Every business is looking for new products to increase competitiveness and market share and meet the market’s most pressing needs. Companies want to create novel customer experiences, boost business growth, and launch new business initiatives. However, each well-designed item of software, before the product launch, should be validated with real-world users to verify the business concept. This is possible through a POC (proof of concept) and a product prototype. What are they? How are they different?
A POC is an approach that allows businesses to validate the feasibility of new ideas. The main goal of a proof of concept is to test the general assumptions inherent in the idea and verify that it can be executed from a technical point of view. Therefore a POC can take the form of a working part of the final product, developed with specific technology, to prove that the software can solve a particular business problem.
Important: a POC is not a simplified version of the product with minimal features. It’s a standalone project that validates a product idea.
A negative result from a proof of concept saves a lot of time and development costs. If the result is positive, the team can be certain that they have the right technology and that it’s feasible to build the complete product. A POC is now one of the most efficient and accurate methods of testing key hypotheses and validating fundamental assumptions about target users and the software concept.
Summing up, a POC determines whether your new business concept has the potential to develop. If a project passes its POC, it can be pushed to the next product development stage. If it fails, the project will most likely be scrapped. A POC never needs to be made publicly available, it’s an internal evaluation – an internal approach to solving the most important issue.
Running a POC project is a great way to:
- Save resources by minimizing development costs.
- Stay competitive and develop unique products.
- Fund the project – the data gathered from a POC can help attract investors and initial investment.
- Verify if your product idea is feasible or not.
- Unveil risks and bugs that occur at an early stage of development.
- Accelerate the release or time-to-market by identifying risks and preparing mitigation measures.
- Help the team better understand how your product works.
A proof of concept is highly recommended for startups and companies that seek secure funding for further product development. It’s a way to validate key business concepts and assumptions, especially in industries and fields like software development, app development, business development, project management, cybersecurity, IT, health care, and others.
For example, in the healthcare industry, a POC could be a clinical trial that is used to gain insight into the product. In software development, if you’re developing an app that offers a brand-new mobile payments method, a POC would be checking whether establishing such a method is technologically possible.
A prototype is a simulation of the product created to test its UX/UI design concept and functionality. It demonstrates the visual form of a final version of the product and implements select features. The idea behind prototyping is to identify users pain points
and verify whether users have a positive experience navigating through a product or feature.
Building a prototype is part of an iterative process – it uses tools to understand how the product flows, what its usability would likely be, and what features must be added. A prototype is kind of a first draft of the product after the proof of concept has validated it.
Creating a prototype is a complex, looped process. It allows the team to discover errors that occurred during the early stages of production. It allows for critical changes early in development. It’s a kind of user testing that specifies how users will interact with your product. While a POC is more about technical capability, prototyping deals with initial feedback on the UX&UI.
Here are four types of prototypes you may consider:
- Rapid prototyping – the prototype is only used in the short term. It may go through cycles of feedback in an iterative process.
- Evolutionary prototyping – this uses a functional app / product, not just a simulation. The prototype is a sequel to a previous one, improved according to initial feedback.
- Incremental prototyping – this divides the final project into smaller parts. Each module is prototyped, evaluated and refined individually. Then, the team integrates all the parts for consistency in terms of UX, UI, etc.
- Extreme prototyping – the first step of extreme prototyping is creating wireframes. Then, the wireframes are transformed into HTML pages that simulate the service layer. Finally, certain functionalities are coded and implemented. This prototyping model is very often used in web development.
Here are the benefits of prototyping:
- It enables you to validate the concept and determine potential UX design flaws.
- It generates negative or positive feedback immediately – it’s a test of how customers react to the UX.
- It saves on time and resources as you identify issues before fully developing the product.
- It can attract early adopters and investors even better than a POC – you can show your prototype to investors as a preliminary conceptualization of the working product.
The way a prototype looks depends on the exact purpose it is built for. Some product prototypes are effectively a miniature version of the product, others are created for investors, etc. The most popular are the following types:
- hand-sketched paper prototypes,
- 3D prints,
- digital prototypes (virtual models of the product),
- scale models (small and non-functional, used for prototyping large objects).
Simply speaking, no, an MVP is not the same as a prototype. An MVP (minimum viable product) is closer to a final product. It’s a foundation on which a fully-fledged product will be built in the future. A minimum viable product is used to create a product with known specifications (with minimal features) that you can market to your target audience. It has core features that best represent the product. It enables companies to gather in-depth feedback from the target audience. On the other hand, a prototype is a product version created to test the idea with the internal stakeholders of a company.
A proof of concept and prototype have similar goals, and this is what leads to them being confused by some people. They can be used separately or together with a common goal: to create a final product that will meet users’ needs and minimize the investment risk at the same time. However, a POC and prototype are not used at the same stage of the development process so we cannot say that they are interchangeable.
Some people see a prototype as the same thing as a proof of concept. However, a POC is more a practical verification of whether the product can be built with the given technology, whereas prototyping involves actually building a working model with limited functionalities.
First, a proof of concept can be described as a pre-prototype project. It is used to decide whether it’s possible to implement particular functionalities and have a working product at the same time. On the other hand, a prototype focuses on the full functionality of all included features. It is used to test changes included in the proof of concept and polish them before the full product release. So:
- A POC answers the question: is my idea technically feasible? And a prototype: How will my product be used? So, a POC identifies new ideas based on their technical feasibility. A prototype visualizes the product.
- A POC is meant to be used internally and a prototype is targeted at stakeholders.
- A POC needs some investment, and a prototype needs a minimum investment of technical resources.
- A POC minimizes the risk of technical issues during the development process and a prototype minimizes the risk of user dissatisfaction.
In order to truly achieve a product fit with the market, you don’t always have to choose between a POC and a prototype. The choice is usually based on the development stage of your product, so they should be applied in sequence. Below you will find a set of guidelines on which one to go for:
- If you are on a tight budget and timescale and you need to show your product to the end-users or stakeholders, choose prototyping.
- If you need to visualize your product and get to know how it would work, choose prototyping.
- If you want to understand and feel how your product works before developing it, choose prototyping.
- If you are not sure whether your idea is technically feasible, choose a POC. Likewise if you need to prove technical feasibility and need funding.
- If you need to explore the technologies used in your project, choose a POC.
- If you want to be sure that your project will run smoothly before development, choose a POC.
- If you need to attract investors or look for seed-stage funding at an early stage, choose either a POC or prototyping.
Developing software and digital products is like experimenting with a vision in mind. Both a POC and a prototype can play an important role in validating a final version of the product that is about to be released. If you have an innovative idea, a proof of concept is there to help you check its core functionality. If you want to validate the look and feel of your product, building a prototype will meet your needs better. Hopefully, this article has helped you decide which one is a more suitable option for your project.