From Prototype to Process Maturity

Jo Beckwith

The very first step in any business is the entrepreneur’s conception of a great idea. And making that idea reality begins with the creation of a prototype. A working prototype is created using whatever materials fit the model. You might use cardboard and hand tools, a 3D printer, or code. A chef will experiment with ingredients in the kitchen before finding a recipe that works. A cartoonist or illustrator will start with a character sketch. Eventually, the creator will have a durable and reliable prototype that can be replicated.

As a business progresses through its growth lifecycle, a good software system can be leveraged to provide scalable, consistent, and durable results. This article will discuss the ways a software “prototype” can be built specifically for your business, grow and change along with you, and eventually automate a mature process.
When starting anything, use manual effort to carry out processes.

Many businesses make the mistake of automating too soon. You don’t want to make one-hundred-thousand widgets in a factory before you know your prototype widget actually works. So, don’t jump to automation just yet. Try it out first. Testing lets you change the process easily, when you find something that isn't quite right.

Carrying out the process by hand helps you to find the bottlenecks and the places that are inefficient. If you begin automation too early, you will repeat your mistakes and the cleanup and correction process will be a hundred times more costly and time-consuming. Testing processes by hand when they are in a prototype stage is cheap and easy, and will bring you to a near-perfect working model that can then be safely automated.
Know when you have a good process built.

You want to make all tasks and processes easily repeatable. It’s also important to understand whatever constraints you are working with. Know your process inside and out and make sure you have considered it from all angles. Be an expert on all aspects and potential issues related to your process. If you can, write everything down! Who, what, when, and where are key questions to ask. Also take care to note what mediums (email, phone, document, applications, etc) are used to transfer and archive information. This kind of research will help you to be confident about the quality of the end result.
Automate only when you are happy with the manual system you have created.

At this point you should be comfortable explaining why you are doing that you are doing and what value it brings to your organization and your clients. If you can make it work on a white board or a spreadsheet, you can make it work with software. 

Start small. Add formulas to spreadsheets (if you haven't already) or find a SaaS product to break off parts of your process. If you outgrow or have outgrown your current set of tools, that is where a Software Developer can help. A developer can help you either 1) integrate different platforms to make them talk together and act more like a whole, or 2) create an application (web, mobile, or desktop) that does what you want it to do.
An efficient business system leads to successful software.

As Michael Gerber in the Emyth says, you should be able to put your business on a bookshelf. To us, that is the meaning of process maturity. Efficient, elegant software is the crown jewel of a well-built system or organization and reflects a thoughtful approach that will give your customers confidence in your operations.

Jo Beckwith
As someone with a heart for people and a background in advocacy, this role fits with what I'm already passionate about - increasing positive communication, building long-term client relationships, and making sure expectations are properly set and then promptly met.

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