Monday 26 September 2016

Spare a Thought for the Lowly Proof of Concept

It can be safely said that these days almost every communications project is a technology project. What this means is in addition to crafting what we want to say, we also will need to build (or at least configure and deploy) a technology platform of some type that will spread those words and create those experiences.

While the broader reality of technology’s expanding role is not necessarily new, what is different today is the level of sophistication of the digital tools that we specify for our clients’ projects. Today’s internet explorers have become accustomed to feature-rich interactive experiences that conceal a high degree of technological complexity behind a graceful, intuitive touch-and-swipe user interface. Similarly, users now can experience a deep level of multitasking attached to their already favorite online destinations. The notion of maintaining a fully responsive e-commerce-driven relationship through a Facebook tab was unthinkable a year ago. Today it’s completely doable.

What makes the exceptional easy in web application development is the integration into the project plan of one or more “Proofs of Concept” (POC). Beyond the planning, development of business requirements, and architecture, the secret to bringing off-the-charts complex experiences to life lies in the ability to build a demo version of the main functional elements, tinker with them, re-examine if they’re doing the jobs they are meant to do, then building them anew.

We all know that the fastest route to Carnegie Hall is “practice, practice, practice.” It turns out, the same rule applies for web applications.

Measure once, cut once, measure again, then recut

A POC is a draft version of the original idea expressed as an actual working demo. As a smaller-scale, contained version of the grander vision, the POC serves the incredibly valuable function of allowing everyone on the team – even the client – to experience the key functional elements of the whole online experience in such a manner as to make revisions easy to manage.

We were always taught by grandpa to “measure twice and cut once.” This applies when the materials being worked are a finite resource. Software code is, on the other hand, infinite. Thus, in software development it is actually preferable to measure once, cut once, then remeasure and recut until the team is close to what they have planned for and envision.

The Project Manager in all of us is saying, “Wait a minute! The time in the project plan is not infinite!” Indeed, projects are tightly defined by deadlines. But the iterative approach that drives the development of a POC actually saves time because when all stakeholders can review and comment on functional, in-progress work they actually participate in the delivery process at a much earlier stage of the project. Major changes are identified and handled in an earlier stage and thus have fewer follow-on impacts.

The benefits of the POC extend to creative execution as well. Instead of having the final design take place as a separate stage before development starts, it actually comes toward the end of the build, when the POC has been approved. Because design starts after all the major functional and usability changes have already been made, the final design should require fewer iterations and will experience fewer (if any) undo/redo cycles that normally result in major late-stage delays.

Big idea rehearsal

POCs can take on many forms, and they need not be employed to solve only massively complex constructs. Often times a simple blog can be vetted and “plussed up” by a simple functional rough draft that the entire team can work with and collaborate over. But the results are undeniable: The client sees real tangible progress, the account team has something functional to evaluate for how well it does the job, the tech team can note refactoring and reliability improvements to the base code and creative can see ahead of time what they have to work with, instead of making an educated guess.

Part of the thrill of the business we are in is not only developing the methods of communication, but also being able to design and own the whole immersive experience. Embracing the idea of a proof of concept, and incorporating it into your project plan will yield near-immediate benefits, while propelling us toward larger, more engaging client successes.

Edelman Digital is well known for having “the big idea.” Think of the POC process as “big idea rehearsal.”

Image credit: ChefMattRock

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