When starting a project, many entrepreneurs struggle to decide whether they should create a proof of concept (PoC), prototype, or minimum viable product (MVP). What’s even more problematic is that all these terms are often used interchangeably - and that’s precisely why it’s important to understand the differences and use them at the right occasion.
Above all: don’t start your project with an MVP. As you will soon find out, a minimum viable product should ideally be preceded by thorough market research, a proof of concept and a prototype, which all serve slightly different purposes. In fact, completing all these stages one by one is what tends to bring the best results to both startups and large corporations. Even though it may be tempting to skip some of them - speaking from our experience, it’s rarely worth it.
Having a clear idea of your product from the start is a great advantage, but it won’t get you far if you don’t do your research and analyse competitive solutions first. Start with understanding the industry and identifying relevant trends - it can help you refine your vision and convince your team, including the management board. To do so, you can take advantage of available reports (prepared by CB Insights, McKinsey or PwC, just to name a few). For example, if you’re thinking of delving into voice assistants, see what actions are taken by the biggest players on the $49B voice market before you decide to take your own idea to the next level.
Essentially, the more you know, the better for your business. Not to mention that relevant information is often a huge value for the product team, which can not only understand the original idea better but also recommend some changes from the very beginning. Plus, you can easily check whether similar solutions have been already developed, and figure out how you can make your product better than what your competitors have to offer.
The market research shouldn’t end with screening your competition, though. You should also define user personas (fictional representants of your ideal app users) in order to determine the features of your app more accurately and be able to promote the final product more effectively afterwards. This way, you're able to focus on specific problems of your users and figure out how your app can solve them.
If you’re still not sure whether your product will meet the needs of your target audience, put it to a test. It can be done in several ways - for example, you can just discuss the idea with others (speaking of - don’t be afraid to talk about your vision!), create and distribute a survey, or establish a landing page to attract the potential app users. Remember to let them sign up for beta tests or simply leave their e-mail address. Actually, already having some beta testers could be a strong argument for a potential investor and your whole team. Here you can find out more about creating such a landing page, in case you’re interested. As a matter of fact, we can perform detailed research and analysis to help you get started.
Proof of Concept (PoC).
At this stage, it’s worth to keep in mind that the technical feasibility may influence the business feasibility and vice versa. This is when a Proof of Concept comes in useful, as it’s the best approach to verify an initial idea and its viability for practical implementation (before it actually happens).
The purpose is to validate a concept that is supposed to be developed, check whether a chosen software development is capable of creating it, and explore different solutions that could essentially bring the idea into life. It’s usually down to proper desk research in order to choose the best technologies, and an attempt to code basic system functions to some extent. As a result, PoC is more of a smaller project that is rather used internally than introduced to the public. In fact, it’s meant to depict a certain feature or a part of the system, which is why your project may need multiple PoCs to examine different components.
Building a Proof of Concept may require a significant amount of time and effort from the development team, but it will give a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ instantly to the viability of your project. If there’s a yes - it will not only prove that the idea is viable, but can even help you get initial buy-in from stakeholders. If the concept is not operationally workable, though, it might be high time to modify or call it off.
Surprisingly, software prototyping is often confused with a PoC. There’s a big difference between a proof of concept vs prototype, though. As you already know, the goal of creating a PoC is to verify a certain concept to check whether it can be achieved through development. Software prototyping, on the other hand, lets you visualize how the product will function and look like.
In essence, a PoC shows that a product can be created, while a prototype is an interactive model that shows how the product will be developed. It gives an idea of a design, layout and navigation of the app, demonstrates user flows and has pretty much all functionalities of the end product - but it’s not as efficient, esthetic and durable.
Still, it’s a quick way to put your ideas into practice and let the potential users test and evaluate the product before you invest more time and money into an MVP - especially when there are many prototyping tools available (InVision or UXPin, as an example). Based on our experience, we prefer fast prototype creation and testing our ideas as soon as it’s ready for the first users. Then, the test results are being analysed and translated into a list of issues and bugs that should be prioritised and addressed before the project develops any further. Find out more about the prototype tests we conduct.
Minimum Viable Product (MVP).
Most likely, a prototype will influence your MVP, which stands for a minimal form of your product that can be tested in the market. While a prototype is meant to fix problems at the initial stages of development, an MVP is actually the ultimate test on how well your app is received among the users, since it has enough features to actually be used and evaluated. The aim here is to identify pain points and any issues the users might experience. In turn, the whole team is able to check the demand for the product and collect actual feedback, which will most likely affect the shape of it.
Basically, this version of the product has all features needed for its release, while there are a lot of benefits on the side - such as faster time to market, minimal development costs and reduced risks. Not to mention that it lets you once again verify the product feasibility, as well as the assumptions of the team regarding the software. This, in turn, will help you gradually build a better, more polished application while involving the users in its creation.
Let’s face it - turning an idea into a working product is not always easy. With such a detailed process, though, you have more room for evaluation and fixing problems early on during the development process. This approach is actually less expensive in the long run, and it ultimately lets you build a well-thought-out product.
Market research proves that your initial thought was a good one (and hasn’t been developed yet, or can be improved in order to stand out from the competition),
A proof of concept verifies the idea and its technical feasibility,
A prototype shows the first, not entirely refined attempt at the final product,
Whereas a minimum viable product provides immediate value while minimizing development costs.
Carefully testing your ideas for feature validity or market viability is always a good practice, no matter how big your venture is. If you work for a large company, market research can help you resolve your doubts before pitching the idea. Then, such a detailed process will not only let you validate your product but also keep making improvements, involve all stakeholders and have the entire team on the same page throughout the project lifecycle. Not to mention the ability to lower development costs and provide “tangible” results at each stage.
On the contrary, if you’re a soon-to-be startup owner, you can gradually make sure your product is relevant without spending a lot of time and money to do so. Actually, with a proper prototype, you can even attract investors and get buy-in. Afterwards, with every version of your product, you can move towards a fully mature app and maximise ROI. Plus, with a better understanding of all these stages, you can avoid common mistakes when it comes to software development - from faulty features to investing all the effort in an irrelevant product.
We are fully aware of the advantages each stage brings to the whole software development process: from testing key business concepts, winning over stakeholders, or validating product relevance. With the right approach, you can have a product with the right features for the right users - and we’re here to help you every step of the way.