Many businesses come to a point when they have a software development project idea but aren’t sure that it has potential. Be it building a mobile application or anything else, if you didn't find product-market fit, the undertaking might turn out to be a waste of resources.
Does it really make sense to spend a lot of money and time on creating a complete product and only then show it to the world and make further conclusions? Sadly, it is common that a project isn’t well-received, doesn’t bring the expected ROI, or simply fails. But there are smarter idea validation approaches, safeguarding us from such disappointment. You need to “test the waters”.
What are the best practices in this respect? As a rule, having a project discovery phase before jumping to software development gives you the chance to conduct thorough market research and learn more about the target audience and competitors. You, therefore, make better decisions regarding the choice of the tech stack, UX/UI elements, and other end-product features. It allows you to perform tests and get feedback from real users, ensuring that you are creating something worthwhile and not investing in a dead-end.
How exactly does this happen? Well, there are several ways to prove the project’s viability before proceeding to full-scale software development. On this page, we go over these poplar startup terms, describing what is proof of concept, a prototype, and a minimum viable product. We explain how an MVP vs prototype vs POC differ from one another, and the benefits and use cases of these strategies.
What Is Proof of Concept?
As the name suggests, proof of concept (POC) is all about validating a concept. Most projects usually start with idea initiation, but you must ensure that the idea is worth the investment. So the project moves to the next phase of discovery, during which you perform POC actions, proving that you’re on the right track. Proof of concept can take several days.
Proof of Concept Features
At this point, you have assumptions and theories. You need to figure out the potential of your ideas and whether you should get tied up in software development altogether. This implies not only the financial side but also the technical perspective.
So what is proof of concept in software development? It is an idea validation method, during which you hold several brainstorming sessions with a development team, browse the market, and conduct tests. The gathered data can serve as evidence for analysis, predetermining your next steps.
You get to answer many questions:
- Does the project stand a chance to be successfully brought to life?
- Is it possible from the technical side?
- Can you execute it with the intended functionality? Will it operate effectively?
- Can it be carried out the way you want and within the desired budget?
Proof of Concept Benefits
There are numerous advantages a product owner can gain by spending time on proof of concept (POC):
- reducing risks of investing in an unsuccessful project;
- identifying the possible roadblocks, including from the technical side;
- making better decisions early in the project’s lifecycle;
- determining how the product can address pivotal issues and user pain points;
- choosing the technology and features;
- understanding the final goals and aims;
- listing the success criteria;
- creating a delivery plan.
Proof of Concept Example & Use Case
Let’s sketch an example case. Say you have a running mid-sized e-commerce store. You notice that you have a visible drawdown in mobile conversions. People tend to buy more using desktop computers, and something stops them from making purchases using their smartphones.
“We need a mobile application!” Being full of enthusiasm that this is the optimal solution to your problem, you hurry to start planning a native application development project, which is usually a costly and time-consuming process.
But when the product is finally launched, there’s a big chance that you will realize that it’s too hard to get your users who shop in your store only once a month to actually go to the App Store and download the application to their device. They hesitate to do so because they don’t want to clog their smartphone’s memory with an app they won’t use regularly. And your mobile conversions didn’t show a visible boost.
Why did you need to go through the proof of concept in this scenario? If you’d done your research, you could have discovered that your mid-sized e-commerce store doesn’t need a downloadable app (at least not now). Maybe creating a fast browser-run PWA that’s well-polished in terms of UX/UI would be enough. It would have been cheaper and faster.
After all, PWAs allow for a smooth user experience from a mobile browser and can be added to the home screen as an app-like short link if the customer wants without taking up much device space. Such proof of concept examples demonstrate that comparing a mobile app vs mobile website and their pros and cons prior to decision-making could have made a difference.
A prototype is created to envision how a specific solution should work. If we compare a prototype vs proof of concept, the main objective of a prototype is to take the ideas that were verified during the previous proof of concept step and build a model of the product that would present its future functionality at a basic level. It usually takes a week or two to make a clickable prototype, but this timeframe may vary if there are many iterations.
A prototype can be considered a simulation or draft which embodies the solution’s usability. Prototypes may hint at the product’s design and look yet don’t go deep into the UI details.
Generally, these are wireframes and clickable prototypes. Thanks to the latter, you can interactively test the solution’s features, going through them one by one. They present the overall flow and user journey, showing how people interact with the solution, moving from one screen to another.
And by testing the prototype, you evaluate whether the shortlisted functionality is optimal. These insights are crucial to find out before you move on to the production stage.
Creating a prototype before working on the designs that are passed to the developers brings many advantages:
- finalizing the design concept of the solution;
- omitting unnecessary clicks and steps;
- optimizing the user journey;
- doing preparation work for a clean-cut design;
- experimenting with the design and keeping only the best-fit solutions.
Prototype Use Case Example
Let’s fall back on the previous example of a mobile solution for an e-commerce store. Say you’ve discussed how the mobile app should work and shortlisted 15 must-have features of the product. Why do you need a prototype?
The UX/UI designer creates wireframes and clickable prototypes of the product-to-be. You follow the user journey and discover ways to improve the solution in terms of usability (and even profitability). You can get many insights:
- Maybe you can omit an unnecessary click or cut down a step?
- What if an important button can be placed closer to the bottom of the visible screen, so the user doesn’t have to struggle to reach across the smartphone’s screen with their thumb?
- Is this menu type convenient enough for users to find what they’re looking for quickly?
- Will placing a search bar within the menu with filtered results provide some neat product suggestions that would expand the average number of items added to the cart?
- Does your checkout need all these fields and steps? Can you make the process shorter?
The bottom line is that a prototype allows for improving the product from the usability perspective, therefore increasing its chances of success.
What Is an MVP?
A minimum viable product (or MVP) is an embodiment of the product. Usually, this is its first working pilot version fitted with a minimal feature set that users can interact with. Although this solution is generally simple, it is functional.
The process of building an MVP may take a month or more. You’ll expand it further later with additional features and elements as it grows to become a completely market-ready product.
MVP development is essential for testing the early version of the product in the real world. In the case of startups, you might not have the funds yet to build something big, so a minimum viable product becomes a decent starting point. The same goes for aiming to hit the market as fast as possible before your competitors. If you incorporate the entire feature spectrum, it’ll take significant time.
What does an MVP usually include? This product version is usually made up of only the basic features. It’s not exactly a demo but rather the product’s backbone upon which you’ll build everything else. So you must carefully pick the core features to show the world first of all. Obviously, they will differ from project to project and influence the overall MVP development cost.
Feature prioritization is key here. What will the users find valuable? What can solve their pain points? When choosing the shortlisted features, you may add several common ones that your competitors are using and hook the users with something unique to your solution to stand out.
There are numerous pros in favor of building an MVP before proceeding with full-scale development. You can:
- minimize risks;
- cut costs as you don’t roll out the entire feature set;
- reach the market faster;
- start getting your first real users, early adopters, and maybe even engage investors;
- collect feedback and user-generated data from initial users to learn more about user satisfaction;
- check the solution’s marketability;
- note the flaws during QA testing and fix them;
- prioritize the features to add next;
- possibly start monetizing the solution and getting your first profit.
MVP Use Case Example
Many renowned companies started as minimum viable products: Facebook, Spotify, Etsy, Twitter, Zappos, Uber, and many others. So why do you need an MVP? To give the product a “test drive” and gradually expand it.
For instance, an e-commerce store MVP can have a home page, simple navigation, several category pages, product pages, a cart, and checkout. Suppose the MVP version of your custom mobile application is well-received. In that case, it can be later expanded with product comparisons, blogs, and exquisite features like a virtual try-on or an AI-powered chatbot.
POC vs Prototype vs MVP: How Do They Differ?
Now that we’ve overviewed each of the strategies separately let’s quickly compare an MVP vs POC vs prototype, defining their differences from one another.
Proof of Concept vs Prototype
What is the difference between POC and a prototype? During the proof of concept step, you refine the business idea. I.e., you determine whether the project is worth the investment, if it can be created from the technical side, and what it should be made up of.
A prototype is more of a “mold” that shows the shape of the solution. It allows you to polish the product, making it user-friendly and convenient. This step highlights UI, while POC emphasizes the technical side.
Proof of Concept vs MVP
Now, let’s go over the difference between an MVP and POC. Once again, proof of concept is about idea validation, while a minimum viable product is the first functioning version of the product out in the market. If you put POC vs MVP on the scale, the first may be a starting step while the latter could be its outcome.
Prototype vs MVP
The major difference between an MVP and a prototype is that a prototype is a project model that’s usually created for MVP testing purposes. It can be tested internally or shown to a test group, while an MVP is a pilot version of the project presented to the world.
An MVP may be a simple and well-polished project version, not its full-scale embodiment. But because potential customers interact with your MVP, you gain traction, obtain your first real users, and get feedback from the acquired audience.
Comparing Proof of Concept vs Prototype vs MVP
The following table brings together the main takeaways of the three strategies.
POC vs Prototype vs MVP: How to Choose Between Them?
As you can see, these three idea feasibility strategies have different purposes and duration. They may be perceived as consequent steps or milestones, so you don’t have to choose only one when comparing POC vs MVP vs prototype. Ideally, a project has to go through all three, which are important parts of the discovery phase.
This isn’t a rule of thumb, of course, and there can be exceptions. But in most cases, failing to go through discovery leads to additional costs and more development time on going back and forth. Hence, this is a point worth thinking through thoroughly before opting for custom software development services.
If you think about it, it doesn’t make much sense to build an MVP that you’ll show potential customers if you haven’t tested the idea out on a prototype (remember, a minimum viable product is something simple but well-polished). Nor is it reasonable to choose only one option: POC vs prototype. Should you create a prototype if the concept has a small chance of success? Perhaps you have to move in another direction altogether.
But if you do have to choose only one or two of the strategies independently instead of going through all three, here are some tips.
Choose proof of concept if you’d like to be sure that:
- your idea is feasible and worth the investment;
- the project can be developed from the technical perspective;
- you’re choosing the right tech stack and feature set.
Choose to build a prototype if you want to:
- create a visualization of the project and how it works;
- feel and test the solution before investing in its development;
- allocate design and usability flaws and fix them.
Choose an MVP if you wish to:
- save budget on rolling out a full-scale product;
- show the world a working version of the product and get first users and/or investors;
- get feedback from real users to enhance the solution and prioritize new features;
- try to get your first profit.
Summing up, idea validation and thorough preparation can bring you many gains before starting the full development cycle. You can test your ideas early on, polish the product’s usability, and find out how actual users interact with the solution. It’ll allow you to make better conclusions about the product and save resources on developing something unneeded or imperfect.
If you have questions about proof of concept, prototyping, building an MVP, or the discovery phase, feel free to contact us and discuss your project. Upsilon has been providing MVP development services for early-stage startups for years and helped numerous companies grow to become successful. We’ll gladly offer you our expertise at affordable prices for dedicated teams.