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Start the Revolution: Prototyping Helps Developers Get it Right

Michael Overend | April 11, 2014

Prototyping, the iterative modeling of a system, enables users to be actively involved in the development process. The methodology, which provides a working model of the system in support of the development process, allows errors, missing functionality and confusing or difficult functions to be detected early, reducing risk of sub-optimal ROI on the finished project. In addition, prototyping provides users with a greater sense of involvement, leading to increased organizational visibility, stakeholder buy-in and funding.

Though prototyping software is widely available, all solutions are not created equal. What if it can’t represent something your real solution can support? What if it allows you to do something your real tool does differently? And what if—at the end of the prototyping effort—you’re left with something that still needs to be translated and configured into the real tool? The whole purpose of prototyping is to reduce the risk of getting it wrong, but if third-party prototyping software presents you with developmental hurdles, the chances of getting it right can be slim.

Common Problems

Many prototyping solutions utilize so-called “throwaway” methodology, in which a model is created, only to be eventually discarded. The steps involved are typically:

  • Write preliminary requirements
  • Design the prototype
  • Modify prototype based on user testing
  • Repeat as many times as necessary
  • Write final requirements
  • Discard the prototype
  • Develop a production-ready system

While useful for generating feedback from end users, throwaway prototyping can result in significant duplication of efforts – as well as several common problems described on Intelligence On Tap.

End-User Issues: A prototype is a work in progress. It will evolve throughout each stage of the project and, in the case of a throwaway prototype, be scrapped entirely. However, many users will view a prototype as a near-complete model, drawing inaccurate conclusions on features that are meant to be changed. Or they may assume that the prototype is near complete, and features shown will be included in the final system on day 1.

Developer Issues: It can be difficult for developers to focus on a holistic view of the completed project when still working on the prototype. Rather than using the prototype as a tool to assist in a proper analysis, they can easily get caught up in insignificant minutiae of the prototype itself, wasting time and resulting in a final project that doesn’t meet proper architectural standards.

Efficiency Issues: Developers must strike a balance between developing a prototype that is only half-baked and one that is near completion. An effective prototype should be developed quickly and assist in fine-tuning the finished product. It is only when these requirements are met that a prototype can be considered successful and if they aren’t, productivity and efficiency are sacrificed.

Fortunately, there’s a different way. Utilized in some modern policy administration solutions, evolutionary prototyping allows for the structured building and refinement of prototypes into finished software; the first prototype represents Version 1 of the application, and each subsequent iteration gets you closer to the production-ready version of the system.

This technique allows the development team to routinely add features and make changes that couldn't be conceived during the requirements and design phase. Do your users ever change their mind about what they want once they see it built based on their specs? Of course they do! So why not begin the project with the ability to adapt to inevitable changes?

Evolutionary prototyping is even more valuable when combined with robust configuration tools. This combination lets any user on the carrier side make changes to nearly anything—a page, an item, a coverage, a rule, page flow order or a user interface layout feature—then immediately review it in the end-user test environment. Don’t like it? Change it. Do like it? Keep it; it’s ready for use with no translation, no reconfiguring, and no coding. It's really as simple as that.

Summary

While common and traditional in the creation of core insurance systems, throwaway prototyping methodology presents a number of challenges and hurdles to efficient development. However, more and more IT departments are leveraging evolutionary prototyping methodology in order to minimize both delivery time and cost. Under this methodology, completed work becomes part of the finished system, rather than waste on the metaphorical cutting-room floor. You could say, in fact, that it’s not just evolutionary. It’s revolutionary.

Michael J. Overend, vice president of operations and customer support at Adaptik Corporation, is responsible for managing and improving the company’s operational systems, processes and policies, as well as ensuring efficient communication between clients, consultants and support staff. Overend, who has more than 22 years of insurance system development experience, also plays a significant role in Adaptik’s long-term planning, with a focus on operational excellence.


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