should behave and how users will interact with the solution. This step is especially important if you are outsourcing or off-shoring development and need tighter control over the software end products. Leveraging your simulation as the product management platform will permit you to easily incorporate changes and build the final product on time and on budget. Ultimately, you should view your simulation as a living, iterative and flexible resource that can be used to validate and test new ideas, generate feedback, drive faster development efforts and evolve your application to the next level.
What should you look for in a simulation solution? First of all, the simulation software should be easy-to-use–either by a business person with minimal technical training or by a technical person with good business sense. This also means that users should be able to rapidly develop a working simulation within 1 to 2 weeks with minimal training and support. The solution should be robust which covers several key topics. Robustness includes the ability to rapidly generate ideas using a ‘white-board’ metaphor and to develop interfaces that closely mimic the desired end product. Users should also be able to define logic flow and data structures, and input sample real-life data to demonstrate real interaction. Robustness also means that the solution must be able to embed business logic and tie text requirements to the visual screens. An obvious requirement for start-up firms is that the simulation solution must be affordable. Cash strapped start-ups are reluctant to invest too much money upfront in software or outside consultants, so the solution must be priced at a point where there is an obvious return on investment. Ultimately, an affordable robust solution can save significant money by getting an idea to market faster and at lower risk. Finally, the solution should make it easy for others to collaborate on the solution by allowing end-users to annotate or to modify the simulation in an on-line or disconnected mode. The end result is enhanced communication and interaction between all stakeholders.
What are the alternatives to simulation? Historically, the alternatives to simulation include hard-coded prototypes, static screen shots, text documents (Word), presentation documents (Powerpoint and Visio), and spreadsheets (Excel). At the costly end, coded prototypes can be expensive and time-consuming to develop. Prototypes are generally created by technical resources or expensive consultants who are not closely connected to your business idea. The next level down includes static screen shots. Screen shots can give users an idea of how an application should look, but they generally do not include any interaction or requirement definition capabilities. While better than nothing, screen shots do not provide sponsors with adequate information to validate ideas or requirements. At the bottom end, a combination of word processing, presentation and spreadsheet documents are very good at documenting text requirements. However, these tools stifle collaboration, and are abysmal for painting a picture of the vision and for validating how users will interact with the software solution. None of the alternatives to simulation will help manage the software application lifecycle through from inception to market.
Tying this discussion together is a quote from the founder of a recently funded start-up,