When we start speaking of a prototype approach, our clients often tell us: "What’s all the hype about? We have been doing this for a long time." And indeed, companies have been introducing products in waves and with pilots for many years; we can observe prototypes of automobile manufacturers on German roads camouflaged with funny patterns, called “Erlkönige”. So, what is the excitement about prototyping, if companies have been doing it all along anyway?
The prototypes we see on the streets or the pilots in companies are already very mature and have been developed on the basis of a classic project plan and precisely defined requirements. If the project has been successful, that is, and the product is considered to be at least 95% finished. And precisely at this point, the ever-higher innovation and change speed of our time makes a difference. Because it means that the customer or client has no idea at the beginning of the project, how the final product or service will look at the end. This means that he/she, together with the project team, cannot formulate clear requirements at the start of the project and has to approach something that is not clearly defined. What then remains as a project method? To put it somewhat simply, prototyping. Prototyping is the step-by-step testing of solutions together with the customer or client, and a continuous decision-making process, whereby it is decided what of the prototyped solution is going to be improved and what is simply going to be binned. That sounds like "trial and error", some of our clients say, "that is not what we consider proper project management."
Maybe it isn’t. In the meantime, however, there are sufficient empirical data from projects and studies that prove that "proper management" in the sense of a waterfall logic does often not turn projects into success stories. A prototype approach, however, often does. It brings greater innovative power, mitigates risks by detecting dead ends quickly and creates greater satisfaction and higher motivation for all parties involved because results are quickly visible. That is why we at Semler Company are also fans of prototypes and have been working with this approach and the attitude to build our own company and to bring value to our customers.