Product Development

Failing to better succeed in product development

On Thursday, April 20, 2023, at 8:33 a.m., all eyes were on Texas as SpaceX’s mega-rocket engines ignited to achieve a remarkable feat: propelling the Starship to an altitude of 150km, completing a near-complete orbit of the Earth and then falling back into the Pacific.

However, things went differently than planned. After a few minutes of flying straight up, the spacecraft began to deviate from its intended trajectory, causing engineers to detonate it mid-flight over the Gulf of Mexico.
To the general public, it’s a significant failure that has cost millions of dollars. To SpaceX engineers, it was a successful full-scale test that allowed them to collect valuable data to improve the future mega-rocket. For us, it’s a powerful demonstration of the value of testing in the product development process, and of the importance of managing expectations regarding results.

Optimize product design through successive iterations

SpaceX accepts failure as a valid option. The private American company follows the spiral model, which encourages successive iterations to achieve the best version of the product. This approach enables continuous product improvement and allows for the construction of prototypes at each phase. Most importantly, it facilitates risk identification and management.
At CLEIO, we continuously enhance our product as we develop it by systematically testing each prototype and line of code produced, starting from the beginning of the project. For instance, when designing a device with a graphical interface, we can test the interface with users using wireframes printed on paper to save time during the design iteration process.
Adopting an iterative approach saves time, avoids unnecessary costs, ensures that user and customer needs are better met, and encourages innovation by seeking the best solution.
“Innovation and iteration always go together!”
— Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA Science Associate Administrator

Testing a prototype to get quick answers

Testing a prototype helps to answer hypotheses with predefined objectives and risks. For example, when designing a device with a graphical interface, the user must be able to navigate the menu using the buttons: this is the objective. During the design process, a risk was identified: the user may not be able to achieve his goal. To verify this hypothesis, a real-world test using the prototype is necessary.
In the case of SpaceX, the objective of the test was for the rocket to make a near-complete orbit of the Earth. The risk was that it might not behave as expected during flight or might not even leave the launch pad. However, the primary goal was to collect data to validate the hypotheses of the engineers who designed the vehicle and to inform the development of future prototypes. SpaceX equipped the launcher with sensors to take several critical measurements to achieve this.

At CLEIO, our User Experience team and User Interface Design team also strives to gather user data during testing, starting with the first prototypes. We conduct one-on-one interviews in which a user completes a test scenario using the prototype. This helps our team collect valuable insights to improve the design and provide recommendations to the client.

Whether a test is successful or not, what matters most is the analysis that follows.

Managing expectations regarding test results

Why did the general public perceive the explosion of SpaceX’s rocket as a failure? It was simply because the public’s expectations didn’t align with those of the company.
SpaceX’s primary goal for the first test flight was to launch the massive and complex rocket successfully. During the company’s live video feed, one of the engineers expressed satisfaction, stating, “This is everything we hoped for”. However, the general public did not have access to the same level of information and was disappointed that the test didn’t meet their expectations.
To align our customers’ expectations with our own, we maintain transparency regarding the tests we conduct. We communicate the potential risks and the information we aim to gather to advance the product design.
As you can see, adopting an agile approach to product development offers numerous benefits. It enables frequent and early testing and promotes an iterative process that leads to even greater innovation.

Author & collaborators

Written by
Caroline

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