Agile testing of product and service ideas

“Test your ideas early and test them often!” a statement applied to both physical and digital products and services. When developing an idea into a product or service, it is far better to start testing at inception than wait until the horse has bolted. An idea evolved using co-creation, and agile testing is more likely to meet the needs and expectations of the target market.

Agile testing of products or services shouldn’t be an afterthought, rather the cornerstone of your product development project plan. So why wouldn’t you test a product or service idea before going into full release? For large organisations, with established budgets, there aren’t any excuses. For small to medium sized businesses who work within fixed budgets – particularly start-ups – there are conflicting priorities, and it can be difficult to sell the value of pre-testing an idea.

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The discipline of agile testing can be especially challenging when dealing with entrepreneurial personalities, who tend to have an emotional attachment to the “next big thing”. For a person’s ego, it is a personal risk as well as a commercial one, especially if others shoot down the idea or financial backers push the founder to alter the idea from its original form. It’s only human nature not to want to hear your idea is not worth anything. For some, the personal attachment ‘s too great, and as a consequence, objectivity is thrown out of the window. But, the reality is that if it does not solve a real world problem, it’s just not going to fly.

A failed product or service can be a costly exercise and leave a bad taste in your mouth. It can take months, and sometimes years to recover from the investment loss. If the loss is large, it can set in place a historical precedent that can negatively influence future product and marketing innovation. To be successful, you first need to think of product testing as a way of disproving an idea and not finding a way to support an organisations ideology – ‘we have to release a new product every three months’.

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When agile testing a product concept, if unable to separate yourself from the idea, then work with somebody who can. It is often a good idea to separate the roles of product development and market validation. In larger organisations, this is managed by the product development team and the marketing insights team. For SMEs project resourcing is a challenge, and it is often more effective to seek help from an external market research consultant or trusted business advisor.

Agile testing means start small. Many organisations go to extreme lengths of developing an almost finished product to test with the target audience. Test as early as possible means testing the idea and concept, and not a finished product.

For example, rather than build a physical prototype, test an image, a rough drawing, or even just share the idea in a text description. Creating something intangible may seem counter-intuitive, but the purpose of testing small is to avoid investing too early in a product which may or may not meet a particular need or solve the customer’s problem.

Take an iterative approach when developing the concept into a tangible product or service. Customers’ today want more of a say in the products and services that they buy. Once you have decided what you want to test, decide how you want to test it. Don’t just rely on survey data to ascertain the likelihood of success. The primary failure for quantitative data is consumer understanding. Quantitative data may indicate a need, or even the projected demand for a particular product, but it wont tell you WHY customers would or would not buy the product or service. Surveys will not facilitate the ideation process and are less likely to help transform an idea into something meeting the immediate need of a target market. It may not coma as a surprise that you have to talk to people who are going to consume the proposed product or service. It requires a personal dialogue with customer to deep dive into the behaviours and motivations that will drive product sales.

You may decide to ask friends and close work colleagues what they think of your idea. But those who are closest to you will often be polite and courteous when evaluating the idea – especially if they see it is your passion. People you know may not even be in your target market and simply wouldn’t purchase the product or service if offered to them. Certainly discuss the concept, but if you are going to test the idea you must test it, examine it and scrutinise it with a real life sample of your target audience. Don’t know who that is yet? Then you need to go back to the drawing board and think about who’s problem you are solving.

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For many start-ups or product teams with budget pressures, traditional methods of face-to-face research, such as one-on-one interviews or face to face focus groups, is cost prohibitive. However, new forms of agile research methods help evaluate and validate products quickly. The process of ‘testing early and testing often’ requires several iterations – revisiting the customer in waves, to re-evaluate changes made in response to the longitudinal (over time) conversation.

Agile testing of ideas does not need to be complicated. The objective is to take a simple approach which puts the product team into the shoes of the consumer. For example, selecting a group of ten consumers from your target market and inviting them to a simple chat based focus group, where they take part in a private live chat discussion. In as little as fifteen minutes you can have a conversation to evaluate concepts, or product narratives.  A three-day pop-up community is another method, where you invite people to register for a closed over-time discussion to help develop ideas into products or services. You may also want to run online interviews with decision-makers and power product users who display influence within the relevant industry.

These approaches have one thing in common, they take a simple, agile and iterative approach to product and service testing. The whole process does not have to be a scary exercise or one which will drastically eat into your marketing or project budget. It can be the backbone of your decision-making process during product development. It is economically smarter to test often using an agile and iterative approach rather than spending all your research dollars in one hit. Agile product research is being able to collaborate to develop an idea into a solution that precisely meets the needs and expectations of the end customer.

At the end of the day, there is no guarantee a new product or service idea will be successful, or that it will grow at the speed and pace demonstrated by some of the tech start-ups. A large business may have the resources and dollars to throw out many ideas, expecting only a small percentage to stick. Small to medium size companies can be agile and smarter in the way they approach idea generation and testing. By using real customer conversations in online focus groups, online discussions, and interviews an idea can evolve into a product or service that has a greater probability of delivering a commercial return on the investment.

GroupQuality® is a cloud based agile insights software and consulting service that helps you capture insights with fewer resources. If you need an agile method to engage customers, employees and partners, to communicate, collaborate, ask questions and quickly capture the answers, then we can help you!

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