Tell me if you’ve seen this before: Your company knows that a piece of software is the solution to a business-problem. You have everyone in the room who needs to be there —Team leads, operation managers, CTO. Minutes into the meeting you realize that while the problem and its solution seemed straightforward, everyone at the table has their own ideas about what this piece of technology should do.

Sound familiar? We’ve all been in meetings like this and have wondered how to efficiently get the right ideas off the ground and into development. The problem isn’t the team sitting around the table, but the alignment of values, overall requirements, appetite for spend and a timeline for completion.

If you’re not really sure how you’re going to solve this, it may be time to try a combination of Story Mapping and Rapid Prototyping.

User Story Mapping

Story Mapping is a low-tech, collaborative process that provides teams with a way to bring all stakeholders together to collect key project requirements and build a plan for its development. It’s key objective is to answer the question, “What ideas are worth pursuing?” by focusing on the user and the key functionality they’ll need for the software to be useful. Once this is answered, developers are able to build a detailed product backlog that lists out each piece that will need to be developed and begin working almost immediately.

To engage everyone (regardless of technical ability), Story Mapping uses color-coded sticky notes, markers and a blank wall to display the hierarchy of functionality and define the steps underneath them. This allows the team to move pieces around and capture complex narratives in terms of scope and project size, while maintaining the needed “big picture” visual representation that fosters alignment and shared understandings.

The end result of this process is a clear understanding of the key functionalities and their priorities, as well as a clear path towards creating a minimum viable product (MVP).

There are a number of great resources out there about Story Mapping, the most thorough is a book by its creator: (User Story Mapping by Jeff Patton)

Rapid Prototyping

Once you have a story map, the next step is to lay a foundation of code for the most vital aspects of the product that can then be used and tested in real life. The best way to do this is through Rapid Prototyping.

The principles of this form of prototyping gives you the ability to quickly create paired-down yet interactive version of the product to test assumptions immediately, generate feedback, and garner design and development approvals before incurring expenses on a large scale.

Completed at the beginning of a product with a small budget, the prototype creates a deliverable that goes towards the overall project spend once development begins, which in turn reduces both the cost and the risk associated with custom software delivery.

Final Thoughts

Developing a piece of software can be a difficult process, especially within a large company, but it’s not impossible. These powerful processes help teams of all sizes come together, capture the scope of the project, map out requirements and even project features for future iterations. With a small initial investment, Rapid Prototyping helps secure larger internal or external budget allocation by validating ROI and advocating for continued development more effectively.

Finally, it helps teams collaborate within a lean, agile environment that allow for continuous iterations of feature versions while reducing time to market and offering a low cost, low risk investment.

Lauralyn Farwell Lauralyn Farwell

Business Development Director at Station Four