Preston Smith's Corner

How can we accelerate decision making, particularly in the fuzzy front end?

March 2003 Quick Tip

This is an insightful question, because if you dissect the product development process, you will find that decisions are at its core, and accelerating them will speed up your whole process greatly.

Decisions in the fuzzy front end of development have major downstream ramifications, so various parties — engineering, marketing, suppliers, and executives — think about them carefully. These decisions often involve alternative product concepts or variations in a concept.

What better way is there to communicate a concept or its possible variations than to build a prototype of it? Prototypes bring realism to something that doesn’t exist yet. Unlike engineering drawings, everyone can “read” them. Well-positioned prototypes bring closure to concept decisions.

However, to accelerate fuzzy-front-end decision-making, you must build a sequence of prototypes that parallel the decision-making sequence. This means that you must build a sequence of simple prototypes, each of which resolves only one question. The biggest mistake that prototypers make is in building prototypes that are too complex, too late in the process, and too final. Too complex means that multiple decisions become intertwined, too late means that people become wedded to a concept, and too final means that these highly refined prototypes are time-consuming and expensive to make.

Various prototyping technologies can model products that exist as software, digital circuits, analog circuits, or paper documents, but probably the most interesting prototypes model mechanical objects. Such prototypes now cost US$10-20, enabling you to afford the dozens needed for fast, precise decision-making.

(c) Copyright 2013 Preston G. Smith. All Rights Reserved.

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