If you’ve ever been in an amateur theatre production you’ll know that they are put together on a shoestring. In fact, even in professional theatre the budgets remain extremely tight as overheads and expectations rise. Just like any other business, theatre companies need to make money, but because most theatre producers honed their skills in a cash strapped environment, they excel at creating magic from very little- and as a result they have systems and processes which other businesses can learn from.

The usual process goes something like this. A production is chosen. The budget is fixed. The director, set and costume designer are engaged. They meet to discuss a concept, then they outline it with management. What’s next? What do they produce to test their idea? What do they do to make sure that all the set elements, costumes etc will work in the theatre space they have, will fit within the budget restrictions and will meet management’s expectations?

They create a design model in pictures or out of basic crafting materials. They present this prototype to the key stakeholders, receive feedback and develop it further. Numerous iterations later, they present their model again, this time to a larger group of stakeholders. Again, they take the feedback and make changes as they need to.

Later, they enter the rehearsal room where their ideas are put to the test practically. A scenic element doesn’t work- they make changes, a set piece is difficult to manoeuvre around - they practice until it’s second nature, a costume is difficult to perform in – they adjust it. They’ll test their product in front of test audiences for feedback and make improvements based on their advice and that experience. By the time opening night rolls around, they know they are ready to launch and they can anticipate what the audience response is going to be.

In stark contrast, many businesses either go straight from idea to launch (i.e the build it and they will come mentality) or spend far too much time and money developing a near perfect prototype without garnering sufficient user validation for their idea in the early stages. Even when some businesses do undertake stakeholder consultation, it’s often so late in the day that due to budgets and time constraints only minimal changes are possible, or the project is canned completely. If instead they’d followed a process of low-fidelity prototyping, testing, stakeholder engagement and experimentation like our theatre producers, the story would have been very different. 

It’s not everyday that the words theatre and business innovation are used hand in hand, but with their low-fi design models and floor-run rehearsals, the theatre industry were probably one of the first to create the MVPs (minimum viable products) that are now synonymous with silicon valley and start-ups. And that’s just the beginning of the lessons this industry can offer.

The moral of this story is that whether you’re a large multi-national or seeding a business, the benefits of being lean, experimenting, testing and responding to user feedback will always be paramount to your ongoing success. When it comes to launching an idea, it ain’t over until the fat lady sings, but when she does, you'll want to be sure it’s the right note at the right time. Follow a process that's validated by the end user, and you’ll hit it every time.


Want to know more about prototyping, user-centric innovation and other elements of Design Thinking? You can download this free guide by clicking on the image below. 




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