ZenStorming

Where Science Meets Muse

Posts Tagged ‘prototyping’

How to Make Sure Prototypes are Useful, Even When They Fail

Posted by Plish on November 28, 2016

It worked flawlessly for 4 minutes and 25 seconds…

And then it didn’t.  The VP smiled and said, “I get the idea.”  After getting through the embarrassment of the failure, the team learned what went wrong, and got to work testing variations of the failed component.  The new versions didn’t fail, and the product went on to eventually make millions…

 

“Risk comes from not knowing what you’re doing.” – Warren Buffet

Risk and fear walk hand in hand with lack of knowledge.  The best way then to minimize fear and minimize risk is to understand,  to know what’s happening.  Prototypes are part of that knowledge building process.

The knowledge base that takes shape through prototyping is equally, if not more, valuable than the actual mock-up itself.

The challenge in most organizations is to make the shift from being object/success based, to process/knowledge based.  Then, even if a product never gets commercialized, the knowledge that gets created can be used for other products, other projects, and make those into money-makers.  Knowledge creates a bolder approach to the future!

What do we do to make sure we’re after knowledge, not just results?

Whether you are creating products, services, or even a new business model, don’t think of prototyping as a ‘testing an idea’ event, but instead as a learning process.   The best way to change into a process based mentality is to ask questions, and then create prototypes that will get you that knowledge.   Three basic questions guide how you get that knowledge as efficiently as possible.   Notice that nowhere are we asking,”Will this work?”  Instead, ask yourself these questions and then start prototyping!

  1. Which answers can I get to easily?  Easy translates into fast answers.  It doesn’t necessarily mean cheap, it just means  that there are few moving parts, so to speak.  The relationships are clear cut – there are anticipated outputs for each input.  Subtract a dimension from your  concept and test that.  For example, if a knob has three dimensions but you want to see how easy it is to grab,  cut it out of cardboard and build a two-dimensional model. Sketch when you can.  Is there infrastructure in place, such as test equipment, that makes it easy to test something?  Quick answers, that’s what you’re after.  You might not be able to go to the moon with your prototype, but you might be able to get more confidence that it’s possible.
  2. Which answers can I get cheaply?  Low cost doesn’t mean quick or easy, though often it does. These prototypes also often aren’t highly accurate. But that shouldn’t matter.  Can you build something out of polymer clay instead of 3D printing it, or molding it?   Find ways to duplicate function using cheap materials or techniques.
  3. Which answers  will give the greatest bang-for-the-buck?  Getting these may be neither cheap to test, nor fast to create, but, at the end of the day, they yield potential answers that could unlock future decisions.  To find these, ask what part, system or sub-system, if you eliminated it from the design, would cripple it hopelessly?  What is key?  The movie “Victor Frankenstein” is playing in the background as I type this.  The electrical charging system is key to energizing Frankenstein’s creations as none of his creations are possible without electricity. Those electrical systems are his bang-for-the-buck systems.  Those are the types of things you want to prototype!

With each of these three types of prototypes, make sure that you have back-up plans.  Make extra parts.  Make variations. Confirm that you understand why things are happening the way they are.

When do I prototype the final product?

Even though it’s often tied to ‘go/no-go’ decisions about a product, prototyping the final version is part of the prototyping process spectrum.   It’s still about knowledge creation, so if you’ve learned what you can about the systems in simple, cost effective methods, and you’ve learned about the ‘bang-for-the-buck’ systems, there shouldn’t  be many surprises.  Still, expect the best, and prepare for the worst.  Have plans in place to deal with those surprises.

Remember, prototyping is about knowledge creation!  That’s why failure is okay. (In fact,  believe it or not, you want some level of failure!)

Let’s summarize what it takes to make sure prototypes are useful.

Make various types of prototypes to answer questions:

Make easy prototypes.  Learn.

Make cheap prototypes.  Learn.

Make prototypes of your key components and sub-systems.  Learn.

Document your learnings.  Build upon what you know.  Experiment to find out what you don’t know, and document it so it can be shared.

Follow this process and your prototypes won’t just be an artifact tested in a one-time event.  They will be doorways to knowledge, and knowledge eliminates fear, allows you to deal with risk, and ultimately, leads to success.

 

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Posted in 3D Printing, culture of innovation, Design, design thinking, innovation, Innovation Tools, problem solving, Workplace Creativity | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Six Essential Guidelines to Failing Forward — Relishing Failure (Even When it Tastes Disgusting)

Posted by Plish on April 26, 2016

In the span of a couple seconds a wonderful orange, blackberry fragrance turned caramely, then malty, then char…

I quickly turned around and saw that my blackberry sauce had become a gooey burning mess.  Taking it off the heat I scraped it into a container and set it on the garbage can to cool.  I then promptly washed the pan and started another batch of my sauce – after all, the French Toast was already done.

As I went to throw away the failure, I grabbed a spoon and tasted this mess.  Who knows, maybe something good came out of it…

 

Carbonized berries with a hint of charred honey – bitter and brown – there really was nothing redeemable from this.  My takeaway?  Perhaps use a little more liquid, a little less sugars, or more importantly, just pay attention better!!

People always talk about failing fast, failing forward, etc.  But failing is only beneficial if we take the time to analyze, or in this case taste, our failures.

What’s needed first when we analyze?

A willingness to look!  If I was simply interested in making the French Toast and plating it; or if I was only interested in getting rid of a smoky mess and throwing it out, I wouldn’t have found out what the gooey stuff tasted, looked, smelled and felt/acted like.

Be curious about the failures no matter how mundane or common they may appear.  As noted in the classic, “The Art of Scientific Investigation“:

 

Discog40

The Art of Scientific Investigation, by W.I.B. Beveridge, Pg. 40

 

The trick then is to look and really question whatever you can’t explain (and sometimes even questioning the things you (think you) can explain can be very useful!) Multiple people can see the same phenomenon and yet see different things.

Some years back, a veteran engineer was convinced that a plastic part was failing because of something happening in the mold.  I was brought in to take a look at the situation as they were short on resources.  Not taking the veteran engineer’s word, I looked more closely under a microscope.  Something didn’t seem right. After looking at the part, and the entire manufacturing and testing process more closely, I realized that the failure was actually due to a testing fixture applied to the part after it was molded.  Good parts were being made bad!  A change in the testing procedure resulted in weeks of saved time and the product was able to launch on time.

So,  while fruitful failing starts with observation, there are actually six points you should think about next time you burn a berry sauce, or something fails. Pay attention to these six points and you’ll be guaranteed to be failing-forward:

  1. Practice being curious about why things fail.  Ask questions, observe, taste, feel, smell.  If you can’t explain something, if something seems odd, follow up!
  2. Can this failure actually be used?  In other words, is it truly a failure? The charred goop may have tasted good – maybe I could’ve used it in its new form? (I couldn’t but I asked this question 🙂 )
  3. Can some aspect of the failure be used?  Okay, so maybe it tastes disgusting, but does this mean that it’s totally a loss?  Maybe charred, seasoned berry goo is good for digestion? (I don’t know if it is, but I’d venture it isn’t.)  Maybe the sticky sugar is a biofriendly adhesive?
  4. What did I do? How did I get here?  Understand the full width and breadth of what was done to create the failure.  Look at the ingredients that went into the failure, the tools and fixtures, the timing, the context/environment.  Understand what truly caused the failure.
  5. Document it!  Jot it down, put it into your phone, take pictures, make recordings. At the very minimum, commit what you can to memory.  Be conscious about remembering what happened so that it doesn’t happen again.
  6. Can you recreate the failure?  At the end of the day, we should be able to recreate the failure (I am quite confident I could burn my sauce again and create the same brown goop).  If we can’t recreate it, we didn’t understand it.

Failing is the easy part.  Turning it into something to build upon takes a conscious, concerted effort.  However, the more you are cognizant of these six points, the more fruitful and the more repeatable your product development efforts will become.

Then the fun REALLY starts!

🙂

POST SCRIPT

~~~The second batch of blackberry sauce was sublime ~~~

🙂

Posted in creativity, culture of innovation, Design, design thinking, Food, innovation, Innovation Tools, observation, problem solving | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Thoughts on 3D Printing and…

Posted by Plish on November 14, 2012

Zintro recently blogged on the future of 3D printing. My thoughts are quoted in the article along with those of some colleagues.

In short, 3D printing (in all its facets) still isn’t on the ‘verge’ of launching into the mainstream.  Don’t get me wrong, there is definitely a place for 3D printing in the world.  I use it myself for testing product fit and function.  But, even with newer materials being developed all the time, there are still limitations, especially for the ‘home printing’ demographic.

There’s also the problem with designing parts on your computer.  Before anything can be printed it needs to first exist in the digital realm. In other words, the part needs to be built twice- virtually before it can be made in actuality.

The expertise to do this isn’t there yet.  Computer Aided Design programs are pretty complicated.  Even newer ones like Autodesk 123D, while they’re simpler, are not suited to anything other than the simplest parts.   At the end of the design process, if someone isn’t willing to plunk down from $500-$5000,  the model has to be sent to a place like Ponoko to be made.

So what does that mean?

There are some cool applications for 3D printing, especially in the medical realm. Still, the perfect fit for something that’s built layer by layer hasn’t been found.

Which brings me to another technology that’s slipped under the radar.  While 3D printing’s promise of “You can make anything for yourself at any time!” is capturing headlines, this other technology is low-cost and capable of creating more than just toys.

~Arduino~

Arduino is an open-source electronics prototyping platform.  The parts are easy to find at a Radio Shack or online.  To bring those parts to life, one needs to learn to program, and programming is a language.

Learning this language is within the reach of anyone with access to the internet or bookstore.  With some basic knowledge, and tapping into a wealth of online expertise, you can design interactive products and environments.

Here’s a video from one of the founders of Arduino.  He echoes many of my sentiments but one line is particularly memorable:

“You don’t need anyone’s permission to make something great.”

The whole concept of intellectual property and patents will face some serious reckoning in the next 10 years.

Posted in creativity, Design, Disruptive Innovation, Entrepreneurship 2.0, Funding Innovation, idea generation, imagination, innovation, Innovation Tools, Open Source, software, The Future | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

 
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