Pretotyping Challenge, Step 3 — Narrowing your focus

There’s even opportunity on Mars, if you can ‘persevere’ through the setbacks and challenges. 😁

If you’ve gone through Step 1 and defined your initial Market Engagement Hypothesis (or MEH, for short) and have worked out some specific engagements you want to measure through an XYZ hypothesis in Step 2, then you’re all set for Step 3. In this step, we’ll be getting more specific about our audience, what they’ll be doing and why they’ll be doing it.

Here’s what we’ve done so far

Our original MEH was written out like this:

  • If (I offered an international event where practitioners could collaborate, co-create and network with one another while practicing the design sprint methodology in an online environment)
  • Then (facilitators, design and research professionals would pay $249 USD)
  • To (participate in the Global Virtual Design Sprint to learn how to do virtual design sprints)

We then created several XYZ hypotheses that looked like this:

  • 10% of designers, facilitators and researchers would pay $249 USD to participate in the Global Virtual Design Sprint to learn how to do virtual design sprints.
  • 10 Designers would pay $59 USD to attend a 90 minute co-creation session to learn how to conduct a four-step sketch
  • 20% of facilitators would pay $399 USD for a ‘Featured Facilitator’ program to learn both virtual design sprinting and unique approaches to become an advanced practitioner.

To get started with Step 3, you’ll need to choose one of the XYZ hypotheses you’ve constructed. You can always go back to the others when you want to explore other experiments, but let’s narrow your choices down to a single hypothesis to move forward with.

And how do you choose which one to start with? One way to figure that out is to ask yourself the following questions and see how ‘desirable and doable’ your hypothesis may be. Take a look at the following questions and see many you would answer ‘Yes’ to:

  1. Is there anyone in your personal or professional network that matches your target audience described in your XYZ hypothesis?
  2. Can you create what you describe in your XYZ hypothesis in less than 24 hours?
  3. Does your hypothesis have a high risk/reward ratio?
  4. If your hypothesis is a complete market mismatch, will you make some adjustments and try again?
  5. If your hypothesis is an amazing success and does far better than you expected, will you commit more time and effort towards future experimentation?

As you’ve probably guessed, these questions aim to measure your personal investment in the experiment, gauge your intrinsic motivation to press forward in the face of failure, validate your understanding of the audience you’re intending to serve and test your ability to create an experiment in a timely manner. Out of all of the hypotheses that you’ve created so far, there’s probably one that aligns with 3 or more of these questions.

But, if a couple of your hypotheses have 3 or more ‘yes’ answers, that’s great! It means you have more than one option to play with going forward. Just close your eyes, point your finger and choose which option you’d like to start with. Just be careful not to poke too hard, as some computer screens are not meant to withstand a strong jab.

The Incredible Shrinking Hypothesis

Our next step is to evaluate our XYZ hypothesis and optimize it for experimentation. Alberto Savoia refers to this as your ‘xyz’, or the aptly named, “lowercase letter version” of your theory. Essentially, you’re going to ‘hypo-zoom’ the different dimensions of your experiment so they’re a bit niche and ultimately, more testable.

Let’s review our example XYZ hypothesis from an earlier exercise. First, we’ll choose a particular hypothesis from our set of three. We’ll do this by using our earlier process of finding a ‘desirable and doable’ experiment to work with.

  • 10 Designers would pay $59 USD to attend a 90 minute co-creation session to learn how to conduct a four-step sketch

The first one we want to optimize is our ‘Y’, or the audience we’re intending to serve. If we’re using the generic label of ‘designers’, we’re trying to cover a really broad spectrum of people. We’re talking clothing designers, industrial designers, digital designers, shoe designers, designer designers and voice designers… to name a few. You’d be hard pressed to construct a pretotype that would engage all of these types.

So let’s start to narrow our audience by thinking of that one person you could see paying for a 90 minute co-creation session to learn a design exercise. Do you know anyone who would do that? Is there anyone in your immediate professional or personal network that immediately comes to mind?

If there is, write that person’s name down at the very bottom of a five box high table. Something like this:

Olivia Rodrigo and I are best buddies

Then, work upwards from the bottom row, expanding your reach within the boundaries of the definition in the left column. Don’t worry about being accurate here. Just speculate on how your circle of focus would expand and where your original ‘Y’ definition would land.

Notice that our original ‘Y’ in our example is at the very top, referencing a broad ecosystem of options.

Finally, go back to your original XYZ hypothesis and put the name of the person from the very bottom row into the statement. Ours now looks like this:

  • Olivia Rodrigo would pay $59 USD to attend a 90 minute co-creation session to learn how to conduct a four-step sketch

Wait, why just one person? 🤔

By narrowing your focus to a single person, a couple of dynamics occur.

First, you’ll probably re-evaluate the ‘Z’ part of your hypothesis and ask ‘Would this person really want this?’. Or, ‘Does this person have the money, time or attention for what I’m selling or asking for?’

Second, you no longer have to worry about where to find the community you want to sell to. You have direct access to them, by proxy, through this particular person.

Third, isolating your efforts to a single person helps you answer the most foundational question for your experiment: Who do I want to help the most? If you’re not getting specific on who you want to serve (and potentially establish a great customer relationship with), you’ll be casting too wide of a net to really understand what people want.

Making Time for Olivia

This singular focus on your ideal customer also gives you a better idea of the larger audience you’re intending to serve and, more importantly, validate and/or invalidate your assumptions about your hypothesis as early as possible.

With this laser focus on your highest potential customer that you have direct access to (where your distance-to-data is at its lowest), you’ll quickly learn if your idea could be successful or not.

So, knowing Olivia like I do, I’d probably refine my statement slightly to reflect an engagement model I know she would appreciate:

  • Olivia Rodrigo would pay $49 USD to attend a 60 minute co-creation session to learn how to conduct a four-step sketch

In this example, I know that Olivia is pressed for time, so I lowered the required time and adjusted the price accordingly. This is something I think would appeal to both her lifestyle and how she likes to learn (which is, learn by doing).

(And just a heads up, you’ll probably want to get some time with this person in the future. Ask for an appointment a week or two out while you prepare your initial pretotype.)

Now it’s your turn!

Look at the different XYZ hypotheses you have and narrow it down to a particular hypothesis, based on the 5 question criteria outlined above. Next, explore the different dimensions of your audience and choose the one person you know in your network (personal or professional) that would be perfect for what you’re trying to sell or promote.

In Step 4, we’ll be conducting our interview with Olivia to see what she understands and comprehends about our pretotype. We’ll also be covering how to ask for ‘skin in the game’ to gauge their desirability for your idea, product or service.

If you enjoyed the article or found it worthwhile, please share it with others you know. Otherwise, leave a comment and let me know what you thought!



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Robert Skrobe

Robert Skrobe

I run Dallas Design Sprints, The Design Sprint Referral Network and Talent Sprints.