A proof of concept (PoC) is sometimes seen as an unnecessary waste of budget. And this is a great mistake that can cost you big time. Even the most brilliant idea needs to be reviewed, and a PoC is a perfect, cheap solution for that.
In this article, you will find more information on why a PoC deserves your time and attention and how it can help you save time and money before you start to spend big.
A proof of concept is the first step in the software development process after the product’s general idea is developed. A PoC aims to validate the project’s feasibility and to verify the overall idea’s viability. The PoC’s goal, from a software development perspective, is to show the workability of both the product idea and the business plan.
A properly introduced proof of concept helps avoid costly missteps and facilitates attracting investors.
The terms PoC, prototype, and MVP are often lumped together. However, they are connected to different product development steps and should not be treated as the same thing. The below definitions aim to differentiate between these terms and show why not every attempt to validate a product is an MVP.
Whereas a PoC focuses on the main idea of the product – looking for an answer to whether the potential product will solve the customer’s problem – a prototype goes a step further. The prototype’s goal is to present how the product might be built. In the case of software development projects, one of the most common types of prototypes is a clickable mockup. It allows for a better understanding of the product, presenting its general look and feel, and underlining the functionality most crucial to the potential business success of the product.
UX designers should be engaged in the prototype preparation process – check out which prototyping UX tools they can use.
A minimum viable product (MVP) is the first, slightly polished version of the product that is ready to see the market. Here, for the first time, the product has a chance to be tested by users in a real-life environment. And be sure that it won’t be easy – it will be real combat. The drawbacks of the product will see daylight, and probably there will be more of them than you expected. But that is good. This is why you built an MVP - to let users do the hard work - find the errors and flaws. Thanks to their hive-mind you will locate most of the issues that hold your success back.
A good MVP should be fast to build and contain only those functionalities strictly necessary for the product to work. There is still much work to be done, but the team can now see the light at the end of the tunnel of the development process.
An MVP has enough functionalities to generate value for users and convince skeptical investors.
However, that is not everything. Read our article to learn more about building a minimum viable product.
PoCs, prototypes and MVPs are connected and one often follows the other. This is the natural path of your product taking shape.
A proof of concept helps to decide if the idea is feasible. If so, then the prototype gives the idea a more tangible form. The MVP is the closest to the final product, and aims to test it outside the organization.
Fig. 1 PoC vs prototype vs MVP
If you want to know more about the differences, check out our articles:
The main reason to build a PoC is to save time and money instead of investing in a flawed idea. A proof of concept helps to better and more precisely predict the necessary costs and other resources, such as specialists.
The first step to better market fit starts with validating your original idea at as early a stage as possible. The PoC is the first point at which you can check if your business idea has any chance of succeeding. It is a cornerstone of your future product.
The result of creating a PoC also might be less optimistic – the idea could be infeasible. Of course, that is not good news, at first sight, but there is another side to the coin. Early identification of a mistaken idea saves company resources and the team can focus on another project. Investing more time and money in a faulty project will not make it lucrative.
Why else might your project need a proof of concept?
Sometimes projects are developed without checking data from market research, and the product idea is based on false assumptions. A PoC helps to validate the concept and the existence of a market need at an early stage.
Even if the feedback is not as positive as you expected, that does not mean that the project was a waste of time. Take this as a chance to modify the concept to better adjust it to your target group's needs.
Bringing the idea to life helps convince stakeholders to take a chance on the project - they can clearly see the project's potential and value. The PoC also allows verification of whether your choice of technology will suit the project and fulfill its needs.
A proof of concept highlights the project's top priorities and requirements. With what you will learn from a PoC, it is easier to set up a more accurate project timeline and roadmap, and predict costs better.
Startups often have a limited budget and seek as many savings as possible. However, should a PoC be omitted in this case?
Startups provide innovative ideas and products – sometimes, the time is not right for introducing new projects, or simply the market is not ready. It is better to take a short break, and save the budget instead of wasting it on a too-early product release.
At the very beginning, it is difficult to say for sure how scalable the product should be. If a startup focuses on a large-scale product, investing in a PoC first offers more security, and validates the concept instead of investing in an uncertain project that will surely be time- and cost-consuming.
Last but not least, one more saving-money argument – a PoC helps to verify if the predefined features are all necessary, or whether something is missing. Thanks to that, the team will not waste time developing useless components in the future.
Check software development metrics for a startup environment to boost your project even more.
The above is enough theoretical knowledge for now – let’s focus on the practical side of PoCs and check how to make a successful proof of concept.
- Set up your target group
There is no possibility of creating a successful PoC without setting up the target audience first. The whole team needs to find out answers to questions like:
- In which market will the product appear?
- What does the target persona look like?
- How will the end-user benefit from the finished product?
When the team can answer and analyze these questions, the future product starts to jell. Now, the idea can be compared to potential competitors already on the market. Analyze their products to make yours better – think about how your concept can stand out and draw the users' attention.
- How do you solve the target group’s problem?
Now is the time to think about the necessary technologies. This is also the moment for considering if there is a need for technical partner support. If yes, be aware that a poorly chosen team can impact on the project’s success.
- Test it out!
When the first PoC is done, it should be tested by “users” - in this case, colleagues who are not involved in the development process. The product should be tested inside out by employees that are outside of the product team. There is no certainty that the product meets the predefined requirements and users' expectations without testing.
- Gain feedback and learn
Even if the users’ opinions are harsh, do not give up. This is a good time to change direction and pivot. Implement the necessary changes and start over again until you succeed.
Fig. 2 How to build a good proof of concept?
Proof of Concept is not a fad – it should be treated as a regular step in every product development process that validates the idea, and helps decide if the concept is worth the time and money. No matter how elastic your budget is, no one wants to pour money down the drain. Save the bees and honey for the next idea, and invest in good PoC.