How Pretotyping Works with the Lean Startup Approach

If the Lean Startup offers a systematic and scientific approach to the development of new businesses, then Pretotyping serves to underpin, advance and improve many of those processes even further.

Pretotyping is a methodology that was created at Google by Alberto Savoia and turns many of our most entrenched ideas around innovation entirely on their heads. 

While the Lean Startup teaches that uncertainty must be eliminated and that MVPs are the answer to the risks inherent in any startup, Pretotyping goes even further by introducing the idea of something simpler than MVPs…the Pretotype.

The build-measure-learn feedback loop is a core component of the Lean Startup methodology. This works on the basis that great innovation comes from figuring out what a problem is and then developing an MVP to solve the issue. What if we took the learn-measure- build approach instead? 

A key component of Pretotyping is built around the idea that a simple, mock-up of a product or service will be enough to gather useful data on whether or not the idea is valid. This is further supported by the concept of YODA (Your Own Data) which is more valuable than OPD (Other People's Data) and the devaluing of opinion. 

In Pretotyping, opinion is considered worthless as a valid measure of what customers say vs what they do. When it comes to idea validation, asking what people think of an idea is not valuable as a form of data gathering.

MVP vs Pretotype

If an MVP is a product that is developed with sufficient features to satisfy early adopters, then the Pretotype is merely the shadow of a product…the suggestion of it. An imagining of a new idea made in the simplest possible way.

Just how simple are we talking? 

Really, really simple. 

A great example of a Pretotype is the one which was created by the founder of Palm Computing, Jeff Hawkins. This was way before Alberto coined the term Pretotype. Jeff Hawkins was working on instinct when starting the process, but he created a Pretotype as we now know it.

He'd mocked up a Palm Pilot which had no working parts at all…literally a dummy with sketched out screen and features on a block of wood.

He carried this mock-up around in his pocket while pretending that it was a working device. He'd take it out of his pocket when he was invited to dinner…and imagine that he was entering the details. He'd use it while at work and at home…in every possible scenario that he thought it would be useful.

He wanted to learn whether the idea was practical. Would the Palm Pilot be something he'd be comfortable carrying, would he want to take it out of his pocket to make notes? 

He wanted to simulate the experience of a Palm Pilot to see if it would be worth building a prototype. He didn't want to invest time and money without understanding if the idea had real appeal first.

MVP vs Prototype vs Pretotype

· An MVP is a product that is developed with sufficient features to satisfy early adopters.

· Prototypes try to get to the core of questions around building a product, will it work well and what will it cost to make. Ask "CAN we make this?"

· Pretotypes focus on working out how appealing a product is, if people will want to use it and if it is worth building in the first place. Ask "SHOULD we make this?"

This pre-testing is one of the most compelling aspects of what Pretotyping offers. Knowing whether your intended audience will want something before you've invested millions in making it. Making a product which works well is a difficult journey, but creating one which people actually want to use is even more challenging. Pretotyping quickly answers many questions which Lean Startup works quite hard to uncover and without the accompanying spend. 

By Pretotyping your product or service before you begin the Lean Startup process, you can avoid putting money into dud ideas. Cutting to the chase and weeding out the concepts which either don't work or which won't appeal to your audience.

Pair this powerful lesson with the Lean Startup Approach even before the work begins, and you are statistically more likely to succeed.

Find out how Pretotyping can help take the guesswork out of innovation.