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From idea to Proof-of-Concept in 8 weeks

I was recently lucky enough to be part of an early stage product development project. The project is quite exciting, as it combined three of my passions; healthcare, efficient value delivery and product development! Together with the team, we boldly set out to explore a new area for all of us, medical imaging, with a challenging timetable and an ambitious customer. And we were able to deliver a Proof-of-Concept, ready for user testing, within the budget and ahead of schedule.

As this is an exciting new product and still a secret, we cannot share the details of what we worked on, but I can share some of the challenges that made this so exciting and some of the lessons we learned.

One of my superpowers (or at least something I talk about a lot), is focusing on the essential. This project was a textbook example of a focusing challenge, but we succeeded pretty well as a team. The customer had already thought about the product quite a lot and had many ideas on what could be done (and fallen in love with some of them). They also had not spent much time prioritising those ideas.

We had a new tech, a new domain and a new team, so both our understanding of the user needs and the ability to estimate what could be done within the budget was initially low. We had a tight budget, a definite requirement to deliver something usable, and some dependencies outside of our control. So how did we succeed?

  • The key was to have a motivated and active Product Owner, familiar with the concept and customer aspirations. Our Product Owner was new to Agile and the role, but he was keen to learn and capable of analysing the options and taking input from the team (and other stakeholders).
  • We invested in user research in the beginning, learning something valuable from the interviews, helping us define a goal for this POC, and drop some features from the backlog.
  • We relentlessly reminded ourselves and the customer of the goal, timeline, and nature of a Proof-of-Concept. We often said things like: “Not everything will need to be done now. This can be done later”“Let’s focus on those features that will help you learn the most with the user testing intended to be done with POC”“This is something that can be decided later”“This has dependencies on other, bigger work”“The users did not see value in this for now”. These discussions helped us and the Product Owner focus on the essential.

As always, when you are working on physical technology products, you will have some issues with HW availability. Especially with such a short project, we had to make some compromises on using older but available tech for this POC. This means we will later need to do some rework, to get the real hardware integrated, but at least we can now get the learning started with the physical POC for user testing.

We had an eight-week project with vague requirements and a customer hungry for value. So, of course, Agile methods was our choice to enable quick value delivery and adapting according to the learnings. However, as this product would be considered a medical device, we wanted to fulfil the requirements of medical device regulations and standards (mainly ISO 13485 and IEC 62304) already for this Proof-of-Concept.

Our partner Atostek has a certified process for this development, applying Scrum methodology. The main requirements are related to documentation, design reviews and traceability of requirements (requirement – development task – quality assurance). According to this initial experience, the process worked pretty well, allowing us to focus on delivering increments of value while creating traceability. We faced some situations where we needed to find creative ways to react to maintain our flow of value delivery, for example finishing a sprint a week early and starting the next one without much pre-planning.

Thanks to the team and customer, we had fun and learned a ton. Looking forward to the next stages!

Text: Eeva Lennon, Metosin

Metosin is Atostek’s subcontractor in a medical device software project.