Most intrapreneurs start their journey as someone with nothing more than good intentions. They want to help the company they work for to move forward. While having these good intentions is a great first step, it can get hard when it comes to finding ways to move their ideas along. There are many ways that a budding intrapreneur can approach this, from finding champions to help get their idea in front of the right people to just being persistent in their quest to make a positive change. Sometimes though, the problem is that their idea can just seem too abstract. So, how can an intrapreneur make their idea more tangible to help people understand it and see the possibilities?
When it’s hard to verbally express an idea, or the benefit that will come from implementing such an idea, you need to actually show people and make them feel it (sometimes literally, sometimes figuratively, and sometimes both). You can do this is by building a prototype. According to Walt Maclay, who wrote the article “Prototypes Help Intrapreneurs Drive Change” (which inspired this article), “At the simplest level, a prototype is an initial or preliminary model of a product. Prototypes can be used to test feasibility. Does the design function correctly? To test desirability, the prototype can be put in a customer’s hands to answer questions about how well the product satisfies the customer’s market requirements. […] Prototypes can be used to answer questions about how a product might fare within a market and allow developers to test their assumptions on a minimum viable product before spending lots of time, money and resources on an idea that might not sell.” In addition to what Maclay has listed in his description, they not only help an idea to evolve to the point where it can become a real product, but prototypes can also be used to just get an idea off the ground in the first place.
Many people may think of a prototype as a near fully functioning but not fully designed product. However, early stage prototypes can actually take many different forms. Maclay says, “In early stages, spreadsheets, illustrations, storyboards, wireframes, paper prototypes and other low fidelity prototypes may be sufficient to generate the feedback you need for initial buy-in. Later product decisions may require a functional prototype or proof of concept.” This is good news for intrapreneurs that might have a great idea, but not the technical skills to build it out. The point is that coming up with something even slightly more tangible than just words to describe an idea can be incredibly valuable in selling it through.
Selling your idea through is just one of the benefits of creating a prototype. Maclay states that there are three reasons why prototypes are actually quite helpful for innovative ideas:
- Ability to quickly test assumptions
- Quickly learn about users and technology integrations (what works and who is interested)
- Ability to make progress for development (get additional funding)
First, a prototype can help an intrapreneur test out their idea. It’s one thing to come up with an idea, but sometimes no one knows if an idea will actually have legs until it’s tested. Building a prototype (in any of the formats mentioned above) can help with starting to test how the finished product might be received, or if the idea can even be executed (it’s not a bad thing to aim for the sky, but it still needs to be achievable).
Building on that idea, the second thing that a prototype can be useful for is quickly learning more that can help support your idea or how things may need to change before pursuing the idea in full. Allowing people to get more involved with an idea will help to flush out the parts of it that work, the parts that don’t, and bring to light things that may not have even been thought about with the initial concept.
Lastly, and bringing us full circle, a prototype can help show that this is more than just an out of the blue idea. Creating something that helps to better show off an idea also shows that more thought has been put behind it, whether the thoughts are what it might look like, how it might actually work, how it can change things in the future, and more. By just having that extra layer of work to back up an idea, there’s a greater chance that it will be taken seriously and given a chance to move forward. Maclay says this can help secure additional funding, but it can also help to secure the initial buy-in to receive funding or support in the first place.
Creating a prototype around a project that hasn’t even been green-lit yet may seem like extra work to some people, but for intrapreneurs that have the motivation, a prototype will also help your idea to find life.