Wednesday, January 2, 2008

The Value of a Website Prototype

Project Managers are often faced with tremendous pressure to deliver complex initiatives in short periods of time. We all know what it's like to stare at a critical path, having exhausted every option to cut time from the schedule. As a Project Manager, you need to be able to think outside the box and develop new tactics to meet these challenges, even when it seems impossible to do so. In certain cases, a website prototype may be just the answer you're looking for. Let's explore what a website prototype is, and how it can be beneficial to a Project Manager.

What is a website prototype?: In simple terms, a website prototype is a pared down version of what the final product will be. A prototype should include actual creative, copy and functionality, in a much smaller scale than the complete solution. For example, a prototype may be ten pages of a 100 page website. The size and complexity of a prototype can be dictated by time allowances and the specifications of a particular project. As we explore how a prototype is useful, we will touch on factors that will help you determine how large a prototype should be.

Why develop a website prototype?: Developing a website prototype has many benefits - particularly when timelines are tight and the project is complex. A prototype acts as a representation of the final product, which can be used to obtain client feedback at an early stage of the project. Developing a few pages of the full site will give the client an opportunity to comment on creative, content, functionality and overall user experience before the majority of the budget has been spent. Once an entire website has been built, implementing site-wide changes can represent a more significant amount of work.

Prototypes also present an opportunity for team members to work more collaboratively on the overall solution. This will generally lead to a more thoughtful solution.

Most importantly, a website prototype may reveal flaws in usability that can be corrected during the remainder of the production cycle.

When developing a prototype, consider including unique pages, so that any anomalies can be dealt with during the prototype review. When the client approves the prototype, they should be approving look and feel, tone of content, user flow and any functionality that was included. This will allow the team to forge ahead knowing they have received sign-off on significant elements of the build.

From a project management perspective, developing a prototype can streamline production schedules, engage the client earlier on in the project life cycle, and foster teamwork internally. Consider developing a prototype for your next client engagement.

I invite all readers to post comments on their own experiences with website prototypes on my blog.

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