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Building a software product

Creating a Prototype of the Product or Service

Estimated read time: 15 minutes
Aran Davies

Aran Davies

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Do you have an exciting product or service idea, and do you want to know how to go about creating a prototype of the product or service? You need to define the service or product prototype requirement, subsequently, you need to plan and execute the prototyping process diligently. 

Many organizations take to prototyping to develop their product idea or service ideas into final products or services. Experts observe that the global “rapid prototyping market has experienced an average annual growth rate of 27% since 2015.” They also expect that the “global rapid prototyping market is expected to be worth $2.6 billion by 2025.”

Let’s dive deep into creating prototypes, where you need to do the following:

1. Onboard an experienced project manager, software architect, and business analyst for project initiation, definition, and planning

You need to find and onboard an experienced project manager (PM). Look for a PM with a very good understanding of PM methodologies and PM best practices. The PM should lead the project team. Expect the PM to initiate, plan, execute, monitor, control, and close the project. 

You need an experienced software architect and a knowledgeable business analyst (BA). The BA should gather functional requirements, analyze them, and document the business requirements.

The architect should create technical solutions. You also need the architect to analyze and document the non-functional requirements (NFRs) like scalability, performance, maintainability, etc.

2. Gain clarity over the prototyping and the prototyping process

You need a sound understanding of prototyping. You can then see why a prototype matters and what you can expect from the prototyping process. 

What is a prototype and why would you create one?

A prototype is a model of a product created early in the product development process. When we talk about the manufacturing process, a prototype needs to be a 3D replica of the product. 

Naturally, a software product can’t quite have a physical prototype like that due to software being of an abstract nature. Nevertheless, a software prototype should resemble the final application system.

You develop a prototype to understand how your own ideas will look in the real world. Prototyping helps you to get inputs from a wide range of stakeholders, e.g., potential users, engineering teams, etc. 

Prototyping isn’t just for large enterprises. A small business can create prototypes, which helps them to refine their product design and business plan. 

You ought to understand what a prototype is not! It’s not the final product. In fact, your first prototype can look very different from the product you will launch in the market. 

Different types of prototypes based on functionalities, complexities, and manufacturing processes

If you think in terms of functionality, complexity, and the manufacturing process, then you can categorize a prototype as follows:

  • Visual prototype: You only create it to show the shape and size of the product. You neither offer any functionality nor do you use the raw materials used for manufacturing it.
  • “Proof of concept”: This is a prototype built only to test and demonstrate the viability of the product idea. It doesn’t match the final design, functionality, looks, or materials of the final product. 
  • Presentation prototypes: You create presentation prototypes to secure investments, furthermore, you can also gather feedback from potential customers. These prototypes function like the desired product and look like it. You might need expensive materials, special industrial equipment, customized packaging design, and custom manufacturing processes.
  • Production-ready prototypes: You select materials that will go into the final product to create these prototypes. These prototypes function and look like the final product, therefore, these are final prototypes. You will use them to plan how to mass-produce your product. Subsequently, find manufacturers if needed, manufacture the product, and start selling. 

The Prototyping process

For software development projects, you create prototypes by following relevant software development processes, methods, tools, and practices. For physical objects, you can create different types of prototypes using different methods, e.g.:

  • 3D printing: Using 3D printers and rapid prototyping technology, you can create prototypes quickly by providing certain inputs. You often create these prototypes in small batches. Industries with mass production operations often use this method. You create these prototypes at a low cost, and you have many customization options. However, these prototypes don’t have the functionality of the desired product, and these are used for visual representations only.
  • CNC prototyping: CNC prototyping uses the CNC (Computer Numerical Control) machining technology. You create high-quality functional prototypes quickly using this method. You need to contend with high initial investments, operating costs, and expertise requirements. 
  • Virtual prototyping: You create virtual prototypes using a computer program like CAD. While virtual prototyping is a quick and low-cost option, virtually simulated prototypes are for viewing only. Virtual simulation can’t offer functionalities.    

Understand that the prototyping process is often a slow and iterative process. This process might start with a simple sketch. You might be able to create early prototypes quickly. 

However, your own prototype might give rise to much feedback from stakeholders. You might need to incorporate them in the next version. There might be many such iterations.

3. Conduct research about your idea before rushing into the prototyping, software development, or manufacturing process

So, you have a new idea for a digital or physical product, do you? You might feel excited, however, any new idea requires a reality check. Conduct research to learn about the viability of your idea.

You might need to employ various methods for this research, e.g.:

  • Engaging a market research organization;
  • Running surveys;
  • Interviewing potential customers;
  • Researching on the Internet.

You might need to ask various questions to yourself, e.g.:

  • Does any other organization already sell such a product?
  • How does the competitor’s product fare in the market in terms of key indicators like product quality, customer satisfaction, price, market share, etc.?
  • What chance do I have to compete with this competitor’s product? 
  • If there’s no competitor, then what do I need to do to create interest in the market about my future product?

Carefully analyze these and other relevant questions, and conduct brainstorming sessions with your business team. Proceed to prototyping if you find that the idea works, otherwise, go back to the drawing board. 

4. Protect your product idea from intellectual property theft

So long your product idea was confined in your mind, and now you have decided to go ahead with prototyping. You might engage a 3rd party prototype designer. That’s when you expose the product idea to the risk of intellectual property theft.

If you engage a trustworthy prototyping services provider like DevTeam.Space for a software product, then you are safe. However, sometimes businesses think of saving a few hundred dollars by engaging freelance prototype developers. They can sell your idea, which isn’t cost-effective in the ultimate analysis! 

You should take comprehensive steps to secure your intellectual property rights. Make all 3rd party providers sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA). Engage a reliable patent attorney. Diligently take the required steps like filing a provisional patent application, providing supporting documents to the patent authorities, etc. 

5. Define requirements for the software product prototype 

The BA should interview business teams, potential users, and other relevant stakeholders to gather requirements. You expect to see the following 3 categories of features desired by stakeholders:

  • Essential features: These are features definitely needed in your software product.
  • Differentiators: While not essential, these features help your product stand out in the marketplace.
  • Unnecessary features: A few stakeholders might request features that are neither needed nor do they add any value. You will often incur a heavy cost if you incorporate them. Exclude such features from the prototype design process. 

After analyzing, the BA should document the business requirements. The architect should also document the NFRs or technical requirements. 

You should have as many essential requirements in the final prototype. The PM should institute processes like requirements review and change management.

Decide on the target platforms for the prototype software application. For example, you might want to offer it to only a small batch of web users. Alternatively, you might target the web, Android, and iOS.

6. Choose the technology stack for the prototyping process

You now need the architect to choose the appropriate tech stack. Depending on the scope of your project, you will need to use different technologies, e.g.:

Front-end web development

You can use JavaScript for the front-end web development. Your team can use JavaScript, HTML, and CSS. All web developers know JavaScript, which shows the popularity of this powerful open-source language. Alternatively, you can use one of the well-known JavaScript-based web frameworks like React or Angular.

Some organizations think of using no-code or low-code platforms. For example, an organization might think of using a CMS (Content Management System) for developing the prototype of an online store. However, we recommend custom software development over no-code/low-code platforms. You get the maximum flexibility from custom software development.  

Back-end web development

You have several options for back-end web development. If you want to use JavaScript for the entire development, then you can use Node JS, the well-known JavaScript runtime environment. MEAN (“MongoDB-Express JS-Angular-Node JS”) or MERN (“MongoDB-Express JS-React-Node JS”) stacks are good options in that case.

Alternatively, you can use one of the following popular programming languages:

You can also use popular back-end web frameworks like Django or Ruby on Rails. 

Android development

You should undertake native Android development since native apps offer the best user experience, security, and performance. Java has ruled for native Android development landscape for many years, and you hardly need an introduction to this multipurpose and evergreen language. That said, you can also consider Kotlin, a modern programming language with great features.

iOS development

You should develop a native iOS app for reasons we already talked about. Apple promotes Swift, the modern language over its predecessor Objective-C. We too recommend it due to the powerful capabilities of Swift.   

Databases

Relational Database Management Systems (RDBMSs) like MySQL or PostgreSQL are great choices if you need an SQL database. These open-source SQL databases offer excellent features and many developers love them.

Do you need a NoSQL database? Consider MongoDB, a prominent open-source NoSQL database. You can also use MongoDB Atlas, the fully managed cloud database offered by MongoDB.

API development

Do you need to develop your own APIs? You have 2 choices of methods for API development, which are as follows:

  • RESTful API: REST (Representational State Transfer) is a very well-known API development standard, and many developers know it.
  • GraphQL: GraphQL is a more modern API development method that allows a greater degree of optimization. 

7. Plan the prototyping effort

The PM should now plan the prototyping part of the project. You need the PM to pay special attention to the following key questions:

  • Which project management framework will work best for this project, e.g., Scrum?
  • How will you hire a software development team?
  • What do you need to do to establish the technical environment of the project?
  • What is the estimate and schedule for different iterations?

This isn’t an exhaustive list, and there could be more key questions for your project. You also need the review and approval of the project plan.

8. Hire developers

Depending on your project scope, you might need to hire people for the following roles:

  • User interface (UI) designers;
  • Web developers;
  • Native iOS developers;
  • Native Android programmers;
  • Testers;
  • DevOps engineers.

Skills requirements and labor market dynamics could make the hiring process an involved one. Take the following steps:

A. Select the right hiring approach

Some businesses think of hiring freelancers. Do you also plan to do so? Please ask yourself the following hard questions:

  • If I have to develop a prototype software application, then my project isn’t a simple one. Can I afford to take the risks arising from a low-to-medium-quality development team?
  • Can I manage the project with low skill levels? It’s often hard to evaluate the real level of expertise of freelancers.
  • Will untimely delivery be fine with me? Freelancers work part-time, and they might deliver the work late.
  • Can I afford disruptions to the project? Freelancers often quit a project mid-way, and I will need to hire replacement developers.

If you answer “no” to any of these questions, then you should hire developers from a trustworthy partner like DevTeam.Space. We offer the following values:

  • Our comprehensive vetting processes ensure that our developers have the relevant expertise and experience.
  • We offer full-time developers.
  • Our developers always deliver supportable and maintainable code. 
  • We train our developers in our world-class development process.
  • Our AI-powered agile processes help you manage your project well.
  • We also offer complementary support from a dedicated tech account manager. 

B. Conduct interviews

You have chosen the right hiring approach and posted a job ad. Conduct interviews for candidates. This can be a quick process if you hire developers from DevTeam.Space. However, interviewing freelancers requires time and hard work. Take help from knowledgeable colleagues if you lack the necessary technical skills. 

Utilize interview questions found on the Internet. Our interview questions and answers are good examples. Depending on the project, you could find the following sets of interview questions useful:

Focus more on the hands-on experience of candidates than theoretical skills. For example, find out how they solved problems in their last project. You can explain your project and ask programmers how they will develop the prototype. Select developers who answer with specifics and not jargon.   

C. Get the new developers productive 

You need to get the new team members productive quickly on your project, and an effective onboarding is the key to that. The PM needs to take care of the following:

  • The BA should explain the functional requirements to the new team.
  • An explanation of the technical solutions by the architect should follow.
  • The PM must grant the required access quickly.
  • You should introduce the new team to the existing team, furthermore, explain the roles and responsibilities.
  • The PM needs to set up a communication process and explain the project schedule/processes to the new programmers.

9. Develop, test, and deploy the software product prototype

Your software development team should now develop the prototype version of the application. The key tasks are as follows:

  • UI designers should design the user interfaces of the web and mobile apps.
  • Web and mobile developers should code the apps and any required APIs. They should integrate the APIs into the code.
  • After a thorough code review, the team should test the apps.
  • The team needs to deploy the apps.

While the architect should guide the team, the PM should monitor and control the project.

Submit a Project With Zero Risk

This guide to service or product prototyping should help. However, depending on your target market and service/product ideas, creating a prototype can be a complex and time-consuming endeavor. This is even more true when prototyping a software product due to the inherently abstract nature of software development. Finally, taking a complete software product to your target audience takes even more time and effort. 

A great software development team can help you considerably, however, it can be hard to hire such teams. The good news is that DevTeam.Space can provide you with just the developer or software development team you need. Our skilled, experienced, motivated, and full-time developers can develop your working prototype and final product with just the quality desired by your client. 

Wondering how we can help you? Just fill out the DevTeam.Space product specifications form and an experienced tech account manager will soon explain to you.   

FAQs

1. Can DevTeam.Space experts tell me what are the key technology decisions to make when I create the back-end of my software product prototype?

DevTeam.Space has extensive experience in the entire gamut of software development including back-end development, and we can certainly pinpoint the key technology decisions. At a high level, you need to decide on the following:
Will using cloud computing help you?
Which back-end development technology will fit your project, e.g., Node JS, Java, Python, etc.?
Should you use SQL vs NoSQL databases for back-end development? If you plan to use SQL databases, will open-source databases like MySQL or PostgreSQL work well for you? In case you need to use NoSQL databases, can open-source databases like MongoDB or Apache Cassandra do the job?
Will you use REST vs GraphQL for API development?
The above isn’t an exhaustive list, and we can suggest more decision-making aspects if we can have a complimentary discovery call with you.

2. My product idea involves mobile app development, and I have heard about several technologies like React Native, Kotlin, etc. Can DevTeam.Space tell me which technology makes sense for prototype and final app development?

We at DevTeam.Space have extensive expertise in mobile development, and we can certainly recommend the right technology stack. We recommend that you develop native Android and iOS apps, and you should use Java and Swift for these, respectively. 

3. I need to prototype a machine learning system. Can DevTeam.Space experts guide me through the key activities during the prototyping stage and development?

DevTeam.Space has comprehensive ML development expertise and our team can certainly guide you. At a high level, the key activities are as follows:
You need to identify and collect data sets to train the proposed ML system.
Since raw data isn’t suitable for training ML systems, you need to clean and pre-process the data sets.
You should identify a suitable machine learning algorithm.
Build, test, and deploy an ML model with the help of ML algorithms and training data.  
Evaluate the performance of the ML model and repeat the above steps to gain optimal outcomes. 
We request a complimentary discovery call so that we can understand your project better.


Alexey

Alexey Semeney

Founder of DevTeam.Space

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Alexey is the founder of DevTeam.Space. He is among the Top 26 mentors of FI’s ‘Global Startup Mentor Awards’ and is a Band Of Angels Technology Expert.

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