Although prototyping has manufacturing connotations associated with product development, it applies to business processes. Business analysts who subscribe to the BABOK can impress their colleagues with knowledge of 34 techniques to “identify, describe, and validate user interface needs.” Prototypes reveal business requirements, confirm business requirements, and unveil areas of conflict
Prototyping can be accomplished by the simple means of putting pencil to paper or using sophisticated, computer-based tools to calculate percentages and assign budgets. Regardless of the means of producing the prototype, the goal remains the same: deliver the prototype to stakeholders and collect their feedback. Use that feedback, which should include both criticisms and suggestions for improvement, to adjust the prototype so that it becomes the process, service, or product that best serves the purpose for which it was designed.
When to Use Prototyping
The decision of when prototyping best serves your purpose depends upon the complexity of the problem to be solved. Some very complex problems and most very simple problems do not lend themselves well to prototyping. Simple prototypes work best to stimulate discussion, more complicated ones map out the solution to the problem you’re working to solve and can be adapted to accommodate changes in scope or direction.
Sudden changes in scope or misalignment of stakeholder expectations can doom a prototype. Management of stakeholder expectations becomes crucial, or the prototype cannot address the original problem. Avoid getting bogged down in the little details. Like a map doesn’t show every hill and ditch, an effective prototype shows the main path on how to get from point A to point B. Include only what is required to achieve the desired results.
Creative Bloq describes three different approaches to prototyping: magic design, limited fantasy, reality-based design.
“Magic design” ignores reality. It presents the “pie in the sky” goal that disappoints because either the technology doesn’t exist, the skills aren’t available, or the budget is too small to attain that lofty goal promised by salesmen. The refusal to allow reality to limit creativity translates into poor design that doesn’t fulfill expectations. When one creates a product or process that must work in the real world, then reality must, perforce, limit ambitions.
“Reality-based design” works firmly within the constraints of current technology, current ability, current understanding. It often creates useful, pragmatic solutions, but aspires to nothing more. It meekly accepts the limits imposed. Creativity does not flourish here.
“Limited fantasy” works well within the constraints of the medium. It pushes the envelope, but doesn’t expand so far beyond it that achievement always hovers out of reach. This harnesses the power and ambition of creativity to the workhorse of practicality to result in innovative thinking and new solutions. This type of prototype can simulate novel and difficult-to-implement technologies
The importance of a prototype lies within its ability to guide development. It cannot guide development without a thorough understanding of the available resources and demands for performance. That understanding arises from analysis of the tasks to be performed, goals to be achieved, and products to be manufactured.