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A Prototype is Worth a Thousand Meetings

Watch Alex Cowan to learn how a prototype is worth a thousand meetings.
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You’ve learned a few techniques to improve your agile user stories drive better discussions. Now, I’m going to show you how to use one of my personal favorites, prototyping. There’s this saying, a prototype is worth a thousand meanings. And, I think, that that comes from a couple of places. One is that prototyping or sketching your ideas, helps you make better user stories. It helps you think through what you’re really intending. And it also helps you solve that type of problem with your team where our counter party always understands less than we think. It might be as little as a tenth of what we think. So these prototypes are a great way to show our team what we’re thinking.
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Now, our goal isn’t to specify something with these prototypes, it’s to drive more specific discussions about how we might do something valuable to the user. So, let’s take a look at an example. I have this epic here that we’ve been kind of playing with where, Ted, the HVAC technician, needs to identify a replacement part so he or she can decide what to do next on the job. And you hopefully, remember these child stories. This is one concept I rendered based on looking at some comparables, like, sites where you would search for a used car and e-commerce sites. And, in Story A, I thought, “Well, maybe we just make a box where they can put in the part number.
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In Story B, where they kind of know they know the make, let’s say, the model and maybe even the part type. But they’re not sure which one it is, they want to search through them. Maybe they could do that here in this kind of drop down box. And, then, Story C where they just don’t know and they need to get help from dispatch. And they kind of need to triage that with them, like is it urgent or not that urgent.” Maybe in this menu they could do that. Now, this is one concept, I will give you three top line tips now. Number one, is use existing patterns.
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So, rather than creating some brand new interface and thinking that’s innovative, rather, you want to kind of ask yourself, “Well, what patterns might the user be expecting to see here?” Because we don’t want to do anything that makes them work harder to get their reward than we have to. We want to get them as close to the reward as we can. That’s our job. Our value of our software is in part proportional to that usability, basically. Number two, always draft multiple directions. So here’s a totally different comp wireframe, if you will, prototype for the exact same user story. This one’s based more on, like, photo sharing sites. Something, like, Instagram or Google Image search or something like that.
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So, we do as a sort of a general search for the Acme Coolerator Sniggler, that’s the type of model and part. And we do have a filter here, if we want to adjust that, and then we can maybe sort by popularity. It’s a very visual search. When we roll over, we get more information. Is this the right answer? Who knows. The third tip I’ll give you is, always test these directions and test them early. Test your ideas early and test them often. Because, not only will doing multiple concepts help you sort of diverge and create more ideas to get to the right answer, testing will help you convert those against how the user actually behaves.
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Which, you know, even the greatest designers which, I don’t consider myself one of them, but I have worked with some that are really extraordinary, nobody good ever knows in advance exactly what’s going to be successful with the user. And, so, being in the habit of prototyping multiple concepts is something they do at Google, for example, as a matter of course, in most teams. That will really help you improve the quality of the interfaces that you deliver. So those are some notes on how to create prototypes and how they relate to your user stories and your discussions with your team. And, I will close with this, there’s also an emotional skill to prototyping.
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You’re bringing your idea in, it’s just a sketch, it’s just an idea. And, like, these Buddhist monks who make these elaborate mandala paintings out of sand and then blow them away to sort of showcase and experience the impermanency of everything, that’s the way you should emotionally relate to your prototype. So, it’s not to say that you want to glibly discard ideas. You should test them, and you should structure them, you should make the best ideas you can.
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But one of the things that will make you a successful creator of prototypes and user prototypes for driving better discussions with your team is this disposition where you’re ready to discard them, change them, adjust them all the time against what might be valuable to your user.
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