I came across this in the essay by Melanie Rose in the book Business Analysis & Leadership. She explains the difference between prototyping and pretotyping:
“Pretotyping differs from prototyping in that the main objective of prototyping is to answer questions related to building the product: Can we build it? Will it work as expected? How much will it cost to build? The purpose of pretotyping is to answer questions about the product’s appeal and usage: Would people want this product? Will they use it as expected? Will they continue to use it?”
You still have to create something for people to comment on, but it’s often a much cheaper version than a prototype because the aim is to judge appeal, not to see how it would work in practice. If you know there is a market for your product you can then work on prototyping something. If you find that there isn’t much interest in your idea then you haven’t lost much of an investment.
Many software products are launched as beta versions: not quite the finished product but near enough. Users can either choose to wait for the full, finished release or become beta testers with the expectation that they will report errors, provide feedback and generally help the company test the end product through actual use.
I’ve been a beta tester before and it wasn’t a huge overhead. In fact, many beta testers are often offered discounted rates on the final product and this helps turn them into very loyal users.
Could you set up an experiment in a controlled environment to test your product before it goes to market? Consider it a bit like Monte Carlo analysis but for deliverables instead of risk. You could get users involved. Choose something concrete to test if you go down this route – it isn’t going to work for all projects.
Using your ‘fans’
If you are upgrading a software product or service that already has a dedicated user base you can tap into these people and offer them the chance to take part in a trial. Whereas beta versions are generally open to anyone (and some beta versions become the default so you have to opt out of using them), ‘fans’ are a self-selected group. Stick a notice on your website, or email your highest-traffic users.
The benefit of tapping into your existing base of enthusiastic users is that they can be very forgiving and keen to report errors as they already love your product and are invested in it. Again, this isn’t going to work for all projects, but it is particularly relevant in the IT arena.
Prototyping is a great way to test a product prior to moving into final development phase, but you do have other options (or options you can use as well as prototyping). Have you tried any of these? How did they work for you? Let us know in the comments.