Prototype now, save time later

Prototypes can require a lot of money and development hours, but they are worth it. senior editor Matthew Osborn sounds off on why prototypes can save you from bigger problems down the road.

Many developers avoid prototyping because the effort requires a significant investment of time. But don’t kid yourself: Prototypes are worth every minute and every penny you invest. For me, the prototype is most valuable when I am pushing nontechnical business types to make a decision. A prototype is worth a thousand words when your coworkers are having a have a hard time visualizing the final product. If you’re not convinced of the value of prototypes in you dev shop, consider what a prototype can do for you. A well-designed prototype can:
  • Nudge an indecisive business driver into making the go/no-go decision.
  • Shine the spotlight on potential long-term design or maintenance hurdles.
  • Prevent flippant design decisions from derailing or disrupting a project. At first blush this may sound innocuous, but it is one of my favorite reasons for prototyping. There is no reason that a disagreement over the background color of a Web page should derail a project. Paint a picture with the prototype, pick the color, and get on with the work of building the thing.
  • Provide a map for large development teams. A strong big picture can help keep your development team on the same page by showing how all the pieces are supposed to fit together.
  • Inspire better input from the marketing department. Sometimes nontechnical folks can ask better technical questions if they can point at a prototype instead of fumbling with confusing technical jargon in the design spec.

Thwart scope creep. Prototypes can set project specs in concrete, or at least keep scope creep in check after development efforts get under way.

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What’s the downside of prototyping? The whole process of creating a prototype requires that you ante up development resources up front. The reward of prototyping is that you can save yourself headaches down the road, especially headaches caused by the wishy-washy business driver who won’t sign off on a design, or who makes last-minute changes and additions to feature sets. You want more reasons? Check out the article "Prototypes save time and money and reduce problems."

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