Can you test if you have a great idea in 24 hours for $0? Try Google’s Pretotyping approach.

Developed at Google, perfected at Stanford and now being taught and practiced worldwide.

The concept of Pretotyping was originally developed by Alberto Savoia in 2009 while he was working at Google as Engineering Director and Innovation Agitator. Since then, pretotyping has been spreading quickly and globally: Alberto’s book ‘Pretotype It’ has already been translated into several languages, and classes on pretotyping are taught at Stanford and other universities throughout the world.

A practitioners view

In January 2016 I was lucky enough to spend a day at Stanford with Alberto to learn the pretotyping method first-hand. The simple logic of the approach and distilled learning from Alberto’s many years perfecting it at Google resonated strongly with me.

Pretotyping Course at Stanford, January 2016

We immediately implemented it back at work when I arrived. As head of the innovation team, my job was to quickly sift through the abundance of ideas to decide where we should focus our experimentation and innovation efforts. Pretotyping is the tool to do this.

The challenge we set with every new idea we evaluated is

How can we test if this is the right idea in 24 hours for zero dollars?

Clearly, this is not possible, but it helps to frame the thinking around not defaulting to building stuff immediately. Using the simple pretotyping methods we were able to quickly and cheaply eliminate or pursue the right ideas. After hundreds of pretotypes, the average investment per pretotype is around two weeks and a few thousand dollars. The alternative is to throw darts at a board, trust your gut and spend months and tens of thousands of dollars to hope you have the right idea. Pretotyping removes most of this uncertainty.

Two years later I have taught pretotyping to over 600 people, and it’s a commonly understood approach in the business. HR, Customer Operations, Finance, and the engineering teams use pretotyping on a regular basis.

On a recent visit to Mountain View, California, I met with Alberto to understand the latest techniques he has refined after a year teaching pretotyping at Stanford University. Pretotyping has been refined and is now an excellent framework to rapidly validate or invalidate ideas.

May you always find The Right It, in your life as well as in your work!
Alberto Savoia