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What is prototyping

Creating prototypes and PoCs (Proof of capability) are very important in product engineering. In fact it is so vital that mainstream production cannot happen in any industry without prototyping. Prototypes help in assessing the feasibility of the concepts and ideas and bridge the gap between vision and reality. Prototypes are used not only in the user interface design, but technically too prototypes and PoCs play a key role in taking the architectural, design and technology decisions.


Why to create prototypes and PoCs

Prototypes and PoCs help teams transition from the problem space to solution space in a logical manner. They help resolve the technical unknowns and help the team try newer approaches and technologies. Prototypes provide the team an opportunity to assess the feasibility of their ideas and validate their approach to the solution. Also, they give confidence to the client and stakeholders about the team's capability in delivering the projects or products. Prototypes and PoCs also enable better understanding of the problems and effective communication among the various teams involved in the product development.

What are high-fidelity and low-fidelity

Fidelity is a measure of how close the prototype is to the actual solution and the reality. It gives an idea of how quickly the team can produce the solution, without repair or re-work to the prototype. Based on the fidelity, prototypes and PoCs can be classified into three different types of fidelity:

  • High fidelity
  • Medium fidelity
  • Low fidelity

A high fidelity prototype takes far less effort and time to be turned into the actual product whereas a low fidelity prototype takes longer to be transformed into the solution. For instance, a complete, end-to-end working model with all the layers (front end, middleware and back-end) for a single module in a product could be considered as a high fidelity PoC. On the other hand, a low fidelity PoC could be a scaled down version of an approach to the database schema that needs to be completely worked upon to create the actual database solution.

When is prototyping relevant

Working on prototypes and PoCs is helpful when the team wants to validate a critical part of the product or application. It is also relevant when a new part of the product needs to be created by the team. Typically when newer technologies are introduced into the project team, PoCs come in very handy. Prototypes are created when the team doesn't have the expertise or the required skillset to carry on production work with the proposed approach or technology. Also, PoCs help the team when they lack prior experience in executing similar work.

How to work on prototypes and PoCs

Here are some useful tips on how to work with prototypes and PoCs:

  • Prototypes must be created to fit the purpose - design, technology etc.
  • Define clearly and early on, the scope, objectives and success criteria
  • Start small and narrow-scoped. Choose the scope deep, instead of wide
  • Increase progressively the depth, breadth and fidelity
  • Get the feedback from the appropriate customers and stakeholders
  • Iterate with the changes quickly and turnaround for faster approval