Monthly Archives: April 2014

ProtoStorming to Fail as Fast as Possible!

image courtesy of

image courtesy of

Any organization or company that is dependent on product development for survival, needs to embrace ProtoStorming to fail as fast as possible. This proposed immediate failure is actually the key to a long term positive in product development. Rich Gildersleeve, Chief Technology Officer at DJO Global, coined the term ProtoStorming in the early 2000’s, and has helped DJO evolve and refine the process.

His initial concern was that DJO would conduct a brainstorming session and nothing would come from it. He recognized the need to integrate brainstorming with prototyping to initiate a workable solution to the initial problem.

At a recent innovation conference presentation, Rich described the ProtoStorming process to an audience including Dick Rutan, the first person to fly non-stop around the world. Rutan commented that it was “a great idea” that he would be stealing and using in the future to describe the acceleration of the “concept development phase.”

Anyone who has tinkered in their garage to fix something without an owner’s manual what ProtoStorming means.  Additionally, anyone who has participated in a LEAN manufacturing workshop where an immediate idea was implemented to resolve a high risk problem or increase productivity is engaged in ProtoStorming. They just did not have a word for it.

In the mid 1980’s, a super secret agent named MacGyver was popularized on TV who worked for a fictitious government agency. His specialty talent was in his being able to solve complex problems with everyday materials he found at hand, along with his ever-present duct tape and Swiss Army Knife. He was incredibly resourceful and possessed an encyclopedic knowledge of the physical sciences which allowed him to come up with immediate solutions to complex problems or situations referred to as Macgyverisms. These solutions were ultimately developed using the process of ProtoStorming.

According to R. Gildersleeve, ProtoStorming is based on playfulness, building and creativity combined. This mixture is a Kaizen-like brainstorming combined with rapid prototyping by small passionate teams where as many ideas as possible are investigated in a short period of time. A critical key component to the process is an ethnographic study of the customer’s use of the product. They examine what works and what does not work to focus on the correct design parameters to challenge and change.

The first step in ProtoStorming is a focused brainstorming session to identify potential solutions to a design challenge. The main materials used include easy to find items such as cardboard, duct tape and components from existing products and widgets. The prototype constructed typically has minimal design specifications and it lacks the typical constraints found inherently in a manufacturing environment. What it does have is the ability to quickly design and create a functionally working solution.  Sometimes there are multiple design sketches or concepts that can be ProtoStormed to find out what new ideas or solutions work best.

These new ideas and solutions are not to be confused with “Rube Goldbergs”, which are defined as the accomplishment of something simple through complicated means.  The focus of ProtoStorming is to provide a LEAN manufacturing perspective on your product identifying areas where you can increase value. Identifying immediate solutions to potential problems or design issues gets you back on track faster and headed in the right direction.  The ProtoStorming design process can also include Rapid Prototyping of parts and assemblies through 3-D printing.

There are companies, like IDEO; an international design firm and innovation consultancy founded in Palo Alto, California, which specialize in a human centered & design based approach to help organizations in all sectors innovate and grow. They have thrived by embracing ProtoStorming. Their success relies on thinking forward, and working beyond other companies deep entrenchments in old, outdated processes and design philosophies, which are taken as facts that simply cannot change. By working with these companies, IDEO is able to help them discover entire markets they would have otherwise missed; markets that their competitors might have found.

New flavors of ProtoStorming have evolved at the Sunny Delight Beverage Company where they have created “Customer” ProtoStorming and “Holistic” ProtoStorming. Eric Meyer is using it at Sunny Delight to remove the fuzziness from the front end of innovation. Your customer does not always know the next direction you should pursue, but they can sure tell you where you’re falling flat on your face. A little ethnographic observation of your customer’s problems with your products followed by a ProtoStroming event can double or triple the positive impact to your financial bottom line.


  1. Macgyverism’s –
  2. Rube Goldburg’s –
  3. The Mastery of Innovation: A Field Guide to Lean Product Development
  4. SDBC Holistic ProtoStorming