Prototyping the right way

Prototyping the right way

A prototype is a functional software model with some features. The prototype does not always contain the precise logic used in the actual software application and is an additional overhead that must be considered when estimating costs. Prototyping allows customers to evaluate developer suggestions and test them before implementation.

The four common types of prototyping used in the software industry today are:

Rapid (Throwaway) prototyping

Rapid prototyping is also known as “throwaway prototyping” because the prototype is expected to be relevant only in the short term, such as one sprint in the Agile development framework. It may go through several cycles of feedback, modification, and evaluation. After the sprint, the prototype is discarded, and a new one is built for the next sprint.

Evolutionary prototyping

An evolutionary prototype differs from the traditional software prototype; an evolutionary prototype is a functional piece of software, not just a simulation. Evolutionary prototyping starts with a product that meets the system requirements. It won’t do everything the customer requires, but it’s a good starting point. New features and functions can be added as those requirements become apparent.

In a way, the first iteration of an evolutionary prototype is similar to the minimum viable product (MVP) or software with the absolute minimum functionality to make it worthwhile. The distinction lies in how the requirements for that first version are selected.

Incremental prototyping

Incremental prototyping is helpful for enterprise software with many modules and components that may be loosely related. In incremental prototyping, separate small prototypes are built in parallel. The individual prototypes are evaluated and refined separately and then merged into a comprehensive whole, which can then be evaluated for consistency in look, feel, behaviour, and terminology.

The risk with incremental programming is the look and feel can vary so much among the prototypes; the modules feel like entirely different pieces of software. Therefore, the design team must develop some guiding principles and keep the designers on a short leash to ensure consistency.

Extreme prototyping

Extreme prototyping is more common for web application development. Extreme prototyping is conducted in three phases:

  • Build HTML wireframes to simulate the presentation layer. These web pages have limited interactivity. However, they are complete enough to show users the various user journeys through the application.
  • Transform the wireframes to fully functional HTML pages, tying them to a simulated services layer.
  • Code and implement the services layer.

After months of costly developer time and budget, you don’t want to find out that the features don’t meet real user needs. Instead, starting with a prototype lets you get user feedback on what key features to build. You’ll be able to incorporate user feedback at each stage to ensure you’re spending time and money on the right features. 

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