Jon Carver on the Highway1 Prototype Showcase
Highway1 teams get a chance to show off and learn from each other simultaneously
Every week, the Highway1 cohort gathers for a standup meeting where they discuss their goals and achievements. After a few weeks, once they’ve had a chance to settle in, we call them together for a slightly different standup we’ve taken to calling “the big show & tell” or “the Prototype Showcase.” Highway1’s senior mechanical engineer Jon Carver was onhand to tell us a little more:
HWY1: When it comes time to hold the Prototype Showcase, what are you looking for?
JC: We’re looking for stories around prototyping and lessons learned that can only be learned through the process of prototyping.
Is there a minimum level of resolution you require?
No. In fact, we encourage the use of a prototyping method that’s aligned with the desired outcome. For example: Lampix is in the process of need-finding. There’s a lot of different potential applications for their technology, making it challenging to explain the product. We’ve encouraged them to find the killer apps that express the product value proposition simply. They have to get out of the building and speak to a lot of people. It would be a burdensome process if, after every conversation, they prototyped a version of the product that was being requested through their user research. What we’re encouraging them to do is take a very loose approach to prototyping, like storyboarding; that’s something that could take someone who’s skilled with a pencil 15-20 minutes, which they can then share with users to communicate an experience concept. It’s very lightweight, with a high return on investment. We want to avoid lengthy cycles at that early stage. Generally the earlier you are in the process, the more rapid your prototyping cycle should be, and the lower-fidelity the prototypes themselves should be.
What would constitute a red flag at this session?
A process that isn’t stage-appropriate — for instance, someone spending three or four weeks developing a functioning system in the early stages of development when it’s not clear that product-market fit exists. If you’re attempting to illustrate product-market fit, it’s better to just get out there and speak to a lot of users and be nimble in your approach to prototyping. If we saw a team glomming onto a product concept that resulted from a single conversation with a user and spending weeks developing a prototype, that would be a red flag. Likewise, using an unsuitable lo-fi method to test out a precision fit between parts would also constitute a red flag. This notion of the level of refinement — of the prototype itself matching what you’re attempting to achieve with that prototype — is very important.
Peeq‘s an interesting test case, because they’re using injection-molded parts while they’re still in the process of developing the product; that’s typically something you do at the end. But they’re deploying hundreds of these prototypes in the field in order to learn more about their users, so that process is appropriate. They need to be able to make hundreds of duplicate parts to support the customer development process. There are few processes for making plastic parts other than injection-molded parts which can do that well.
How is the Prototype Showcase different from other standups?
Standup is traditionally an opportunity for teams to share their business goals and how they’re tracking against those goals on a very high level. The Prototype Showcase is more about the details around product development and the sharing of lessons within that realm. It’s one of the few opportunities the teams have to talk about failure together; I think that communal aspect is something we really embrace. We want the teams to feel comfortable approaching each other for help, and we can support that by encouraging the teams to share some of the details of their product development. It’s a way of helping other members of the cohort understand the specific challenges they’re faced with, so that they can talk about them together later.
The main intent here is for folks to feel comfortable sharing stories about failure.
This isn’t the type of failure where you sit in the corner with a dunce cap on; these are the types of failures we should be celebrating, because they’re exactly the types of failures that are going to result in insights — you want to have these failures now when the expense is low, not a year from now when they can be catastrophic.