Collaboration with ProtoShare

We built ProtoShare with collaboration as a primary goal. That’s why we call it “ProtoShare” and not “ProtoHideYourWork”. ProtoShare collaboration is really a key part of the process.

I spend a lot of time talking with our customers. In the course of these discussions, I always learn something new about how our customers use ProtoShare in their work. It’s interesting to hear the various ways in which different customers use ProtoShare’s collaboration (the pins and topics available in “Review”). I wanted to take this opportunity to write about how (and why) our customers are using ProtoShare collaboration.

While not an exhaustive list, here are a number of categories on ProtoShare customer collaboration:

  1. Brainstorming with Internal Stakeholders
  2. Early Collaboration with Internal and External Stakeholders to Determine if the Project is Worth Pursuing
  3. Collaboration on a Project within the UX Team
  4. Approval and Feedback from Stakeholders
  5. User Testing
  6. Working with Developers

Brainstorming with Internal Stakeholders

One of our largest customers uses ProtoShare primarily as a brainstorming tool. Their app development group uses ProtoShare to quickly create multiple rough mock-ups of ideas for group meetings. The group can quickly disregard bad ideas, and further iterate on good ones using ProtoShare during the meeting. Once the meeting is over, internal stakeholders can further refine ideas that survived brainstorming using the pins and topics within ProtoShare.

The key to a useful brainstorming session is preparation. If brainstorming is just an excuse for group-think and letting someone else do the work, then it’s a colossal waste of time. But if the meeting organizers start with a firm goal in mind, and take the time to prepare some prototypes to get the conversation started, then brainstorming can be an extremely valuable endeavor. Read Collaborative Prototyping, Groupthink and Design by Committee to learn more.

Early Collaboration with Internal and External Stakeholders to Determine if the Project is Worth Pursuing

Sometimes a prototype is a fully-thought-through, pixel perfect representation of a completed design – but it doesn’t have to be.

Often, a development team is faced with the question: should we build a particular piece of software or functionality that is described in one of our user stories? All too often, the answer is: let’s build it and see what people think. Weeks or months and thousands of dollars later, you discover you built the wrong thing.

A quick prototype can significantly reduce this risk. It doesn’t have to be pixel-perfect; it just has to give the internal or external stakeholder a visual representation of what you have in mind, so they can tell you if you’re headed in a useful direction.

We’ve used this in our own development efforts. There have been times when we thought we understood the customer demand for a new feature of ProtoShare. To test this, we have quickly created a rough prototype of the feature and shared it internally and with members of our product advisory board. Given that our product advisory board members are located all around the world and in many different time zones, ProtoShare review is a perfect way to get useful feedback without having to schedule a meeting that will inevitably be inconvenient for many participants.

Sometimes, when stakeholders can see and interact with the feature in a prototype, they decide it is not as useful or valuable as they thought it would be. A bit of time spent prototyping and collaborating early on saves a lot of time and money working on the wrong things.

Collaboration on a Project within the UX Team

ProtoShare is an ideal way for members of a design team (whether they’re in the same building or on different continents) to work together on a design. Using ProtoShare’s pins and topics, everyone involved in the effort can be sure their comments and ideas are part of the mix. By using the “decisions” and “resolution” features in ProtoShare, the team can reach conclusions and move the project forward. Read more about the creative collaboration process and process improvement with collaboration.

Approval and Feedback from Stakeholders

Once you’ve created a prototype, you need to get feedback and approvals from “higher-ups” (unless you are the boss), either within your organization or from clients. ProtoShare’s topics and pins structure works very well for this work-flow.

In ProtoShare, there are two main roles: editors and reviewers. The people who create the prototypes (and have responsibility for making changes) are editors. Internal or external stakeholders who have decision-making authority, but who don’t do the actual creation, are typically reviewers.

One very nice feature of ProtoShare is that you can control who gets to see each topic and comment. You don’t need to share UX team discussions with senior management or your clients. You can limit their access to comments and questions directed solely to them.

Most of us have experienced working on a project, completing it, and then 6 months later getting questions from an executive or client about why you did something a certain way. The next 2 hours are wasted searching emails and meeting notes trying to find the answer. With ProtoShare, where topics serve as the “brain” of your project, you can easily reference past projects and find the answer to any questions that may come up in the future.

User Testing

Unless your software is perfect from the start, it’s a lot cheaper to get feedback from users on a prototype than it is to make changes to a completed piece of software. ProtoShare is ideal for early user testing of a proposed UI.

For user testing, you simply invite the participant(s) to be a reviewer on your project. Then, you subscribe them to a series of questions in the topic panel that will walk them through what you want them to test in the prototype (don’t worry, reviewers will only see topics they have been subscribed to). The users can then respond with comments to the topics you have created for them, giving you valuable feedback early on in the process, before expending development dollars on the wrong design.

A key to this being useful, however, is the level of detail and functionality the prototype provides.  A wireframe “prototype” that consists of a group of grey boxes (or napkin-like sketches), and limited interactivity, will almost certainly fail to elicit useful information from user testing.  That’s why the high fidelity of ProtoShare is so important in the context of user testing.

Working with Developers

When its time to start coding, we believe that the most useful specification for developers is the ProtoShare prototype itself. ProtoShare’s collaboration makes working with a development team, whether they are across the street or on the other side of the world, as seamless as possible.

By inviting your developers to your project as reviewers, your developers can have access to the functioning prototype, and all the discussion and decisions that took place in the topic panel for that project (at least the topics you want them to have access to). If they have questions, they can add their questions to the project, and you will receive immediate notification (giving you the opportunity to respond quickly). Because each design, topic and other artifact within ProtoShare has its own unique URL, your developers will be able to link their development management tool to the relevant artifact within ProtoShare – making the process even more seamless.

Since ProtoShare is written in HTML, CSS and Javascript, many of our customers use the underlying ProtoShare code as a starting point in their development process. This gives you even more reason to include your developers in the project, at least as reviewers.

Some customers go further in collaboration with their developers. They include the developers as editors in the project. This way, if the developers have suggestions for the approach that might be different from the approach in the prototype, they can prototype their suggested changes and share them with you for comment. Providing developers with editor privileges also enables them to make the build-in-progress available to you in ProtoShare for your review.

Conclusion

I hope this has been useful information on how ProtoShare adds to the development and design collaboration process and has sparked some ideas that you are interested in trying.

Are there collaboration opportunities we missed?  We’re interested in any ideas you have.

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