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Rapid Prototyping as a Job

2008 May 31

I say job because it is certainly no career, I have that already. What is shocking me is how many people seem to be realizing the value of simple functional prototypes.

Discovery prototypes are small and usually simple. They may or may not use the same language as the proposed full scale system. Their purpose is Proof of Concept. Basic process flows, screen layouts and ease of use. The DPs allow upper management and end users to get a good idea of whats ahead.

The greatest value comes in the faults that may be exposed. Hopefully no major functional flaws that will lose the larger contract, but more minute details that can mean the difference between acceptance or rejection by the users that are required to use. Screen colors, number of clicks or pages needed, etc. Users can know very early whether developers are on the right track.

I developed my first real ‘discovery prototype’ several weeks ago for a CRM system for a mid-size IT consulting firm. In the short time since then I have already received requests for 3 more prototypes from various clients. These clients are mixed, but two are larger development firms that are looking to save costs. Using CakePHP I can shove out a prototype in 10-30 hours depending on the complexity and dependencies. Though I can deliver the simpler screen-flow type prototypes in much less time using ASP, any sort of complex operations are more difficult in ASP’s restrictive on-event type programming.

Most of the clients are looking for ways to replace unmanageable excel sheets. My newest one is looking o eliminate a overly wordy and complex excel sheet that determines commission eligibility. The Business Analyst I work with it quite savvy, and wants to prove how a simple set of web forms could simplify everyone’s life.

A dilemma is arising, how much do I charge for prototype development? Should I charge full price, should I cap the hours I’ll take on. Is any of it worth it since I don’t have the staff or time to take on the full-size systems that I prove can work. It is a harsh feeling to hand over all my code and documentation to some over sized bloated IT firm to develop what I designed.

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