Axure and the Importance of Prototyping

Personal Background

I have been a consultant for 10 years working on ERP systems with off the shelf user interfaces, as well as bespoke internal systems with little to no front end, user flow or journey requirements. After joining Amido last year and starting my first project I was tasked with an Identity Management project which did have several screens and flows which seemed straight forward and simple. There was already an existing system in place that we were replacing ‘like for like’ for the first version of the release. So, at a glance, it seemed like there would not be any major front end changes for the first version.

Project requirements

There was already a prototype provided before I joined the project, so I was using that as a working example of the user flow and requirements for each step of the flow. Only once dev began on the different features did we realise that there were important requirements in the different screens and steps in the process that needed confirmation.  As a Product Owner it is my role to ensure that the requirements are as close to 100% confirmed as possible before the developers start to work on a feature. If there are still questions to be answered, then the developers time is wasted on work that could possibly change entirely depending on the feedback from the client.

It was at this point that I realised I needed to get ahead of these requirements to ensure there are no major questions on a feature when the developers are busy working on it. It had become clear that thinking abstractly of the process flow and screen requirements wasn’t getting all the different scenarios and requirements as desired. This is when I started working with Axure, creating my own prototype based on the existing one and adding to it for requirements that were yet to be prototyped.

Axure Usability

With little to zero previous front end developing experience, Axure allowed me to quickly and painlessly come up with simple wireframes for each of the screens required in our solution. It gave me the ability to link pages together as well as add validations to pages before allowing a user to proceed to the next step. Rather than just having static pages for each required page, Axure was allowing me to build what basically looked like the entire front-end solution with the full flow through all the different user journeys.

Using Axure to create prototypes rather than drawing up wireframes on paper is more effective for me because it allows me to think of the logic between pages in the flow. How and when does a user need to go from one page to another. When you are the one creating the logic behind pages it helps you define clearly on your user stories what is required (Acceptance Criteria) from the Developers on each page.  You can quickly walk through and critique a user flow in a prototype which will allow for the refining of the front-end requirements before it is handed over to the development team.

Axure is a tool which can be used to build anything from simple static wireframes to fully interactive web pages. It is quick and easy to make changes, easy to share a prototype allowing clients to interactively have a look at the solution which will result in early feedback and assist in firming up requirements.

Axure best features

  • Interactive prototypes
  • Carry information between screens
  • Dynamic views
  • Adaptive content (screen changes to fit a mobile phone)
  • Conditional flows
  • Animations
  • Easy to share

Complexities of using a prototyping tool

Creating a prototype at the beginning of a project is a very good idea as it helps all stakeholders to understand exactly what is required. The difficult part is keeping the prototype up to date throughout the project or knowing when it is not necessary to keep updating and making changes to the prototype as it may not be required.

If you are making changes to the prototype, the brilliant feature in Axure is that you can publish the latest changes to the same link.  If your user stories reference the prototype link, all you need to do is make your necessary changes, republish from Axure and all the stories referencing the prototype will have the latest up to date version. No need to take screenshots and add them to stories as well as remove the old screenshots. All you update is the prototype.

Feedback from project team

The client stakeholders found a working prototype very helpful and easy to play around with the different user journeys within our identity solution. It gave them a chance to see how public and internal users will interact with the different elements of the solution and this resulted in new questions and requirements.

From a developer perspective, the stories they received in a sprint were much more accurate and detailed, resulting in less time asking questions and more time developing. Being able to interact with a porotype to see how a feature should work is much less ambiguous than screenshot and paragraphs referring to the different requirements on the page.

Summary

As a Product Owner involved in a software project which has front end pages and requirements, Axure is a very helpful tool to allow you to quickly and effortlessly come up with a prototype which will help flesh out requirements early in the discovery process. In the process of building the prototype and once it has been shared and walked through with the client, you will then be in a good position to ask the right questions and get the best solution for the project.

For any projects going forward that I am involved on, that have front end user interfaces and flows, I will be using Axure to build a prototype of the different user journeys. Even if the client doesn’t necessarily need to see the prototype, at the very least it gives yourself clarity on exactly how the solution will work and how all the different users will need to interact with it.

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