The Perils of Prototypes

Prototyping a process or system is a great way to get input from the impacted user communities before spending enormous amounts of time and effort in your actual implementation.  Always remember, though, “Users know what they don’t like when they see it”.  By using a prototype, you can begin to draw out those unstated requirements from your users long before the actual solution is fully designed or built.

However, you must always be sure that the users who get to test drive that solution prototype are consistently made aware that it is just a shell, not the actual process or system.

While working on a system long ago and in a company far, far away, the project team determined that prototyping was the best approach to use.  The developers knocked a prototype together and scheduled meetings with users of the existing and the planned new system.  We also included indirect system users further downstream who interfaced with and received data from our proposed solution.

This prototyping experience was interesting to say the least.  The users spent hours making suggestions on things like screen layout, color, and the error messages that they wanted to see on the screens.  Basically, they concentrated on the human interface and usability piece of things. This is one of the strengths of prototypes – they get folks to look at their interface with the solution and tell the project team what they like, don’t like and what might be changed to make things look or work better.

In these prototyping sessions with the project team, the users didn’t say a word about or ask any questions about the functionality behind those cool screens and their interaction with those screens. In retrospect, I should have been concerned about that lack of dialogue since it is a warning sign that no one is looking “under the covers” at what is driving what the users see.  Looking back, I consider this a “perils of prototyping” lesson well learned!

To make the situation even more challenging, the higher level managers didn’t say too much about the solution functionality either.  They just took one look at the screens and smiled happily, “Nice work, you finished the application ahead of schedule!” Ouch!

Check out Learning Tree’s introductory business analysis course if you are looking for a great way to get started or fine tune your skills as a business analyst on your projects, including those perilous prototyping skills.  This course allows you to practice and fine tune your skills in developing requirements for your projects and their proposed solutions.

Happy prototyping!

Susan Weese

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