If your business stands still, chances are it will fail. Customers want more. Competitors are circling. You need to innovate to succeed, but how? One way is to transform your systems to respond faster to market demands. This can be complex and risky – so how do you start? How do you keep things simple and minimise risk? Answer: Use The Power Of Prototyping.
Prototyping means testing a concept or process. For example an idea that allows your staff to operate more efficiently, makes your customer service slicker or maybe allows you to offer something your competitors don’t.
Because prototyping doesn’t involve much up-front cost or resource, it is an ideal low risk way to ‘test the water’.
3 Good Reasons To Prototype
Firstly you can use it to Learn. Your developers can use prototyping to test drive new technologies. New tools & frameworks are emerging all the time. Why not use them to see how they could solve a problem you’re facing? For example one of our clients transformed the speed and ease at which they could change their software systems by using a ‘containerisation’ technology called Docker – a concept that was proven by prototyping a mini-release cycle. The Thoughtworks technology radar is an excellent resource to discover the latest trends shaping the future.
Secondly you can use prototyping to Educate/Excite your stakeholders. Sometimes actions speak louder than words and instead of explaining a concept to your users, you can show them! By demonstrating a prototype you can get very rich early feedback, educate users about your ideas and hopefully generate a lot of excitement.
Thirdly prototyping helps you Test your concept. The best way to validate an idea is to capture it in a proof of concept and watch how users respond. You can use this technique in an iterative manner – releasing a succession of prototypes, each one building on the knowledge gained in the previous cycle. Eventually you’ll have a heap of knowledge about how to build the real thing, and you’ll probably learn things that surprise you.
Types of Prototyping
You may think that prototyping sounds like a lot of work, but it doesn’t have to be. There are levels of prototypes, starting with wireframes created with pencil and paper!
A wireframe is a ‘lo fi’ sketch of a user interface that you can use to get feedback from your users. It’s an extremely low cost way of starting productive conversations. You can change your sketch instantly; if your users don’t like it then just throw it in the bin and start again. We regularly use an excellent wireframing sketch tool called Balsamiq.
One you have a clear direction, you can use functional prototypes to educate/excite your users, or to help further prove your concept. Functional prototypes are a little more involved and require software development expertise. They are working applications with a lot of ‘smoke and mirrors’ to simulate something like the real thing. Functional proof of concepts can also be used to validate technical ideas, or as a vehicle to learn new technologies in a safe environment.
Another useful form of prototype is a ‘technical spike‘. These are used for the purposes of testing the feasibility of an idea from a technical perspective. It’s not something that is usually presented to target users, but is instead used to check that an idea is technically possible. For example you may be developing a web portal that needs to display data from a legacy system. If the project rests on the feasibility of this then it’s a good idea to test how you might do it before proceeding further.