Person mapping out project prototype

Project Requirement Gathering: Prototyping

Coming towards the end of your project requirement gathering, prototyping your deliverable is a great way to get feedback. You present a prototype to your stakeholders so they can see where you want to take the project and you can see how your initial ideas play out.

A prototype is a visualisation of what you’re planning to create. It can be a software mock-up or a functioning model of the end product; whatever you need to get detailed feedback from your client.

It’s a costly process to undertake. To ensure you know you’re on track with the process we’ll cover:

  • How to use a prototype to gather project requirements
  • Where prototyping fits in with your planning
  • The positives you’ll take away from the process
  • Some of the negative elements to watch out for

Giving you everything you need to know about prototyping as part of requirement gathering for your project.

Prototyping in use

Once you’ve covered most of the processes in your requirement gathering, such as document analysis, brainstorming, and interviews, you should consider making a prototype. This is a way to see the functions in the end product.

You need to get a good understanding of what you’re aiming for before making a prototype. There can be a fair amount of work that goes into it so you don’t want to have to make too many.

A prototype is there the give your stakeholders a chance to see what the final output will feel like. At this point, they will be able to tell you:

  • What’s missing
  • What’s unnecessary
  • What needs to function better
  • Other inputs or outputs you need to consider
  • What doesn’t make sense

At this point, you’ll need to document what you’re told is needed and go back to the drawing board. Another prototype needs to be produced and shown to the stakeholders and end users to see what other requirements may crop up.

Planning for prototyping

You need to have a reasonable idea of what your project requirements are before making a prototype. Putting it too soon in your plan is going to make it an unnecessarily costly and time-consuming element of your project.

Prototyping works best after you’ve assessed the current systems and spoken with the users. This way, you know the direction of travel and have a solid grounding for what you want to produce.

Plan for this phase of requirement gathering to take some time – you may need to go back and forth several times. You will create a feedback loop, with you producing a prototype, getting feedback, refining the prototype, eliciting more feedback, further refinements etc.

A lot of time can get eaten up by more and more demands and new prototypes being produced. Plan to have an end date or limit on prototypes.

It’s important that you take guided feedback on the prototype and distinguish true requirements from the bells and whistles some people would like. It might be useful to treat feedback sessions like a focus group to keep things on track.

Reasons to prototype

When you create a prototype to present to your client, you’ll get very specific feedback and details about what they need. Rather than asking them to use their imagination for what they want, they can work within a structure.

Some other positives of adding prototyping to your project requirement gathering include:

  • Continuous contact with the client is encouraged, you have to seek their input regularly
  • High quality results are achieved because the client has been able to clearly outline what they expect
  • A more accurate product is made since the prototype gets refined down to exact requirements early on

Prototyping: be aware

As positive as the outcomes can be when going through the prototyping process as you gather requirements, there are some negatives to weigh into the equation. Some things to take into account are:

  • It can be a costly process, depending on the product being prototyped
  • The project can get stuck in a feedback loop
  • There is a lot of time required to make many iterations of the prototype

Conclusion

There are certain projects that lend themselves easily to prototyping during project requirement gathering. When you’re working with an item that can easily be adjusted such as software or a 3D printed item, it shouldn’t rack up too much time or money.

You need to ensure that you allow enough time for prototyping. Set hard limits on how many iterations will be made and how much your budget to be able to prototype successfully.