Written By

Jim VanderMey and Andy Van Solkema

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July 25, 2018

What's your RAT?

Validating your way to a successful product

Riskiest Assumption Test

It’s never been faster, easier, or less expensive to launch a product into the marketplace. But despite these advancements, your odds of failure still hover somewhere between 70-90%. This proves that the resources are almost never the barrier. Instead, your success is predicated on how you use those resources to test your assumptions, often prior to writing a line of code.

At OST, we take an approach called RAT, or your Riskiest Assumption Test. We use the RAT to frame Digital Experience & Connected Products engagements that aren’t just the first version of your product, but tests designed to answer the million-dollar question on which your product’s success depends.

As a product owner, this method can appear like one more thing in the way of your product launch. But to the seasoned product owner, they know that ignoring your RAT in favor of a more traditional product build is one of the most expensive mistakes you can make.

What is your riskiest assumption?

There are three areas your riskiest assumption might live: Feasibility, Viability, and Desirability.

Is it possible to make?

Testing: Feasibility

If you find yourself asking this question, chances are you need a Proof of Concept. A Proof of Concept can be designed to mimic or even simulate the technical elements of your idea to see if it works as expected.

In an IoT environment, you may be testing if it’s possible to collect data from a certain activity – or maybe you’re testing a few different ways to collect data to determine which works best. If this is your riskiest assumption, it’s time to start tinkering to see what works.

Is the business or product viable?

Testing: Viability

Is your riskiest assumption that this idea will serve your business as you expect? This exercise is largely focused on the business model surrounding your product and the impact of that business model on your organization. 

By analyzing the potential business model, you’ll ask if this idea serves your business economically, strategically, or opportunistically. Secondly, it’s important to validate the value of that business model with key stakeholders and achieve alignment. Ultimately, you’ll need to get your stakeholders in a room and decide what success looks like and how it will fit into the big picture.

Do my target customers want it? Will they use it as intended?

Testing: Desirability

These questions are sometimes the most difficult to test and often largely overlooked in product development. Are we building something relevant to enough people that it’s worthwhile to pursue? Will users engage with this how we expect them to?

Instead of launching a fully-featured product and waiting to see what happens, ask yourself, ‘are there ways to simulate my product and measure user behavior first?” For example, a prototype or interface can be a great way to get real user feedback without spending the time and money building a fully functional product. Conducting these experiments guarantees some critical learnings that will inform your end product (or in some cases, whether or not it should be built at all). 

RAT’s vs. MVP’s

We’ve all heard of the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) and it’s been a useful way to scope a project down to its necessary features, rather than boil the ocean. However, several assumptions are built into that MVP, making it difficult to diagnose what is working about your product and what isn’t. And building an MVP often requires much of the same technical infrastructure that your actual product will – so it’s ineffective AND expensive.

Rather that starting with an MVP, using the Riskiest Assumption Test to guide your product development process will have you systematically validating each assumption before you’re over budget and out of runway. 

Do you need support? We’re happy to share project examples that were designed to answer these questions and move forward confidently. Contact us.

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About the Author

Jim VanderMey is the Chief Innovation Officer for OST. Jim has provided the technical leadership and product strategic planning for the organization since the very beginning. Jim is a technology visionary who sets the long and short-term direction for OST. He specializes in seeing the “big picture” of technology, the computer industry, and the business objectives supported by IT. As OST has gained an international reputation, Jim has taught and spoken at conferences in Europe, Japan, and throughout North America.

Andy is VP of Digital Strategy and Experience at OST. He is responsible for the practice, vision and integration of design services while infusing human-centered design expertise with OST’s strong technology experience. Prior to OST, Andy founded Visualhero. In 2016 Visualhero was acquired by OST and continues as a midwestern based experience design studio. Visualhero offers a systems approach to creative problem solving by helping organizations take insights and ideas to action.