The Power Of Prototyping
Updated: Aug 30, 2019
I’ve spent the last couple of weeks connecting with fellow Business Analysts, Agile Practitioners and Systems Thinkers on Twitter, hitting up the hashtags to consume as much relevant content as I can. A tweet from @BuisnessAHub regarding prototyping piqued my interest and gave me the spark for this blog post.
The tweet also made me realise that I had actually been using prototypes to help with requirements gathering for a few years, I just hadn't thought to put the prototype label on what I was doing.
My (incorrect) preconception of using prototypes was that they were only relevant to the creation of physical objects. I think I read somewhere that the inventors of the Blackberry struggled to sell the idea of a device with a mini-qwerty keyboard to investors until they created a prototype that could be held and played with (someone please tell me if that’s BS and I’ll edit the post). My view was wrong.
The tweet from @BusinessAHub talked about what could be used as a prototype and it included things like apps and wireframes but it also mentioned drafts and sketches. It’s these last two that gave me that eureka moment that actually, I’m a prototyper!
So how can prototyping help you during the requirements gathering process?
Using prototyping as a tool in addition to writing out requirements gives a visual depiction of the what are generally text heavy requirements or user stories. They can help developers and testers understand the desired outcome the project team are looking to achieve and reduce the time spent clarifying what the user stories really mean and kill any misinterpretation early in the development lifecycle.
I recently worked on a project where I was tasked with leading the analysis to gather some digital customer journey change requirements. After the usual set of workshops and stakeholder interviews to look at the current journeys and documentation, along with a bit of negotiation with Brand and Compliance teams, I built all the user stories to capture the changes to the journey screens, documents and some of the back-end workflow. They were captured in sufficient detail and complexity but it was clear that there could still be some misinterpretation with things like where exactly on the screen we wanted new wording, or which sentence needed amending in a document.
To remove the potential misinterpretation for the screen changes, I created a slide deck where I used the Snipping tool to capture images of the screens impacted and added comment boxes and arrows to illustrate the changes detailed in the user stories. The comments also included a reference back to the relevant user story to create full traceability.
For the document changes, I took a PDF copy of the document and highlighted the sections that needed amending, also adding comments which again included a reference back to the user story.
The result was a clear set of detailed user stories with visuals showing exactly where those changes needed to be made and to which artefacts. When I did my walkthroughs with the developers and testers and didn’t get a single question. I didn’t have any during the development and test phases either, apart from, “how does this look?” It was a perfect example of fire and forget requirements. What I hadn't realised at the time was that I could consider that activity prototyping.
Next time you’re capturing requirements, think about whether any prototypes could help visualise the changes you want to convey. It could be something akin to what I described above, or it could be a set of wireframes (and these could be done using a proper wireframe tool, or hand drawn on a piece of paper), a stickman drawing or a process flow. Anything to help tell the story of the outcome you’re looking to achieve.
Finally, if you haven’t used the Snipping tool either then have a play with that. It will literally change your life.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on prototyping as a tool for BA's, the value it can add and whether you’ve used that technique in the past. Please leave a comment below, or start a conversation with me on LinkedIn or Twitter.
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