A prototype is something that most of us associate with tangible products and manufacturing. However, it is in fact something very much used in software development – and it is increasingly becoming a key part of the agreement process.

What is a software prototype?

A software prototype can be described as a visual presentation of functionality. When our developer teams here at One Beyond are working on a software project, they often use a prototype alongside a written functional specification to help make sure that the end product is exactly what you as a client expect.

Why prototypes are needed

Most people would generally want to get their new software finished, installed and ready to use as quickly as possible. But there can be a temptation to focus most of the attention on just the core functionality. This means that any gaps or missing minor features won’t be discovered until the application starts being used. At that point it can be very expensive to go back and fix the issues.

This is where a prototype becomes highly valuable, as it helps to pre-empt potential problems or gaps – and address them as part of the main development process.

Visualise the software with a functioning model

With the help of a software prototype, i.e. a functioning model of the application, the client as well as the developer can see clearly how its various features come together. Nothing is left to assumption and nothing gets overlooked.

There are three key stages of how we typically work with software prototyping:

  • Requirement mapping
    When building a prototype, the process always starts with working through requirements in minute detail. This is where a Technical Architect spends time recording all the necessary information from the client to avoid gaps in functionality. This is also the client’s opportunity to contribute their own thoughts and concepts to maximise their return on investment.
  • Prototype creation
    With the help of cutting-edge visual tools, the developers will then create a functioning model of the new system. This gives everyone an opportunity to see the interface and features in action. The prototype also includes workflow diagrams to accurately map out the user journey and understand the background processes.
  • Specification
    An optional third stage goes beyond the actual prototype and provides an extensive functional specification. It is effectively a blueprint for the application, as it documents exactly what will be delivered once the development is complete.
  • The specification – the prototype’s best friend
    Adding the third stage, the specification to the prototype, often plays a valuable part in the project as it helps to transfer the knowledge and visions from the minds of developers and stakeholders into a documented blueprint of the project.
    The specification lays the groundwork for a user guide, where each area of the application is identified and explained. This specification typically includes diagrams to better explain functions, processes and workflows, as well as graphical designs of the user interface.
    As the specification can be reviewed in detail, it also forms a useful basis for agreement for the software build. In other words, everyone knows exactly what’s been approved.

A Software Prototype is the key to quality

The prototype and functional specification document work together as perfect complements to describe the end product in fine detail. For us as a software developer, these tools improve our quality assurance process by helping us ensure everything works as it should. And as for you as a client, they help you to feel confident that the end product is exactly what you want.