How do we take the first step toward building and testing our solution?

1. Your Solutions/ Testing Checklist

We know it's time to validate when we have done any of the items below: 

  • We have competing ideas about what the MVP should include and need to be sure we're on track with real users

  • We have a simulation or prototype of our idea/solution and stakeholders have not seen or used

  • We have gotten feedback through a pilot and not sure how to accommodate all the suggestions

  • We think we are ready to launch and need to be sure everything is in working order (product, process, logistics etc.)

  • We are gaining market share with my product/solution in our target market and we think we're ready to expand  

We are ready to validate when we have: 

  • IdentifIed WHAT is most useful to test/validate

  • Chosen a method to test/validate that is feasible

  • Know what kind of data and analysis will be most useful

  • Know who I need to test/get feedback from and how to engage with them

  • Understand the permissions and policies needed to conduct my test and analyze the data

  • Have the support we need and/or expertise to conduct this test activity

  • Have a logistical plan in place for executing the test

  • Found the cheapest, most efficient, and effective way to test our idea


2. How do we come up with unique solutions to our problem?

One of the best mechanisms to think about when trying to create creative solutions to your problem is use the principles of Design Thinking. The concept of design thinking relies heavily on you properly identifying your problem and developing empathic concern to the users whom you are trying to solve for. As part of that process, you develop what is called a “Consumer Journey Map”. You could think of this map as a stretch out of a whole day in the life of your user. It would also include the positive and negative emotions your user experiences throughout the process. So, for example, in the case of mental health above, you may be focusing on teens and mental health during school, but in reality, your users are at home, doing out of school activities and out with friends, so their day is broader than what you might think. Creating that map of where the users are throughout the day and their interactions in relation to your problem can help broaden your horizon in terms of thinking about where a solution would be ideal. So you may consider developing a solution for your users at home (A virtual therapist or social media platform?) or when they are with their friends (a board game or other app-based game?) or when they are at school (Interaction with school counselors?). So pretty much, for each point on your journey map you try to identify different opportunities for solutions.


Example of a journey map template:

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3. How do I know if my idea is a good solution?

After you have identified your problem(s), you will now be faced with coming up with the solutions to solve them. Your product may be one of your thought-out solutions or could be a collection of different solutions that merge together. 


Developing user personas

Creating user personas is a critical component that can help you craft solutions that target the diverse range of users you have. User personas are generated after your gain insights from your background research, user journey map development and user interviews. For more details on how to better develop your user personas visit this link:

Transitioning from solutions to service/product development:


Low-fidelity prototypes

This type of prototyping is ideal if you want to rapidly test and try a solution out. Since it is low fidelity, it could be built using simple papers or a quick sketch. Or you could be a little more sophisticated and conceptualize it graphically. These types of prototypes are a great way to help convince others about your idea because it allows them to see some type of visual representation for it. It is even ideal to use this type of prototype to get feedback from your peers or a group of users. It is easier and less costly to re-iterate low-fidelity prototypes after feedback than if you go ahead and develop a more sophisticated version of your product without feedback and testing. 


This is essential if you do not have a physical product in hand but are pitching to investors or pitching in competitions or even applying for student funding through HILT or other competitions at Harvard.


This will be the beginning of your user experience and user interface testing that will eventually lead to a high-fidelity prototype, one that closely resembles your real product.

Questions to ask yourself:

  • Have we accurately defined our problem?

  • Have we done background research on this problem?

  • Have we conducted interviews with potential users?

  • Have we created a journey map for potential users?

  • Have we used our  journey map and interview data to generate personas for different type of users?


4. How do we approach pilot testing?

When you run a pilot test, you get an opportunity to test what a small group of people think of your product or idea. Taking note about their thoughts and recording observations related to how they are using your product is extremely valuable.

Before running a pilot test, note down what data you want to gather. When thinking about the data you want to gather think about whom this data will be directed. For example, if you need data for investors vs. a scientific community to convince around your product, the data will vary.


For the education community, it may be worthwhile to run a pilot test that gathers both quantitative and qualitative information, with the potential of publishing your results. This can give leverage to your product/solution when pitching it to investors or sharing it with the broader education community for the purposes of garnering partnerships.


5. What is the best method for validation?

Using one of the validation techniques listed below, can help you face those concerns head on and come away with data to make better venture-critical decisions. Here are some options and links to resources to learn more.


  • Surveys 

  • Interviews

  • Focus Groups

  • Competitive Scan

  • Contextual Observations 

  • Guided Walkthroughs

  • Formative Assessments 

  • Seek out the Experts  

There’s nothing quite like previewing a new learning game with group of six  3rd/4th graders at a local elementary school. We used the Formative Assessment approach to demo the game concept first. Each student was given a set of emoji sticks to vote on what they liked, disliked or were neutral about. Then two of us asked some open-ended questions, while another team member took notes (no recording allowed). Their comments were unfiltered, fresh and enthusiastic.They had lots ideas and “how about”s to offer. All told, it took a few hours of advance prep and an afternoon visit to a school. We came away energized and much more certain about what needed to be in our MVP.- and equally certain what was not needed.

6. What type of testing should we do and when? 

Testing could be the path to a quick answer. It could be as simple as reaching out to people who participated in the focus group that validated your MVP, to ask them to test your product prototype. Most people appreciate the chance to see how their early input has impacted your product design. You value their opinions enough to ask them back. That’s motivating for them –and helpful for you. Sometimes, pausing for a narrowly focused effort, such as spending an afternoon demonstrating a specific feature/function to be sure it works the way targeted users expect, can save you the angst and expense of frustrated/lost customers in the future and perhaps weeks/months of redesign when your product is already in the market.


Testing is another way to build momentum and generate pre-sales for your product such as conducting a Pilot Test or Beta Trial in a local school. It’s an opportunity to craft the perfect scenario- to handpick your early adopters/representative users and collect data in a fixed amount of time. With sufficient planning, a pilot can be a great ‘trial run’ for anticipating and supporting customer needs. I’ve also found that conducting a pilot can be a great morale boost for a venture team-seeing the results of so much hard work, your game-changing idea is a product in action. You can gather proof points, testimonials, and new ideas for future enhancements in the span of hours, days or weeks.


Whatever approach or methodology you ascribe to, there’s a universal product lifecycle that starts with a need/problem and progresses through cycles of ideation and design iterations to develop or produce a product ready for launch. On a fundamental level, I’ve found that it holds true whether the product is a mobile app, curriculum, program, or even a deck of learning cards to be sold on Amazon. With this universality in mind, here’s a brief rundown of the types of testing that you may need at critical milestones in your product journey: 


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7. How to beta test your product and when?

Your last foray before launching your product could be to conduct a limited trial or beta test with real users. Beta Testing your product – a technique most often used with web/mobile apps and platform-based solutions can give you valuable performance data as well as anticipate where new users may need added support.  You can screen and be selective about who you let test your product or make an open call through relevant social channels. Ultimately you can control the access, volume of testers, duration, and time limit for the beta test.


In additional to gaining valuable data before launching your product, beta testing can be part of your go-to-market strategy. Recruiting for beta testers is another way to build excitement about your product.  If you maintain contact, you may convert those same beta testers into your first buyers. Often times, the people most likely to volunteer to be a beta testers are the same people most likely to be an early adopter and advocate for a product they find works well, solves a problem he/ she cares about.


8. How do we conduct usability testing?

Usability Testing is structured approach to testing 1:1 how users perceive, interact and value the features and functionality you have include in the  MVP for your web-site or mobile application. To give you a quick look at what a Usability Test Plan looks like, check this out: (Link to) Sample Test Plan. involves series of tasks; test in person or remotely; gather wide range of data: # clicks, # tasks started or completed, time-on-task, verbal/non-verbal reactions, eye-tracking, kinesthetic responses

As a Harvard student you have access to training modules through and could take an introductory course on usability testing. If you’d like to learn more you can observe a usability test in action or volunteer to participate in a usability test at the User Research Lab at Lamont Library. And when you’re ready, you can take advantage of the equipment and resources available there to conduct your own usability tests.


Resources at Harvard

Know of more resources?