the concept of the "minimum viable product" to release, it has potential application in other creation contexts, as well.

I liked especially this observation from Aycan:

"Sketching or mocking up experiential prototypes and then testing them with consumers or potential partners, while also explicitly jotting down your operating and business assumptions and using them to discuss the business with industry experts, allows you both to pick a promising route to invest in the development sprint and to pivot with confidence".

What resonated most with me was the implication of the value in this periodic interchange between "experiential prototypes" and "operating and business assumptions." Of course, in almost any well-managed project for the development of physical stuff, a periodic touch on cost as business assumption is de rigeur. However, in many projects, once the design concept has been proposed and accepted, only the internal production metrics guide its development forward.

Aycan's sketch illustrates a recommended approach contrasted with diagrams of "traditional linear" and "standard sequential pivot" approaches.

In workspace design projects, that consideration of the "experiential" – logically at the center of the project's purpose – is rarely evoked. The prototypes actually developed are sketches that try to capture spatial experience but not working experience. The various phases of project development, more akin to Aycan's diagrams of "traditional" or "standard" processes, are checkpoints of scope and cost, only. It is atypical that a conversation is started by the tougher question of how it is that this concept continues to be relevant and valuable to the purposes for which it was intended.

However, rich solutions, leanly developed, evolve from a process that is continuously and progressively curious about delivering benefits to the organization and its customers and stakeholders. Aycan notes that, "Like a product feature, the idea is not to perfect the economic model prior to building the MVP, but to have some idea that the economics you are proposing will set the venture up for eventual profitability and a low-friction scaling process."

Most importantly, the process of sketching and testing alternatives generates insights and builds a shared mental model among the design and delivery team and with the client. This approach typically assures alignment with the organization's values and nurtures the "personal, passion-igniting elements" that are at the core of great projects.