Everyone Together Now

Prototyping for Team Alignment


If there’s a better way than prototyping to get all stakeholders on the same page from kickoff to completion, I’ve yet to find it. There’s also no better way to get early feedback from potential users than prototypes. Doing it early with development can save hours on a project in code that gets thrown away, as well as help development to understand the goal from the end-users point of view.

I’ve incorporated various forms of prototyping into my design process for the past few years to great success. From user satisfaction to stakeholder buy-in, prototyping is one of the most powerful tools in your toolbox. There are many kinds of prototypes, from code-based all the way down to a series of sketches, that can help you create alignment, test hypotheses, gather user feedback, and even increase adoption and user evangelism for your product.


How many times have you been in that kickoff meeting where stakeholders from product owner to development are throwing out every pie-in-the-sky idea? Plus, they want to see the product built in a week. When you try to get them to focus in and decide on must have features, the discussion veers off into left field, leaving you with 10 pages of notes that seem to go in 10 different directions.

Paper prototyping from the start can be a valuable part of a kickoff workshop. Prototyping:

  • is interactive.
  • allows all stakeholders a sense of ownership.
  • gets the group working together to a common goal.
  • can help reveal opportunities and constraints.
  • allows everyone to develop a solid mental model of the product or feature.

In a kick-off workshop, I like to go with an activity that gets all of the stakeholders working together after we’ve had time to talk about the problem we’re trying to solve and some baseline requirements. Of course, you need to know your audience, and if it includes a very high level member (like your client’s CEO), you probably should stick with some quick whiteboard sketching to gain initial alignment.

Simple drawing on paper is a tried and true early method, but I was recently shown a different way to tackle this in a group setting. Laminated blank cards with Velcro on the back, a large piece of felt, and some dry erase markers are a tactile way to get users thinking about how a product will actually work. I’m going to be incorporating this method more often because it creates an activity that gets the (right) group bonding at the beginning of the project.

You can build a kit for prototyping using index cards, laminating sheets, Velcro, and felt that can be reused from project to project. It’s cheap, easy, and very customizable. Chances are you have a style guide and pattern library to pull from to create some prefilled cards. UXPin makes a great prototyping kit (though it’s sold out at the moment). Creating a portable kit using those elements, as well as blank cards, will allow you to have some fun in a kickoff meeting.

Before the group starts to draw, it’s important to lay out some guidelines. This is an exercise to come up with the idea, not the details. In his article, “Better Use of Paper in UX Design”, Marcin Treder of UXPin says, “Instead of focusing on details, focus on structure. What are you creating? What parts does it have? What content pieces will it need? What functionality should be designed? How it is all related to the design problem?”

While it’s easy to just draw things like content placeholders, buttons, headers, footers, global nav, etc., on a piece of paper, the card method allows people to rearrange and think about what happens next in a more explicit manner than static drawings on paper.

Once the group has made a pass at a prototype, we can refine our initial requirements for the feature or product. Make sure to take photos to use for reference later.


Walking out of the stakeholder kickoff meeting with a set of focused requirements and the beginnings of user stories means you’re off to a great start for the rest of the project. You will come out of your prototyping workshop with

  • something tangible to talk about during user research if you want to incorporate early testing.
  • knowledge from development as to if what you’re thinking is possible, and the ability to get them started on in building it.
  • all participants working from a similar mental model.

Have you used rapid prototyping in stakeholder meetings? How has it benefited your team?

Other great articles about paper/card prototyping

http://www.creativebloq.com/ux/how-prototype-websites-paper-31514246

http://uxmag.com/articles/better-use-of-paper-in-ux-design

http://www.uistencils.com/

http://www.uxpin.com/products.html