Piloting vs. Prototyping

So last week, Ryan posted a pretty excellent response to the piloting vs. prototyping question I threw his way. His post really caused me to look at few things in a new light, especially how risk plays into the equation.

Ryan’s point about piloting and the investment and involvement of the entire organization is an important one. I think both have their place. Maybe prototyping helps you refine what you do and piloting helps you refine how you scale what you do.

I know I’m dancing a thin line on semantics, but I think the intentions behind the actions are important. As you do something, you have to ask yourself, ‘do I want to learn, or do I want to be right.’ (I think rarely are those one in the same.)

I loved Ryan’s graph, so I challenged myself to see if build on it, let me know what you think.



  1. So, I’ve been following your dueling blogs for some time and wanted to add to this great discussion. From a methods point of view I think the difference between a prototype and a pilot is directly tied to constraints. Ryan framed this around number of experiments. I’d tweak that to focus on the number of constraints you need to introduce in a pilot. These constraints help you to understand what the individual impacts of those experiments are.

    Prototypes are representations of what could be. Few constraints.

    Pilots are simulations of what we thing the design solution should be. Many constraints.

    Metaphorically speaking prototyping is to pilots, as imagining is to hypothetical thinking. When you imagine you are pretty constraint free (limited buy your own creativity). When you are thinking hypothetically you take an imagined scenario and simulate its outcome with some real world constraints.

    Working on my graph now ☺

  2. Gabe…

    I’m so flattered you’ve been dipping into this conversation. I think you’re dead on, infact I had some similar thoughts after Ryan posted. I’m way out-classed against you mental heavy-weights :).

    Send your graph/visual (or whatever). I’d love to post it, I’m sure we’d learn a ton!!

  3. I was so confused… I thought this was my blog for a second.

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