The Validation Board: Business Prototyping review

Manu VollensBusiness Model Innovation

No business plan survives the first contact with the customer. During our “Business Prototyping” phase, we help our clients to build an MVP (Minimum Viable Product). Depending on the type of product or service, we might build a one-page website, physical prototype, paper mock-up or even prototype a B2B pilot-plant. The goal at this stage is to test assumptions on which the business case has been built. Our toolbox is filled with templates, hardware and software to make this happen. In this post I’d like to talk about one of them: The Validation Board

What is the Validation Board?

The Validation Board, by the Lean Startup Machine, is a free tool to test remaining assumptions for your (start-up) idea, product or service. Coming up with new ideas is not the hardest part of true innovation. The hard part is to check if someone is waiting for it in the market. The Validation Board is based on Eric Ries’s Lean Startup methodology. Testing business cases is about getting out of your comfort zone, testing assumptions, learn from the testing, and design a better/improved value proposition; again and again and again.

For more information, explanation on how to use it, and downloads, visit their website.

What are good assumptions to test?

The Validation Board only works well if you test your idea or concept with proper assumptions. Finding a customer and problem hypothesis that fits with your vision is often not that hard. Clients within our innovation projects often have more problems to find the proper assumptions. So what are (good) assumptions? I define assumptions as: the things you know you don’t know, and if not validated, make your current business idea impossible to sell or even launch.

For the validationboard, we define 2 different assumptions: “the leap-of-faith“ assumptions and the product-assumptions. The leap-of-faith assumptions are the riskiest elements of the business idea, the parts on which everything depends. The product assumptions are the ones that will come up if we start building our idea into a product/service.

Let me give you an example of a bad and better leap-of-faith assumption:

(-) Bad: People are interested in our current product/service.
Of course this is an assumption, but not the proper one we want to use as a leap-of-faith one. If you had already a full working prototype that you could sell (we call it a Minimum Viable Product) you could test this assumption. But in the first phase you have nothing. Customers don’t know what they want so of course they would say they’re willing to use it or not. I always assume that people are liars (or don’t tell the truth because they don’t want to be rude). This is the best way to understand that with such an assumption, even after testing, it will remain an assumption.

(+) Better: People are willing to pay for a service within domain X.
Our (business) concept is not final, so we can’t ask something in the first phase about our product itself. The leap-of-faith assumptions often are value hypothesis (are people willing to pay for the value we offer) and growth hypothesizes (can we grow our market, ….) One of the first assumptions Steve Jobs had for the iPod: Are people willing to pay for online music? They did… if not the iPod would have never became a success.

Of course good assumptions can be tested right here, right now. Assumptions of which the answers are part of the future are not good for the validationboard. The assumption “One day people will be able to fly like birds” is an assumption of course, but you can’t test it now so please leave it out.

Tips and tricks for #awesome use
  • Write 1 assumption/solution/customer/… on 1 post-it note. This makes everything clear and understandable.
  • Within a business model, different stakeholders can be involved. You can use different validation boards at the same time to test different “customer hypothesis” eg. One for B2B, one for B2C, …
  • Print the Validation Board as a big A1-poster. If you can laminate it, you even can write on it with whiteboard markers!
Why do we love it?

It helps our clients to get out of the building, talk to – and understand – their (potential) customers, and gives them structure when making pivots around their ideas or concepts. Make corporates innovate like start-ups is not that easy. The good thing about the Validation Board is that it combines the structure & methodology that corporate people are used to with the agile way of working of a start-up.

It’s the best of both worlds combined in one template!