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The Perfect Union: Design Thinking, Rapid Prototyping, and Agile

By: Bonnie Coté

Business people meeting at office and use post it notes to share idea

Now that we’ve covered the Design Thinking basics in our last blog post, let’s expand that foundation across two complementary capabilities: Rapid Prototyping and Agile Methodology. While Design Thinking helps you create an innovative new solution for the customer, Rapid Prototyping and Agile help deliver that tangible digital solution in a faster, iterative way that continues to inject customer feedback into the end product. It’s the collective value of these three capabilities that really move the needle when it comes to customer-driven solution development and deployment.

First, a quick recap of these three concepts:

Design Thinking – A scalable, iterative, non-linear process that seeks a deep understanding of customers, challenges assumptions and drives new solutions to prototype and test in a fast-paced environment.

Rapid Prototyping – A low-commitment, codeless visual representation of an evolving user interface that validates requirements with a collaborative team. It can also be a valuable tool for the “Prototype” step of Design Thinking.

Agile Methodology – A highly collaborative project management approach that shortens the feedback loop through iterations (or “sprints”).

Did you catch the common denominator here? Iterative is the keyword across these three concepts which underscores the ability to fail fast by testing low fidelity prototypes early and often with customers.  

So, what does “fidelity” mean in this context and why is it best to start with low-fidelity prototypes? Fidelity is the level of commitment to a prototype in its current state. A low fidelity prototype is a simplified mockup of your product’s basic requirements with a low level of detail (see #2 in the image below). It captures your basic content requirements without detailed images, branding, and functionality. Why create a medium to high fidelity prototype when you haven’t tested all of your new ideas yet? What if the customer doesn’t find your solution to be intuitive or appealing? Don’t leave anything on the table by rushing into detailed designs, even if your stakeholders are pushing to see the final product. In the end, your solution will be better – and your customer happier – because it will have been tested, failed, improved, and retested many times before the final iteration.  Always remember that we are designing for the customer, by the customer.

In the image below, you can see why it’s best to start with low fidelity prototypes. They require less effort, time, and cost than jumping straight to a high fidelity prototype that is detailed and fully functional.

As the fourth step in the Design Thinking process, prototyping allows us to bring our solutions up a notch and visualize our customer’s requirements before we conduct usability testing. Keep in mind that Design Thinking is not a linear process and it should be leveraged throughout solution creation – not just the beginning. Your team should be prepared to discover new customer insights and re-envision the solution, even when prototyping has begun. Your first ideation session won’t always lead to the best solution for the customer.

The image below depicts a typical rapid prototyping session. Here you have the stakeholders in the room (who also participated in the Design Thinking session) feeding you requirements and ideas based on customer insights and feedback. You have the facilitator whose goal is to ensure our design remains within scope, stays true to our personas, and incorporates the latest customer feedback into this iteration.  Then there are the designers updating the low fidelity prototype in real-time to capture and validate these requirements.

The “rapid” part of Rapid Prototyping is where Agile comes in. Rapid Prototyping and Design Thinking are inherently Agile, whether you are already practicing Agile or not. They can be easily baked into your current Agile practices or serve as a great way to introduce your client to the methodology. In addition, developers can more accurately determine the time and resources necessary to code, test, and deploy the solution because much of the look, feel, and functionality is right in front of them. Since a prototype captures your visual requirements and basic functionality, it eliminates much of the guesswork and helps to prevent any surprises to keep your project plan on track.

The three capabilities within this “perfect union” share the same pursuit of customer-driven value creation; they provide an iterative, creative, and collaborative way to build a customer solution from beginning to end. Stay tuned for our third and final blog post to read about real examples where SEI has leveraged Design Thinking, Rapid Prototyping, and Agile capabilities to deliver innovative solutions that make our client’s customers happy customers.

Bonnie Cote

Bonnie Coté

Managing Director

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