Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Pretotyping: A Different Type of Testing

Have you ever poured your heart and soul and blood, sweat and tears to help test and perfect a product that, after launch, flopped miserably? Not because it was not working right (you tested the snot out of it), but because it was not the right product.

Are you currently wasting your time testing a new product or feature that, in the end, nobody will use?


Testing typically revolves around making sure that we have built something right. Testing activities can be roughly described as “verifying that something works as intended, or as specified.” This is critical. However, before we take steps and invest time and effort to make sure that something built right, we should make sure that the thing we are testing, whether its a new feature or a whole new product, is the right thing to build in the first place.

Spending time, money and effort to test something that nobody ends up using is a waste of time.

For the past couple of years, I’ve been thinking about, and working on, a concept called pretotyping.

What is pretotyping? Here’s a somewhat formal definition – the dry and boring kind you’d find in a dictionary:

Pretotyping [pree-tuh-tahy-ping], verb: Testing the initial appeal and actual usage of a potential new product by simulating its core experience with the smallest possible investment of time and money.

Here’s a less formal definition:

Pretotyping is a way to test an idea quickly and inexpensively by creating extremely simplified, mocked or virtual versions of that product to help validate the premise that "If we build it, they will use it."

My favorite definition of pretotyping, however, is this:

Make sure – as quickly and as cheaply as you can – that you are building the right it before you build it right.
My thinking on pretotyping evolved from my positive experiences with Agile and Test Driven Development. Pretotyping applies some of the core ideas from these two models and applies them further upstream in the development cycle.

I’ve just finished writing the first draft of a booklet on pretotyping called “Pretotype It”.


You can download a PDF of the booklet from Google Docs or Scribd.

The "Pretotype It" booklet is itself a pretotype and test. I wrote this first-draft to test my (possibly optimistic) assumption that people would be interested in it, so please let me know what you think of it.

You can follow my pretotyping work on my pretotyping blog.

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13 comments:

  1. Sounds like FAD to me

    http://thedailywtf.com/Articles/FrontAhead-Design.aspx

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  2. Thanks for this book, started to read it and I liked the IBM and Palm pilot story.
    Pretotyping is really an alternative to small value increments.
    Thanks for sharing it

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  3. Just finish reading the Introduction and seems that this book will open some eyes of some developers in my company :)
    Thanks for the book.

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  4. I didn't read the whole book, but it seems like pretotyping is just another word for minimum viable product (MVP). Am I missing something?

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  5. Can you also link to a HTML format of the pdf?

    I managed to kill my PDF reader and somehow still can not read PDFs in firefox directly. :(

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  6. Interesting idea. Thanks for the book. To me , reading this pretotyping version is good enough. I would not read the full book:)
    Thanks,

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  7. @Adam, if you read further into the book, I talk about MVPs, Eric Ries, and how they related to pretotypes.

    @schevy, sorry I only provide the PDF because the HTML conversion looked awful. Getting another PDF reader should take a couple of minutes.

    @Weining, thank you for your feedback, other people have commented that the length is just right and more than enough to get the message across. Sounds good to me - less time writing, more time pretotyping.

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  8. Pretotyping is really big in the game design industry. Gameloop Boston (#gl11) discussed prototyping and pretotyping during one of the panels. Companies like Demiurge studios use Flash, Unity, or other game maker software before going on to make a prototype. The Tap Lab created a paper pretotype of their game Tap City before coding the prototype.

    I myself have used an old D&D dry erase battle mat to pretotype a game design. The pros at Gameloop got a kick out of that.

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  9. Read it in one sit, ready for my first pretotype of a web application. :)

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  10. I just love this site. Has great content for webmasters. Awesome

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  11. "Make sure your building the right it before you build it right." What an elegant way of putting in a software context something that is try of life in general: "it is far better to do the right thing moderately well than do the wrong thing extremely well". Pretotyping will work well where the development org is tightly integrated with other aspects of the enterprise, particularly marketing, sales and finance; not so well in a 'topdown' command and control structure, where development is simply an implementer of cast-iron reqs given by other depts.

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  12. well, this book is good for beginners or people who have not been exposed to anything but waterfall, V-model and similar development models as it explains fundamentals and importance of early User Validation. The rest will find it known and obvious though I have seen very few professionals who can indeed can implement this idea right. Unfortunately, you can't be taught by a book how to build and test the products right - just the ideas to stimulate the thinking and a sort of check-list to keep in mind when planning for this.

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  13. Awfully right and awfully hard to implement in real life, as the product-organization must have an understanding of this idea. Products that nobody will use not only waste time within the testing, but within all of the company.
    Your thougts are very close to what Marty Cagan states in his great Book "Inspired".
    OLLI

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