4 hours of prototyping can save you 40 hours of meetings

How do you ensure that the digital products and services being developed are something that end users actually want? For many, this is the million-dollar question in digital service development. Too many people try to confirm their assumptions when developing new digital solutions, rather than being open to the possibility that something entirely different might yield the results they're after.

When the problem arises

Microsoft Spot, Google Glass, Amazon Fire Phone. If you never used these products, you're definitely not alone. These are products that didn't catch on and ended up costing the companies that developed them dearly. It's certainly a risky endeavor to criticize three of the world's largest and most successful tech companies for lacking knowledge about product and service development. Clearly, they possess that knowledge.

However, these products and the teams behind them illustrate problems that often arise and from which one should learn: Insufficient testing has been conducted, too little time has been spent on prototyping, and there has been insufficient insight into the actual needs, challenges, and preferences of the users. The result is that products and services are developed that no one wants.

Does the solution have a valid reason for existence?

As a consultant, unfortunately, I have experienced a tremendous amount of time being spent on developing digital products and services that end users neither like, need, nor understand. One of several reasons for this, which is still prevalent, is the belief that one knows what the customer needs. In other words, one believes they know what features the customer wants in a digital solution. The problem with such an approach is that there is rarely enough insight into what the end user actually wants. It is a very risky way to build digital services, both in terms of time and cost.

A better approach is to build, test, and experiment through early and ongoing customer involvement to create a product that actually meets both the needs of the end user and the business goals. What is absolutely critical to find out if the solution has a valid reason for existence? It is only when this is answered that you can spend time on the details of the solution. It's about testing things as cheaply and as early as possible so that decisions can be made to keep costs down and ultimately create a product that end users are interested in.

Get out of the office!

Take a look at your calendar and be honest with yourself. How much time has your team spent in meetings in the past six months discussing features and customer needs? Take another look—when was the last time your team interacted with actual end users of the service? There is a lot of talk about customer orientation, but there is a big difference between speculating about customer needs in a meeting versus prototyping and testing something with actual end users.

Digital service development is business development, and to reduce the risk of building the wrong thing, you need to get out of the meeting room and meet the users of the service. My message to those who recognize themselves in the above description is simple: Get out of the office—out of the meeting rooms—and meet the real end users. That's how you can create great digital solutions developed on the users' terms.

In other words: 4 hours of prototyping and testing can save you 40 hours of meetings.