Prototyping isn’t just used when Car Manufactures are proposing their futuristic designs. It’s also a useful tool in software development projects.
When a Business has a need or a challenge it’s common and understandable that they want to take steps to resolve this issue as quickly as possible.
One of the problems that they may face, is the difficulty of defining what they actually require to alleviate their pain.
Consider an organisation is struggling to manage the process of recording time cards for employees. Their team is working from several locations on a number of different contracts or tasks.
This is a common problem and one that can be difficult to manage.
Historically, this business handled the task on paper with the most manual of processes.
As time and technology progressed, the company favoured an Excel-based approach for collecting the data.
Costings were calculated for the associated wages and/or invoices for the customer.
Now a much more sophisticated solution is in place that links the payroll system and CRM systems for invoicing.
Sophistication can equal complexity. Just because a technological solution is used, it doesn’t mean that the process is efficient and effective.
The individual employees use excel to record the hours worked.
A data analyst is required to input this information into an application for assigning the hours to the relevant contract. Once complete, an e-mail is sent to the finance department with the hours for the worker’s wages to be processed.
They’re always waiting for the input, putting pressure on each department. There is too much room for human error and dependency on individual people. In addition, the excel sheets become incorrectly formatted and it’s difficult to govern the version control.
The New Solution
An organisation wants this process to be streamlined and automated. This issue is, they’re struggling to articulate exactly what the new solution should look like and precisely how it works.
Step forward the Analysts & Consultants
After gathering the requirements and understanding the existing process, the project team should start to get a clearer picture of the AS IS and the TO BE processes.
The area or the GAP in the middle, is going to be the project for the new solution.
Although the team may have an understanding of this GAP and the requirements, it doesn’t mean they know definitively how the new solution should look and how it will perform.
Tools for Support
A prototype or proof of concept can be a suitable way to communicate this to the customer.
By creating a mock-up solution from the requirements, the project team can demonstrate what a new system could look like, how users interact with the interface etc.
This visualisation means that the customer will find it much easier to provide feedback, refining the suggestions into a better end product.
Advantages & Disadvantages of Prototyping
Prototypes don’t suit every project or situation. As with everything, there are pros and cons of using this tool.
- Great for visualisation
- Effective for finalising UI design
- Useful if stakeholder’s requirements are ambiguous or vague
- Helps support brand-new concepts
- Smaller investment to test if an idea is worth pursuing
- Demonstrates the possibilities of a solution
- Takes time and additional cost
- Limited functionality could alter the perception of the finished solution
- Can increase expectations for the project delivery schedule (Users see something working after a few days, they expect the rest of the project to follow the same pace)
- The project team can focus too much on one aspect and miss the main objective, or the bigger picture.
Overall, prototyping is a useful tool to assist a project team during the design phase of a project.
It can be very effective for the agreement of the design elements.
The added layer of visualisation if perfect for showing users what they can expect from a new solution.
However, it shouldn’t be automatically included for every project as it can absorb unnecessary time and budget. If the requirements are functional and clearly understood it’s also not useful to spend additional time.
One of the advantages of developing on a platform like ServiceNow is the configuration and time spent producing a prototype isn’t wasted. This work can often be reused and extended during the main project.